I wasn’t to know that it was a normal thing for somebody to be read a bedtime story. It’s something I’d only seen in films. But films are films, not reality.
These are the words of footballer Marcus Rashford yesterday on launching his latest campaign: a book club that aims to get children reading, especially those from vulnerable and underprivileged backgrounds.
The National Literacy Trust estimates 1 in 8 of the nation’s most disadvantaged children say they don’t have a book of their own at home. That has to change, and Marcus is right to be raising awareness of this issue.
Yet for all the good he’s doing, there are already cries of ‘why isn’t the Government doing more about child literacy?’ and ‘why does it take someone like Marcus Rashford to raise this?’ – but these easy refrains miss the point entirely. The Government is already doing a huge amount to boost reading rates, of course it is, but the key question that’s often ignored is ‘why do we expect them do it alone?’
Far too often private individuals and private organisations are treated with suspicion for charitable giving, for campaign fighting or for trying to do good in the world. Their motives are questioned, their ethics doubted - it’s far too easy to believe they’re doing it just for the reputational boost, and not because it’s simply the right thing to do.
In recent years we have become spoiled by the simplistic idea that the only solution to our many genuine societal issues is for the government to throw time and money (our money) to fix a problem. Despite this, in many clear cases, it is often far from the right way to swiftly and conclusively crack a challenge.
Marcus is teaming up with Macmillan Children’s Books and using his celebrity stardust to promote the benefits of reading. But he’s far from the only non-Governmental source pushing this. Since 2007, Dolly Parton’s ‘Imagination Library’ has delivered 40,000 books every single month to deprived communities across the UK – as at 2018 she’d given 100 million books to children around the world. McDonalds has this year started offering children’s books as the ‘toy’ in their Happy Meals. Supermodel and entrepreneur David Gandy backed the ‘Ten Million Minutes’ literacy challenge in 2017. The Evening Standard launched a ‘Get London Reading’ initiative in 2011. There are countless others in this area alone.
And why shouldn’t there be? Why shouldn’t we celebrate and encourage private organisations and individuals to donate; set up foundations and champion the causes they care about? They are often nimbler than government, with faster access to ready resources, and their evidently successful entrepreneurism could have a greater, long-term impact than 1,000 white papers.
Over the past few months we’ve seen plethora of private companies step in to help fight the pandemic: Airbus, Dyson, Ford and Rolls-Royce tasked their engineers with producing ventilators; surgical masks were made by Armani, Prada, Zara, and Yves Saint Laurent; and BrewDog turned its hand to pumping out hand sanitiser.
They didn’t have to, they chose to. Now the cynics among you will point to the inevitable good PR as a result, but there has to be more at play here. The UK has a long and proud history of private philanthropists using their business success to help valuable causes and fight for societal change – it’s in our collective DNA.
I’m a firm believer in the old maxim that ‘many hands make light work’. So next time a celebrity, entrepreneur or private company decides to do something worthwhile let’s not cast aspersions about their motives or why it’s not already been solved by government. Instead let’s be their biggest cheerleaders, encouraging them to keep on innovating, adapting and investing in our shared future.
‘The government should do it’ is reductionist – we must all be invested in solving the great challenges of our time. If we are then, inch-by-inch, we’ll make genuine, long-term progress in tackling societal injustices.
Yesterday it was revealed that Dolly Parton donated $1 million to aid research by the Vanderbilt University Medical Centre. That research helped Moderna conduct work that led to the announcement of a 95% effective Covid-19 vaccine. The UK is expected to receive five million does of this vaccine. Cheers Dolly – can’t wait to see what you tackle next!