We had just landed in Kuala Lumpur. Alex, co-founder of MYReaders, picked us up for dinner—we squeezed into his car filled with workbooks and teaching materials, which the MYReaders team themselves had designed.
MYReaders is a nonprofit that provides literacy programs for Malaysian schools and communities. The founders met as volunteers at Teach for Malaysia, where they realized that illiteracy was the root of their students’ learning difficulties. Because of this, they designed an afterschool program where their students taught each other how to read in English.
The founding team looked into the problem of illiteracy on a national level, and found out that half of 15-year-olds in Malaysia are unable to read. It’s safe to assume that an even larger number is unable to read or speak in English, which is not the medium of instruction in the country. In the Program for International Student Assessment ranking, Malaysia placed 59th out of 65 countries in reading. Besides its economic effects—estimated to cost the country the equivalent of PHP216B yearly—illiteracy has more personal consequences, affecting all aspects of a person’s life, such as education, employment, and self-esteem.
The team set out to expand their successful program to the rest of the country. Their literacy kit includes a workbook (set in Dyslexie, a font whose letters were designed to be more distinguishable from one another) and a set of storybooks. Each student is assigned a mentor who reads with them. At the end of the six-month program, a student would show an average of two years’ worth of reading growth.
Besides its economic effects—estimated to cost the country the equivalent of PHP216B yearly—illiteracy has more personal consequences, affecting all aspects of a person’s life, such as education, employment, and self-esteem.
It’s this impressive rate that has attracted schools and communities to run their own MYReaders programs. With the help of 100 volunteers, 920 student mentors, 224 teachers, and 15 funding partners, over 4000 students have learned to read with MYReaders in just five years.
We enjoyed a Malaysian breakfast of kaya toast with eggs and tea.
We started our first morning in Malaysia bright and early to drive to Klang, a city southwest of KL, where SK Kampung Idaman, a government school, runs a reading program. Although the program was designed in such a way that schools would be able to run it on their own, Alex was very hands-on, getting the kids to settle down and answering their questions. The students paired up, sat on the floor with their workbooks, and began to read out loud together with their teacher occasionally checking in on them. After the session, we drove back to KL and had a video call with another co-founder, Rachel, who talked to us about how they developed the brand’s visual identity.
The following day, we split up to attend two events: Nikki joined co-founder Sue Yen at a workshop where MYReaders was invited to promote their program to school principals; Dianne and Roxy joined a reading session led by volunteers at a community center.
At the workshop, Sue Yen started her presentation with a video of a boy’s reading progress. Within just six months, he was able to read with more confidence! This—and a PowerPoint packed with graphs and charts—surely impressed the principals who exchanged business cards with Sue Yen afterwards.
Sue Yen presenting MYReaders’ literacy program to school principals.
Meanwhile, a reading session was ongoing at PPR Kerinchi Community Center. Shortly before the kids filed in, Alex briefed the volunteers—a mix of regulars and newbies, including Dianne and Roxy—on how to use the workbook and how the session would go. They were paired up with kids and began to read together. After the session, the kids shared the new words they learned. Alex asked the volunteers to write a short praise for their mentees to encourage them to attend the next session.
In between reading sessions, on the road, and over glasses of teh ais, Alex and Sue Yen talked to us passionately about their goals. They varied from simple things (like adding a new member to their team of four) to bigger aims (such as eradicating illiteracy). Over the course of two days, we had gained a clearer picture of MYReaders and understood that these were important goals to work towards.
Dianne reading with one of the students during the community session.
We found three main challenges: that the program may feel like a burden to teachers; that volunteers could be properly oriented and trained to encourage and prepare them for sessions; and that MYReaders’ brand strategy and identity could be more defined so their mission shines through. We found that the issue was not that children could not be taught how to read, but that those who teach them are unequipped, unmotivated, and unappreciated. We needed to prepare and celebrate them in order to solve illiteracy together.
Our design proposal was rooted in the challenges we had observed. We wanted to help MYReaders empower not only children who are unable to read, but also the teachers, students, and volunteers who taught them—not only by providing them with the proper tools and materials, but also by deepening the connection between mentors and mentees.
We wanted to highlight that the MYReaders team alone could not solve illiteracy—it could only accomplish this with the help of its community of mentors. The new logo was inspired by how mentors and mentees would read together by pointing at the words on the workbook, a reminder that they’re with each other every step of the way.
We found that the issue was not that children could not be taught how to read, but that those who teach them are unequipped, unmotivated, and unappreciated. We needed to prepare and celebrate them in order to solve illiteracy together.
We designed shirts, business cards, and pitch decks to make sure the brand was present in every touchpoint. To establish a stronger presence on social media, we created graphics to recruit more volunteers. All these contributed to the way every volunteer, every teacher, every funding partner would interact with the brand, giving MYReaders more credibility and confidence in their mission.
We proposed a kit for teachers and volunteers that would guide them throughout the program. This would include an orientation deck, a training video, and posters to put up in their classrooms. We also created pins and name tags for mentors and motivational stamps for students. Each item was designed not just to enrich one’s experience with the brand, but also to remind them of MYReaders’ purpose.
MYReaders’ first mentor leadership camp. We were excited to see our designs for notebooks, banners, and button pins at the event!
When we presented our design proposal, the team told us they realized that their logo is more than just a symbol—it’s an opportunity to tell their story. They launched their rebrand with our proposed logo in April and are bringing more of our designs to life. The team shared that they give away button pins as prizes at trainings and workshops, and that they “have never seen teachers and students this eager to answer our questions!” It’s exciting to see that our designs have encouraged MYReaders’ community to participate in the cause—this was our goal all along. We saw this collaboration as more than just improving MYReaders’ brand, but instead, a celebration of their mission to empower the students and mentors.
Each item was designed not just to enrich one’s experience with the brand, but also to remind them of MYReaders’ purpose.
The MYReaders team’s dedication astounded us from the moment we met them. In the short span of time we spent together, we saw how much work and heart was put into each reading session, each meeting, each presentation. What amazed us the most was that they did this every single day. It’s this commitment that will shape a nation where every child can read.
Read more about our work with MYReaders here.—
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