Community Readers: rural youth take on the national reading crisis

The Community Readers programme aims to address two of South Africa’s critical development challenges: early literacy and youth unemployment

Photo of Craig Paxton
2 6

Written by

I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Axium Education

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $100k - $250k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 1,000 - 5,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • South Africa

Headquarters location: City

Zithulele Village, Mqanduli, Eastern Cape

Location(s) of impact

South Africa: Mqanduli


Facebook URL

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Unemployment in South Africa hovers near 30 %. In rural areas this is nearer 80%, with youth among the worst affected. At the same time, children in rural schools learn to read several years after the curriculum expects them to. This hamstrings their progress through school to the extent that in the communities where we are based, less than 2% of children graduate high school with strong enough grades for university acceptance. This project makes use of the vast potential of rural youth to transform learning outcomes.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Nobalisa (‘storytellers’) are recruited from the local community where they will work and are thus ideally placed to affect change in their home environment. They are typically: young, unemployed, and have little in the way of paper qualifications that would help them gain access to further education, training or employment. They are also, however, dynamic storytellers, passionate about young people and their community, and eager to learn. In other words, Nobalisa tend to have high potential, but low prospects. Nobalisa fulfill two different roles: • In schools, they support Foundation Phase teachers by working directly with children learning to read in Grades 1-3, often in large classes of well over 70 children. • In after-school community reading clubs, Nobalisa create vibrant places where stories are told, and where children have access to games and books. Work experience opens doors for the Nobalisa too, with more than 50% going on to re-enter formal education or training.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Twenty-five Nobalisa are currently active in nine schools, across two education districts, working directly with over 1500 students each week. We measure impact in three ways: 1. Improved reading scores for children using the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA). 2. The number of Nobalisa engaged in meaningful work. 3. The number of Nobalisa who go on to further education or training. A comprehensive report on six iterations of the EGRA will be released in January 2018, and will tell us more about the first outcome - although based on what we've seen so far it looks likely that where dosage is high enough and focused enough, the Nobalisa make an impact on reading outcomes. Over 30 Nobalisa have been through the programme in the first three years, with about 25% now enrolled in tertiary study, and a further 25% applying for study in 2018.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

This project has been funded largely (90%) from grants, although funding for the organisation as a whole comes from individual donations (25%), grants (50%) and corporate contributions (25%). In January 2017 we piloted a partnership with the Community Work Programme (CWP), a national government scheme that employs young people to do meaningful work in their communities. Our role is to provide training and support to participants in the Programme, so that they can fulfill the role of Nobalisa in schools and community reading clubs. With the successful completion of the pilot in December 2017, the CWP is likely to offer an excellent vehicle for sustainable future growth, as the major operating cost (stipends for participants) is carried by government.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Our model evolved from the Community Health Worker concept, pioneered in South Africa by Philani (among others), what we saw happening in grassroots education in India through organisations like Pratham, and the Nal'ibali reading clubs, now a nationwide campaign in South Africa. What differentiates our approach is: - the dual-focus on in-school and out-of-school support for children; - the focus on measurement through biannual sittings of the EGRA; and, - the opportunity for scale through CWP

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

In 2013 local youth in our village led an uprising that threatened to turn ugly, with demands to turn over the keys to the property we were renting. Their major concern was for jobs. At that stage our work was focused on supporting the rural schools around us, and had largely ignored the other needs of the community in which we lived and worked. Although an unpleasant experience to go through, it forced a healthy reorientation of our thinking, so that local youth became part of the solution to the education problems we were trying to solve.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Other


Join the conversation:

Photo of Yashwant

Good initiative but needs modern ICT tools and also more piloting needs to be carried out to understand the real impacts at the middle and senior level. Can we also introduce some skill trades in terms of viable employment opportunities to be instilled at a young age.

View all comments