Reading and Writing for Pleasure, South Africa

  • Date published:
    23 October 2015

Programme Overview

Programme Title Reading and Writing for Pleasure
Implementing Organization FunDza Literacy Trust
Language of Instruction English
Funding DG Murray Trust, Claude Leon Foundation, Potter Foundation, Indigo Trust, Nussbaum Foundation, the Learning Trust and other philanthropic organisations.
Programme Partners Mxit Reach
Annual Programme Costs ZAR 3 million (US $265,137) / Annual programme cost per learner: ZAR 6 (US $0.53)
Date of Inception 2011

Country Context

South Africa’s low levels of education and literacy contribute to the ongoing cycle of poverty in the country. South Africa was the lowest-ranked benchmarking participant in the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). The study found that 43 per cent of Grade 5 students had not acquired the basic skills necessary to read at a level equivalent to international Grade 4. Significant improvement in reading and literacy is vital for South Africa’s future development.

A number of factors explain why South Africa has not developed a strong culture of reading. One of the biggest is that books are very expensive – many South Africans simply cannot afford to buy books. A study conducted by the South African Book Development Council in 2007 found that just 1 per cent of South Africans were regular book-buyers (i.e. had bought at least three books to read for pleasure in the previous twelve months).

Another factor is that schools and libraries are not providing the type of access that can drive a culture of reading. A study by Equal Education found that while 21 per cent of state schools in South Africa had a library, only 7 per cent were actually functional and stocked with books. Furthermore, the books that libraries are stocked with are, in many cases, not the sort that wouldappeal to reluctant readers. There are very few books that reflect the lives of young South Africans from under-resourced communities.

FundZa’s mission is to drive demand for reading and writing, increase access to quality content delivered in new and innovative ways, enable aspiring writers to publish their creative work, and encourage interaction, discussion and debate.

The FundZa Literacy Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to growing a culture of reading and writing among South African young people (aged 13–25) from low-income or under-resourced communities.

FundZa is managed by a highly skilled team of professionals, supported by a committed board of trustees who provide governance and oversight. FundZa works with a wide range of stakeholders, including government and independent schools, other non-profits and community-based organizations, corporates and foundations.

Programe Overview

The specific aim of the programme is to inspire young people to read and to grow a culture of reading and writing. To promote literacy among South African youth, FundZa focuses on the power of reading for pleasure, rather than on curriculum-based academic support. Studies show that reading for pleasure is a powerful indicator of future success out of school, as well as increasing skills of language and vocabulary development.

To achieve its aims, FundZa runs four outreach programmes:

  1. Popularizing Reading is growing a network of beneficiary organizations around South Africa, and providing them with high-interest, exciting teenage/young adult fiction books to encourage reading for pleasure. Beneficiary groups provide regular feedback to FundZa about how successful the books have been in getting young people to read.
  2. Growing Communities of Readers leverages the extensive reach of mobile technology to deliver quality, locally-generated reading content to teenagers and young adults on their mobile phones. The ‘mobi network’ is interactive and encourages reader feedback and discussion of stories. Every week, FundZa commissions a professional writer to contribute a new short story to its growing ‘library on a phone’. This is released in serial format – a new chapter appears each day – engaging readers and helping to make reading a daily habit.
  3. Developing Young Writers encourages young people to improve their written communication skills and discover their own unique voice. This programme runs a variety of writing workshops and hosts writing mentorship programmes for talented young writers. All work produced in this programme is published in the ‘Fanz’ section of the mobi network. Readers comment on the work and so encourage the writers to improve and develop their story-telling skills.
  4. Deepening Reading Practice is a newly launched programme to provide support material for teachers and reading-group facilitators to use FundZa’s extra-curricular reading content to improve comprehension skills and deepen the reading experience.
  5. FundZa´s main target audience is black South African youth aged between 13 and 25, and the groups that support them. FundZa is still a young organization but its reach is significant. It has worked with more than 200 beneficiary groups (each supporting an average of 100 readers), delivering in excess of 30,000 books. More than 600,000 people have accessed its mobi reading app with in excess of 50,000 accessing it on a monthly basis. Over 500 young people have had their writing published through FundZa.

Aims and Objectives

Besides the main objective – to inspire young people to read and grow a culture of reading and writing – FundZa’s outreach programmes work together to:

  1. Create demand for reading and provide content to which young people in South Africa can relate and which will get them interested in reading. Content is locally produced. The stories reflect the lives, issues and ambitions of many young people.
  2. Increase access to relevant reading content by providing under-resourced communities with high-interest books and stories at no or low cost to individual readers.
  3. Leverage the reach of mobile technology to extend the impact and grow new communities of readers.
  4. Encourage readers to practise their writing skills and thereby celebrate new creative voices.
  5. Spur viral growth, thus obviating the need for expensive mass-marketing campaigns. FundZa´s mobi network is designed to encourage sharing of content and to support converted readers in getting their friends, family and community to read too.

