Literacy that grows on trees – how to plant a magazine literacy tree anywhere on earth to feed hungry readers has brought together Kishore Patel, President of Cyberswift, an IT company offering software development services, mobile development, and GIS services to its clients around the world, and Gayathri Vasudevan, CEO of LabourNet, a social enterprise that enables sustainable livelihoods for men, women and youth in urban and rural areas across India. LabourNet operates 415 schools in 28 job training sectors, impacting over 300,000 trainees. 

The two leaders are engaging teams in Kolkata to collaborate to organize a local literacy project that will supply magazines to LabourNet trainees. With titles for every interest, skill, reading level, and language, magazines are enormously powerful for job training and mentoring. Supporting literacy gives employers a meaningful way to foster job readiness and prosperity, while offering employees purposeful and rewarding community engagement. Local partnerships enable literacy ambassadors to source magazine reading materials that are relevant to their own community needs and logistical norms, while tapping into a familiar supply chain. For example, in some parts of the world, magazine subscriptions are readily available, while in other locations, newsstands prevail. Where it makes sense to recycle gently read magazines from company employees or consumers, or surplus magazines from publishers, keeping the literacy pipeline local, rather than via long-distance or overseas shipping, minimizes the cost and eco-footprint of delivery to readers.  

The Kolkata initiative will initially focus on the auto and beautician trades, and follows on the heels of programs in North America and Europe that supply culinary magazines to homeless and unemployed in foodbank chef training programs; wooden boat, woodworking, and ecology magazines supplied to programs where youth are mentored via boat building; lacrosse magazines airlifted to a team forming in Croatia; and Tennis magazines gifted to a Boston tennis after-school mentoring program. In Canada, the Mid-Range computer company and Duffy family mobilized their community to airlift 2,000 magazines and comics to Inuit schools north of the Arctic Circle in the middle of winter’s polar vortex, followed by a sustained commitment to deploy and stock this magazine literacy newsstand at their local Toronto-area food pantry:

Like most starting a magazine literacy project, Kishore’s and Gayathri’s first question is “how do we begin?” The following steps can be followed by any local literacy partnership, anywhere in the world:

  1. Assemble a team from the company and the literacy agency for conducting planning meetings. Hold a first meeting. 
  2. Determine the initial count of readers to serve and the primary literacy objectives. Keep this to an achievable number, so everyone is satisfied with the effort and results. You can always increase it later. 
  3. Determine what types of magazines to supply to match the literacy goals. Look for ways to extend the impact beyond the target readers. For example, if targeting teen or adult readers, provide some children’s magazines that they can share. If the target readers are children, supply some titles for their older siblings and adult family members. They will feel good to be able to share them.
  4. You will know the best way to obtain magazines in your location. There are many methods. Two ways we collect magazines are by encouraging purchases from newsstands – conducting a magazine drive, like a food drive – and also asking consumers to donate gently read copies. We only want new readers to receive good quality copies with no cut or torn covers or pages. In the U.S., we have a specific way to handle magazines with mailing labels to protect donor privacy and new reader dignity, by removing, blacking out, and covering with an opaque white mailing label, which can be obtained from an office supply store.
  5. These magazine collection ideas are a good way to have a quick impact, and should be the starting point if the recycled magazines are acceptable for the new readers – but also consider sending new magazine subscriptions to the literacy program (we only send subscriptions to agencies for distribution to individuals, not to individuals directly). 
  6. Send us feedback to help us understand how this magazine literacy idea is beneficial to readers and learning, and why it is special.
  7. Take photos at every stage and send us your stories, so we can tell the world. 

There are many more examples of local and company literacy projects in our blog and on our Facebook pages.