Reading initiatives for a better world

Employees are encouraged to read by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, in a brand-new initiative that allows all workers to read on the job for three hours a week. Vision explores this alongside other revolutionary global reading initiatives 

Reading. It’s something you’re doing right now. In fact, with the advent of mobile devices, it’s never been easier to read on the move. And yet, judging by the prevalence of reading initiatives around the world, there is still clear concern that, in this always-on age of distraction, people aren’t reading enough. Or, more importantly, that they aren’t reading the kinds of material that promotes literacy, knowledge and most importantly, understanding. Books.

Which is why World Book Day has become so important. A UNESCO programme that began in 1995, the initial idea was to celebrate books and reading across the world - and many countries have moulded it to suit their own needs. So in the UK, World Book Day focuses its gaze on encouraging children to “explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.” The fun part comes with dressing up - most schools allow children to go to class as their favourite fictional character from a book.

Adults don’t miss out either: in conjunction with willing publishers, World Book Night chooses 15 books each year - which are then handed out to people in the community who don’t regularly read. The encouraging aspect of this initiative is that the books themselves are populist, rather than fusty old “classics” foisted upon the unwilling. This year, there’s everything from Steven Ambrose’s famous Band Of Brothers to Jonathan Coe’s tender coming of age comedy The Rotters Club.

The idea that, if given the right encouragement, people will read has certainly been taken up by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. As part of the UAE’s Year Of Reading 2016, he implemented an initiative late last year that gives all employees the right to read for up to three hours a week at work. It sounds almost too good to be true, but as Saif bin Markham Al Ketbi, Director-General of the Office of the Crown Prince, said, “reading is the most successful means to the development of the intellectual and linguistic abilities of the individual.” To that end, encouraging reading is an important aspect of the UAE’s drive to become a knowledge economy.

Of course, the UAE is not alone in wanting to promote knowledge and literacy among its citizens. The global differences come in where the focus lies. So in India, Katha is a non-profit organisation, which publishes translated and original language fiction for people living in poverty: they believe they’ve brought the joy of reading to more than six million children since 1988.

And a fascinating project in Brazil confirms the importance of reading as an instrument of change. Prison inmates are able to read 12 works of literature a year. After they’ve written essays on the books to prove they read them, they can then “trade” that reading experience for up to 48 days off their sentences.

It may sound a world away from children dressing up to celebrate books in UK schools or workers taking time out from their busy days to read novels. But, in fact, the intention is the same: to build a better world through reading.