Programme Implementation

Approaches and Methodologies

FundZa’s approach hinges on its conviction that reading for pleasure is one of the most important steps towards lifelong literacy, academic success and self-development. Research has found that reading for pleasure is one of the most accurate indicators of future success, more so even than the educational level of a child’s parents. Reading for pleasure helps to boost achievement in maths and science subjects, as well as the more obvious link to language-based subjects.

The key to FundZa’s work is providing material that young people want to read, that will develop their understanding of the world around them, and that exploits the most accessible media available so as to engage as many young people as possible.

In the Popularizing Reading programme, the beneficiary groups organize the management of the book reading process themselves. Some use the books as part of classroom lessons, reading aloud or reading in groups; others use them in a classroom library or as part of a lending programme. FundZa also provides resource material to accompany the books in order to encourage facilitators or teachers to engage in open discussion about the material, rather than using exercises with ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. This is essential in the development of active and engaged readers and thinkers. Activities include ideas for discussions and debates, comprehension exercises and fun word games.

Through the Growing Communities of Readers programme, FundZa adds a new story to its ‘library on a cellphone’ every week. Each story is seriealized over the course of the week, encouraging readers to visit daily to find out what happens next. Discussion questions at the end of chapters facilitate reader interaction – readers can comment on the stories, tell others what they think about issues relating to the story, or share predictions as to what they think will happen next. The content is archived in the growing library, which means that it will be available to readers in the future.

There is debate about the role of local language in South African education. FundZa believes in the importance of reading in one’s local language, to support cognitive and personal development, and at least once a month one of the stories is translated into one of South Africa’s local languages. But FundZa also recognizes that young people in South Africa must sit examinations in English. English remains a vital part of South Africa’s education and business world. Therefore, the encouragement of a reading culture in English is also extremely important. This requires content written in English that is relevant to readers’ lives, so that the skills of reading – comprehension, inferring, reflecting – are almost automatically engaged. FundZa creates or commissions a large portion of its reading content. This is because very little local literature is made available to the general public through traditional publishing or book-selling channels.

Finally, through its Developing Young Writers programme, FundZa hosts Write4Life writing workshops, which take place over one or two days. There are different types of workshops, including: Writing Me, Branding Me, Investigating Life and Writing Good Essays. In addition, readers can submit their creative writing for publication in the ‘Fanz’ section of the mobi network. FundZa provides writers with feedback on their work and publishes writing and editing tips to help them to improve their written communication skills. For very talented writers, FundZa offers a mentorship programme in which young writers are paired with a professional writer to develop stories for the FundZa mobi network.

The programmes are ongoing, apart from the Write4Life workshops, which take place for specific groups (generally between 20 and 25 young people at a time) over a limited time period. The Growing Communities of Readers programme is designed to be offered at scale – so a limitless number of readers can access the content at the same point in time anywhere in the country.

As the objective of ⁄ programmes is to encourage reading and writing for pleasure rather than formal learning, there are no certificates or accreditations for participants.

Programme Content

FundZa works with young South Africans within its target group to find out what sort of stories engage them in reading for pleasure. Incorporating feedback and making changes has been key to understanding what works.

The vast amount of content – whether in print or electronic format – is fictional, but FundZa also promotes the telling of true stories, memoirs and biographies that might inspire young people. As these stories are written specifically for young South Africans, they cover topics and issues that are relevant to young people’s lives. For instance, FundZa offers stories on teen pregnancy, gangs, xenophobia, homophobia, bullying, and so on. The stories do not preach but contain positive messages that aim to help young people reflect on their choices and better understand the relationship between cause and effect.

Much of the material is developed by professional writers who work collaboratively with the FundZa team to meets the needs of readers. All print books are tested with learners as part of the editing process. Their feedback helps the writers ensure that the content meets their needs. In addition, the feedback received from stories on the mobi network and from the various beneficiary groups around the country helps FundZa understand what content works best to inspire a culture of reading.

Recruitment and training of facilitators

Generally, workshop facilitation is conducted by FundZa staff members. They are paid R250 (US $22.28) per hour or R2,000 (US$178.26) for a day’s work.

