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How a Little Rice and a Lot of Reading is Supporting Literacy in ASEAN

May 29, 2019
This article was updated 12 July
Literacy is an essential foundation of an equitable society. It empowers individuals through education, enables them to learn, and provides an important route out of poverty. Yet according to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), there are still an estimated 750 million people around the world who lack basic literacy.  Organisations like the Wilson Global Initiative (WGI) are working to change that.

WGI was founded in 2014 by then 14-year-old Chance Wilson, motivated by his observations of classmates who struggled to read and write. Today, the WGI is a global organisation with a network of partners and initiatives around the world. In Asia, the important work of WGI is undertaken beneath the banner of the Read & Rice programme, an initiative which works with local partners to incentivise literacy learning by providing food for those it supports.

But literacy isn’t just a challenge for inspiring NGOs to tackle, it’s up to responsible corporate citizens to play their part. That’s why GE has been working to support Read & Rice here in ASEAN. With programmes underway in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta, here are the views of three GE volunteers on what makes the initiative so important to them.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


In Malaysia, Read & Rice is improving literacy amongst low-income children with the help of local partnerships. Taufiq Ab Razak is a Commercial Finance Manager at GE Steam Power and is also the leader for GE Volunteers Malaysia, he tells us what that means in practice.

“Read & Rice is an inspiring programme and Chance (WGI’s founder) is an inspiration in himself! After seeing one of his classmates unable to read in his early teens, he was inspired to set up WGI. All I wanted to do in my teens was play football and video games! For me, it was surprising to see that literacy was still a problem in the US, and I knew it was a problem here in Malaysia, so I decided to support the local programme.”

“There is still the perception within some communities in Malaysia that investing time in education is a trade-off to working and earning money. In the community we taught, the children’s parents were working around the clock and schooling was not emphasised. So, the Read & Rice program encourages them to learn by providing meals after the sessions. That’s one less meal the parents have to worry about (sometimes for multiple children), and hopefully that little bit of education will open up opportunities for the children and change their futures.”



Singapore’s Read and Rice initiative works closely with foreign domestic helpers in the country, committing to support and develop English language proficiency. Steve Yik, an engineer at GE Aviation Engine Services Singapore, and his colleague Charlie Harrison, work together to lead the GE Volunteers chapter in the country. He’s clearly passionate about the potential of this programme to help uplift people’s lives.

“The founder of WGI, Mr. Chance Wilson, is a very young and selfless individual. His goal is to reach out and teach individuals the basic English language skills we all take for granted.”

“I believe every individual should be given the equal opportunity to learn the English language, so he or she can be understood while improving the ability to communicate with each other.

“We had a great opportunity to teach our foreign domestic helper friends. The ladies attended with a real zest to learn English. Their primary reason for joining was to understand and to be understood when communicating at their job, and to dispel their doubts about use of the English language.

“The beneficiaries left feeling empowered after each session, and it was heart-warming to see them remembering and practicing what they learnt the previous lessons. It was a win-win situation for both the beneficiary and the volunteer. Simply - empowering through language!”

Jakarta, Indonesia


Jakarta, Indonesia

The Indonesian chapter of the Read & Rice initiative is working to empower impoverished children through education. GE employee Liviana Jobila, Lead Product Sales Specialist for Power Transformer and Shunt Reactors, tells us her story.

“I’m passionate about the educational volunteering opportunity that the Read & Rice Programme offers. Education is fundamental to build a better nation, which is especially important for a developing country like Indonesia with a lot of gaps between people’s literacy levels.

“It’s fantastic to see the real benefit this programme to the street children who need it. But we as volunteers also benefit from reflecting on how grateful we should be for our own opportunities.”

 “This is a chance to give back to society, and help those children gain the knowledge they need. In three words it’s about teaching, fun, and society.”

Supporting literacy in ASEAN


With a global footprint and significant regional presence in ASEAN, GE is uniquely positioned to support these initiatives, but equally committed to unlocking the benefits of literacy for the societies in which it operates. The words of Chance Wilson, Chairman and Chief Executive of WGI, highlight why that’s such an important cause to share.

“The central goal of WGI is to end illiteracy around the world. Ending illiteracy is central to increasing human development, lowering poverty and crime, and ultimately building a brighter future for the world.

“Read & Rice supports this goal by teaching literacy skills to underprivileged people in the region. This programme, by teaching these skills, plays an active role in ending illiteracy. Partners like General Electric are critical for the work of WGI. They provide the manpower and resources that make work like Read & Rice possible.”

Thanks to the outstanding work of organisations like WGI, GE has the opportunity to work in partnership to tackle the global challenge of literacy rates around the world. Because inspiring people to read is an inspiring way to support a better society. There’s perhaps nobody better to argue that point than Chance, the Founder of WGI.

“Illiteracy is one of the world’s greatest issues, impacting hundreds of millions of people around the world. The more work we do to end this issue, the better the world will ultimately become.”