Growing Communities of Readers
Growing Communities of Readers
FunDza is focused on growing generations of young South Africans empowered through literacy and a love of reading. A universally recognized need, reading provides the foundation for all education; and education is a major driver of economic and social mobility.
FunDza provides young people across the country with access to quality locally-generated reading content via their mobile phones.
FunDza's highly engaging content hooks even reluctant readers into reading every day. Its “library on a cellphone” showcases fiction and non-fiction books, short stories, plays and poetry. The content is written by award-winning and celebrated local writers. Each week FunDza publishes a new short story which is serialized in seven parts, providing fresh content every day. Feedback shows that this method is successful in getting readers to visit the mobile network frequently and making reading for pleasure a daily habit. In addition to commissioning new content, FunDza republishes interesting and inspirational stories provided by other publishers or writers. It is also mentoring aspiring young writers to have their work showcased through the mobile network.
The education received by young people in post-apartheid South Africa remains vastly unequal. Poverty and its attendant low levels of literacy lie at the heart of the problem. Access to books is low; just eight percent of public schools have functional libraries. A 2007 study by the SA Book Development Council found that only 14 percent of South African adults are “active readers” and only five percent of parents read to their children.
Latest reports claim that South Africa has nine million functionally illiterate people, 4.7 million of whom are children. A UNESCO report states that “children from the wealthiest households in South Africa are 10 times as likely as children from the poorest households to score well on reading”.
Whilst South Africa is extremely book-poor, the country is also mobile-rich. According to a 2012 World Bank report, 75% of South Africans over the age of 15 have access to a cellphone.
While smartphone adoption is growing, the vast majority of people in South Africa - specifically in those poor communities that FunDza aims to reach - use feature phones. FunDza's solutions are aimed to meet the needs of marginalised youth by providing relevant content that is written in accessible language about pertinent issues through cellphones as well as through paper books.
FunDza is addressing these issues by providing access to engaging and exciting young adult content, in the “place” where teens and young adults already spend much of their time --on their mobile phones. It delivers content at low or no cost to the reader and employs the popular social concepts of sharing and engagement to grow its reading community in an organic way. The interactive mobile network stimulates participation. Readers can comment on stories, contribute their own content and share stories with friends.
Through its Developing Young Writers programme, FunDza is also skilling young writers to be the content producers of tomorrow. It works with hundreds of young writers to have their work published in the 'Fanz' section of the mobi network. And, it also runs intensive writing workshops and writing mentorship programmes - in which young aspirant and talented writers are paired with seasoned professional writers to produce stories for publication.
Currently FunDza’s mobile network is accessed by over 50,000 unique users each month. Google Analytics shows that the average session length is about 14 minutes, indicating active engagement. Since inception, more than 100,000 comments have been published on the site. The network receives approximately 100 comments a day, reflecting the popular appeal of the content. FunDza believes reading supports transformation and social justice. It develops stories around particular issues to promote awareness, sensitivity and empathy for marginalized members of communities. To this end it has worked with organisations such as the UNHCR to promote awareness of issues related to refugees, Corruption Watch to educate readers about how corruption impacts on their daily lives, the Perinatal Mental Health Project to investigate the psychological impacts of teen pregnancy, as well as a range of other groups.
FunDza's mobi network includes a responsive site - accessible by any device connected to the Internet, an app on the popular social network Mxit (which is used mainly by feature phone users), and an Android app (FunDzApp, which is available in the Google Play store). It also partners with two wifi hotspot providers so that its content is available free of charge for unlimited usage by users at Project Isizwe and Wi-Taxi hotspots around the country. It is looking for other partnerships to grow its reach further and ensure that its exciting content is accessible to the vast majority of young South Africans.
FunDza has launched a new programme - Deepening Reading Practice - through which it will deliver an online reading curriculum that can be used in formal learning environments. This is being tested with the Year Beyond project - an initiative of the Western Cape Government to improve learner outcomes in under-resourced schools and communities in the province.
FunDza is also improving its content delivery platform to incorporate language and comprehension tools and to include “gamification” strategies to enhance user experience.
In addition, FunDza is planning a number of “special” story projects. In 2014 it launched its “Rights” project that brings to life the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights through a series of powerful stories and accompanying resource material. Similar projects and planned promotions (competitions, etc.) will help to expand the readership.
FunDza is continuously looking at new and innovative ways to use technology to scale its impact and reach new audiences. It is exploring the use of other mobile platforms and social networks and is seeing how it can reduce delivery costs for the end user so that it can really encourage a culture of reading and writing in South Africa.