The facilitators receive in-house and on-the-job training. One Write4Life workshop – Writing Good Essays – trains teachers too. They are taken through a similar course aimed at the learners on this course and are given additional tips on how to encourage their students to write more creatively and coherently. The leaders of the beneficiary groups receive monthly newsletters that provide them with instructions on how to get their students to read more. FundZa also promotes reading for pleasure through conferences and events, as well as its work with partner organizations.

In the writing workshops, the ratio is generally between eight and twelve learners per facilitator. For writing mentorship, the ratio is one to one.

Mobile technology is used to deliver the content used in the Growing Communities of Readers programme. This also provides a publishing space for young writers involved in the Developing Young Writers programme. In addition, FundZa uses technology to communicate with the teachers, reading club facilitators and reading champions in the Popularizing Reading programme. Group leaders complete short monthly surveys that can be completed on their mobile phones, tablets or computers. This is used to measure engagement with the programme and the success of the books in getting young people to read.


Popularizing Reading programme: Beneficiary groups – schools, community libraries, non-profit organizations and reading clubs – are invited to apply to become a beneficiary group to receive donated books from FundZa. There must be a ‘reading champion’ or group leader who will take responsibility for the books and provide regular feedback. This person signs an agreement with FundZa agreeing to these terms and promising that the books will be used well, cared for properly and used to promote reading in the group/library/school.

Growing Communities of Readers programme: Individual readers can access FundZa’s ‘library on a phone’ in a number of different ways – through the responsive site, by downloading the Mxit app and making FundZa a contact, or by downloading FundZapp from the Google Play store. The process is opt-in – so readers need to be motivated enough to open the app or access the content of their own volition.

Developing Young Writers programme: For the Write4Life workshops, most frequently FundZa works with groups of learners involved in the Popularizing Reading programme. However, in terms of submitting work for publication in the ‘Fanz’ section of the mobi network, most writers self-select, i.e. they send through their creative writing work of their own accord.

Importantly, because the programmes are about reading and writing for pleasure, there are no formal assessments. The idea is to promote reading and writing as activities, to make them seem fun and pleasurable – rather than to assess and grade.

Monitoring and Evaluation

All programmes are monitored and the Growing Communities of Readers programme has been externally evaluated.

The Popularizing Reading programme is being regulated by monitoring the number of books delivered, the number of readers reached through each group and the response of readers to the content. In addition, reading facilitators report back on how the books are impacting on attitudes to reading and language acquisition. This feedback shows that FundZa´s books are developing a culture of reading among the groups, particularly for the stronger and keener readers but also for weaker or more reluctant ones. In addition, they are helping young people to develop their language skills.

In the Growing Communities of Readers programme, the mobi network is continuously being monitored through Google Analytics and a specially developed monitoring system that works on the Mxit App. The latter links individual readers’ Mxit ID numbers (unique identifier) to every page accessed on the system. These are time-stamped and provide some access to demographic data (date of birth, gender and, in some cases, location).

This system has provided FundZa with data it can analyse to better understand reading habits and preferences. In addition, FundZa is able to survey readers. Data from these surveys were used for the external evaluation conducted by the University of Cape Town´s Institute for Monitoring and Evaluation. These are some of the key findings from the study:

  1. The results suggest that visits to the FundZa site increase the amount and frequency of self-reported reading. This does not depend on pre-existing resources at home or in the community, but is a function of the visits themselves.
  2. The proportion of respondents reading stories on cellular phones increases the longer they are enrolled in the Growing Communities of Readers programme.
  3. The more participants read (according to objective measures of reading behaviour), the more likely they were to indicate that they enjoyed reading outside of school in the most recent month.
  4. The study showed small but significant changes in the desired direction, with respondents reporting that they: have more books at home; read more books outside of school; read more frequently and for longer; prefer reading books over other activities; and consider themselves better readers.

Finally, FundZa receives feedback from all workshop and mentorship participants in its Developing Young Writers programme. FundZa collects the feedback and it is passed on to writers to inform the development of their work. There are plans to independently evaluate this feedback to ascertain whether measurable changes in writing ability can be observed. A future study will take place in 2015/16.

A FundZa mentee wrote: ‘I would like to thank the FundZa team for giving me the opportunity to showcase my talent. Being in the FundZa Fanz was a learning curve for me and Third Avenue is my play. At first I didn’t think I would get this far, but thanks to FundZa for their perseverance and support. May God Bless you guys and continue what you are doing.’

A participant in FundZa’s Branding Me workshop said: ‘It was valuable because it helped me to get to know difficult words and, with role-playing interviews, to match descriptive words with professions.’

