September 08, 2016

Janet Johnstone: On mankind’s greatest invention – literacy

Janet Johnstone

Janet Johnstone


Some people point to the wheel as the world’s greatest invention, others to sliced bread. I’d argue that humankind’s greatest invention is neither. It’s a simple but constantly evolving invention that we use on a daily basis: literacy.

As Kofi Annan famously said “Literacy is the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”

The theme for International Literacy Day this year is ‘Reading the Past, Writing the Future’; highlighting the immense power of the written word to hand down knowledge from generation to generation. More than that, literacy enables humans to grow culturally, socially and intellectually. Learning and creativity are at the heart of human development, and are fundamental to our lives today.

At BNY Mellon, I’m immensely proud of the efforts we go to in order to help develop literacy skills in local communities around the world. In London, our employees have been helping primary school children to develop their literacy skills through one-to-one lunchtime tuition; and we’ve recently introduced a secondary school Spanish tuition group at a school in Lambeth.

These programs help young people around the world to develop their literacy skills in partnership with a supportive tutor from BNY Mellon. One-to-one tuition is an essential aspect of helping children who struggle with their literacy skills to catch up, and is often one of the most difficult aspects to provide in modern education. Literacy has consistently been shown to help more than just language skills; by giving everyone the ability to read, we can open doors to a new world of learning.

It’s amazing to see the benefits that our one-to-one program gives to children in need. I’m constantly inspired by stories from employees volunteering in the program; and how they are inspired by young people’s passion for learning and reading.

Literacy is close to my heart because it is central to success in our industry. Literacy enables communication, collaboration, and creativity throughout the financial services industry, elements that, combined with strong numerical skills, are essential to success.

In particular, cross border work within financial services would be impossible without literacy, both in our native and foreign languages. Thanks to worldwide literacy, our teams in London, New York, Mumbai and Hong Kong are able to work on the same projects in real time. These essential skills enable experts, technology and operational systems to combine their strengths to produce results across the globe.

Literacy and financial services are natural companions, and with the skills we gain in a literate society, each new generation of financial services professionals can come together, collaborate, and write the future together. Literacy opens doors to new worlds of possibility and we should all celebrate International Literacy Day and continue the work to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies around the world.