Build Better With Literacy

By Carl Manlan, Vice President Social Impact Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Visa

Literacy, the ability to read and to write, enables prosperity. Yet at least 773 million young people and adults lack basic literacy skills. As technology evolves, users who lack the foundation of learning and education will not reap the benefits of the ongoing digital transformation. The pandemic reinforced the need to be or become digitally literate. Individuals who could not make the transition struggled during the pandemic.

As we celebrate the International Literacy Day, we are reminded that the recovery from the consequences of the pandemic will require science, financing, and investment. But how would these investments enable prosperity when one of the levers, literacy, is not often seen as a catalyst of economic transformation?  More than 2 billion adults in the world are unable to contribute meaningfully to their communities because they lack the kind of literacy skills required by employers. It is estimated that their inability costs more than USD 1 trillion to the global economy.

The ability to raise an individual’s prospect to gain basic literacy, math or computer skills cannot be underestimated. The rise in online access to services builds on the assumption that users will be able to read, to understand and to pay. These three actions, basic to some, continue to be a barrier to access. We ought to make a deliberate effort to invest some of our time to transfer the required skills and competencies that will give more people options to embrace a better life for themselves and their communities.

Micro Small and Medium Businesses (MSMBs) are often led by an individual whose literacy, and especially financial literacy, matters. These skills are critical to reignite local economies. The pandemic changed the way consumers and merchants could transact. The existence of digital financial services make or break the sale. Visa’s Practical Money Skills and Practical Business Skills are designed to make individuals, households and businesses, rebuild with skills, tools and knowledge about the fundamentals of the modern economy, however people need to be literate to use them. Technology allows individuals and communities to leapfrog over the new requirements of modern society. Skills, embedded in the literacy they master, sustain the momentum. Given that MSMBs are the backbone of economies, ensuring that entrepreneurs have the right set of skills to start, to improve and to access markets is a combination for success. To expand economic possibilities for more means that we are strengthening the fundamentals and revisiting them where necessary. In doing so, we will be giving households opportunities to reap the benefits of meaningful participation in the economy.

This situation calls for those with the skills to volunteer their time to raise literacy levels in their communities. It starts with leveraging existing tools to familiarize oneself with the art of teaching and imparting literacy skills. Primary schools are a good starting point as volunteers can support both teachers and learners to attain higher levels of proficiency. Citizens have a role to play to enable prosperity for all. Starting with literacy levels of the modern technological playing field. As such, International Literacy Day will be celebrated under the theme “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide.” UNESCO invites all to join the day to increase people’s access to capabilities and strengthen the foundation at the intersection of literacy and digital skills, with the end in mind being the ability for young people and to improve their entrepreneurship and job prospects.

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