Positive feedback was also received from the Writing Better Essays workshop run for teachers in the rural Eastern Cape. Natalie Koenig of Axium commented: ‘Practical training always wins, and when FundZa came to the Eastern Cape, they brought practicality in a big way! The printed resources shared at the teacher's training in Qunu were user-friendly, filled with needed examples, and the activities that were facilitated could be used in the classroom without needing anything that teachers didn't already have – or wouldn't be able to make easily. FundZa showed teachers how they could use the resources that were accessible to them with great results!’

Programme Impact

Impacts and Achievements

Since 2011, FundZa has grown a large community of readers within its target audience of 13 to 25 year olds from under-resourced communities. FundZa reaches, on average, 50,000 readers via its mobi network every month. The network receives more than 100 comments daily and boasts an average visit duration of 14 minutes per session – demonstrating deep engagement with the stories.

Over and above this, FundZa has commissioned the creation of local content that is highly engaging and relevant for young South Africans. It has produced at least one new mobi story per week for the last two and half years, which has resulted in an extremely well-resourced ‘library on a phone’.

FundZa has also grown its pool of writing talent, with around forty writers having been paid for their seven-chapter stories on the site. A couple of the mentored writers are now professional FundZa writers and their stories are among the most popular on the site.

FundZa is very proud of its achievements and the wide recognition it has received in a relatively short space of time. This includes:

  • Selection as one of fifteen finalists for the 2014 World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) awards.
  • Selection as one of five finalists for the Microsoft Tech Awards 2014.
  • FundZa’s head Mignon Hardie’s selection as finalist in the Association of MBAs’ Entrepreneurial Venture 2013 Award, as well as for the Regional Businesswomen’s Association Award (social entrepreneurship category) 2014.
  • Recognition as one of the 2013 Nominet Trust Top 100 – one of 100 best examples of social tech innovation in the world.
  • Selection of FundZa’s mobi network as an official project of the World Design Capital 2014.
  • The US Library of Congress’s selection of FundZa as a semi-finalist in their Literacy Awards 2013 and its inclusion in its Best Practices publication.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Funding is one of the major constraints facing the project as it forests a limit on what is achievable in terms of the development of technology as well as the internal capacity to further cultivate the programmes. FundZa has seven staff members who work hard to develop content, distribute books, manage ICT resources, maintain partnerships and sustain relationships with funders. To scale up further and have even greater impact, additional funding will be required.

FundZa is planning to offer its services across other technology platforms. In addition, there are plans to further enhance the interactivity of the various platforms to deepen the reader experience and further incentivize reading for pleasure. Another challenge concerns content development. The more local content the programme can develop, the better able it is to meet the needs of readers. The plan is to develop more non-fiction content that appeals to a more male audience. This would be contained within a separate portal (Fundi FundZa).

There is a further challenge to link the content produced to the formal education curriculum and to encourage the education department to use these resources inside or outside the classroom.

One of the main lessons learned has been that once readers get into the habit of reading, they want more and more content. As a result, FundZa is trying to supply greater quantities of content than ever before.


FundZa´s Building for Sustainable Impact programme provides the basis from which its outreach programmes operate. It is essential for FundZa´s development that all aspects of sustainability are considered and implemented. These include ensuring corporate governance compliance, financial reporting, fundraising, advocacy, stakeholder relations, marketing to develop a growing readership and supporter base, and strategy development.

FundZa focuses on developing a demand for reading and, by developing young writers too, it is able to complete the circle, ensuring embedded sustainability of demand and supply.

Readers receive most of the content at no cost, but are reminded of the value and cost of providing the reading material through FundZa´s in-app donation facility. Their steady stream of micro-donations is an important acknowledgement of their recognition of the value of reading.

FundZa is developing financial sustainability beyond donor funding, by leveraging its large user-base in order to develop partnerships with commercial enterprises that recognize the value of connecting with FundZa´s readership.

Regular communication – with its beneficiary groups, readers and writers – through newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, its own mobi network and traditional media ensures that FundZa is able to firmly embed its relationship with its community to ensure sustainability.

FundZa also develops awareness by ensuring regular media coverage and attending conferences and events. It has presented at more than ten conferences and seminars, locally and abroad, during 2013/14.



Mignon Hardie
Managing Trustee
85 Main Road, Muizenberg, 7945, South Africa
Tel: +27 21 709 0688
Email: mignon@FundZa.co.za
Website: FundZa.co.za

Last update: June 2015

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 25 July 2017. Reading and Writing for Pleasure, South Africa. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 4 June 2023, 10:39 CEST)

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