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Local literacy initiative wins international award
Dated: Thursday, August 31, 2017

The FunDza Literacy Trust, headed by USB alumnus Mignon Hardie,  is getting young South Africans reading! In recognition of its innovative work, it has been awarded the inaugural Joy of Reading Award 2017.

The award, sponsored by IT company Systematic, was presented to Mignon Hardie on 13 June at the Next Library Festival in Denmark, by HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, who is also founder of the Reading & Writing Foundation.

Systematic developed the Joy of Reading award together with Next Library Festival to celebrate organisations making waves, through innovation, in the literacy field around the world. An international jury assessed the applications, selected the nominees, and then chose FunDza Literacy Trust as the winner!

Says Hardie: “We’re passionate about growing a local reading culture in South Africa. And we’re equally passionate about finding ways of giving our youth a platform so that their stories can be celebrated and shared.”

FunDza exists to address the dire impact that low literacy levels and the lack of a reading culture have on education and the future prospects of young South Africans. Research shows that the more that children have access to books and reading resources, the faster they acquire the language skills and vocabulary to excel at school, and in their professional lives. FunDza's work focuses on promoting reading for pleasure among teens and young adults, to support creative problem-solving and critical thinking.

Hardie adds: “There is very unequal access to books in our country, as research by various institutions and most recently the SA Book Development Council shows. We need to get books and stories – particularly local stories that are meaningful and popular – into the hands of as many people as possible. This is where our ‘library on a phone’ is a game-changer.”

FunDza’s innovative mobile-friendly platform - its site at fundza.mobi, Android app - FunDzApp, and app on FreeBasics.com - connects young South Africans with home-grown stories of high appeal. While the technology is important to create access, what is perhaps more important are the stories that get readers hooked and keep them coming back for more. There is always something new to read with FunDza – whether a book, a short story, an article or blog, or user-created opinion pieces and poems.

In addition to its work online, FunDza has supported more than 400 reading groups around the country with accessible and entertaining print books. Since 2011, it has distributed around 100,000 books and 200,000 pocket booklets to reading groups countrywide.

FunDza hasn’t stopped innovating. It is now offering a variety of online reading and comprehension courses for learners and readers. It hosts several reading and writing workshops, and it has just launched a pilot to run writing clubs in Gauteng.

At the award ceremony in Aarhus, HRH Princess Laurentien explained why the judges selected FunDza as the winner. In particular the judges were impressed by FunDza's scale of operations - reaching more than half a million people in the 2016 year - and also for its strong focus on promoting reading for pleasure, rather than just functional literacy. 

In keeping with the spirit of the award, FunDza plans to use the $10,000 prize money to share the love of reading even further, with a number of promotions and activities planned to coincide with its 'Literacy month' in September 2017.