Starting a business is no walk in the park. After wading through online paperwork to set up and register Shoptimize, I developed a business plan and a marketing strategy. I researched and connected with the woman-owned businesses whose products I’d represent. I developed content for my web site. I oversaw development of our e-commerce platform.
But what about those who have an idea, a vision, the personal traits and the drive to start their own enterprises, but struggled for a “C” in English…or graduate without digesting a novel?
According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 32 million U.S. adults, or 14% of our population, can’t read, and 21% can’t read above a 5th grade level. An astounding 19% of our high school graduates can’t read.
About 54% of U.S. women are “intermediate” readers (compared with 51% of men). But only 13% of women AND men are considered “proficient” readers. Not exactly the kind of equality we should be aiming for, right?
Around the world, 774 million people cannot read; 66% of them are women. OK, you think, we’re way above the rest. Not so fast: Reading proficiency levels for U.S. citizens fall below nine other industrialized countries. Heck, we’re barely above the international average!
While we hear about how many self-made billionaires never completed college, we also know that icons like Apple’s Steve Jobs and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg developed strong analytical, reading and story-telling skills before ditching their ivory towers. As the Wall Street Journal points out, clear communications (which require a high level of reading and writing proficiency) are more important than ever.
Reading helps us put business (and life) decisions in context. Of economic conditions. Consumer preferences. Financial considerations. Without context, women (and men) who want to run their own show, but can’t read well, have a much longer road to travel.
Fortunately, dozens of national organizations are helping to bridge the reading gap. The Literacy Information and Communication System, or LINCS, is a great resource to find literacy and adult education programs in your city.
Public libraries are the key to community literacy and entrepreneurial innovation, according to American Library Association President Barbara Stripling. (Disclosure: In addition to running Shoptimize, I am chief development officer for Hartford Public Library.)
Here are others leading the charge:
Community YWCAs around the country offer Early Learning and Childcare Centers that promote child development and school readiness, vital for helping parents obtain and retain employment, and prepare our next generations for lifelong learning and success.
Through tutoring, Achievers Clubs, Youth and Government and college preparation, YMCA organizations across the country offer young people reading and educational support to think bigger and pursue their goals.
Junior Achievement motivates and prepares young people for the real world by showing them the ‘end game’ – how their education fuels their success. JA works with teachers and volunteers to incorporate lessons, games and educational resources into their schoolwork. They show them how businesses run. They give purpose to reading.
If you know someone whose reading skills are keeping them from their dreams, don’t stay silent. Help them find a program that blends literacy with business savvy. Your support may help a new entrepreneur put her or his wings on!