Our “Theory of Change”

Non-profit organisations are often assessed in terms of their “Theory of Change”. They have to answer the question, “How will what you choose to do, make a difference in the world?”.

When looking for wisdom or inspiration, we often turn to the children that visit the Otto Foundation libraries. Learners know that a library will improve their reading skills, and that this will boost their ability to learn and help them understand the world around them. What these learners understand intuitively, is also borne out in research findings.


There is a simple logic to the Otto Foundation’s focus on investing in libraries and in projects that promote reading for joy. We know that South Africa will do better as a country if we could have a more just, and equitable society. We know that to achieve this, we absolutely have to ensure that every South African child, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, receives a quality education. We know that in their education journey, children first learn to read, and then start reading to learn. We know that we are falling behind on this, and that only 1 in 4 South African children can read with comprehension by age 10.

That is the challenge.

The Research is Clear

There is strong research evidence for the following facts about responses to the literacy challenge:

  • Reading scores improve when learners also read for enjoyment outside of the classroom environment.
  • Kids who have reading role models (like parents that are readers, passionate librarians or teachers who value and recognise good reading habits) will be drawn into reading.
  • Learners read for joy, when they have access books. And not just any books. Books that they can select for themselves based on what they are curious about. Books that they can see themselves in. And books that are relevant to their lived experiences.
  • Children who are members of a library are twice as likely to read at home.

There are two additional research findings that we continue to find remarkable, and that is foundational to our thinking about libraries:

  • Firstly, there is compelling research evidence that access to a school library can offset or balance the effect of poverty on literacy development.
  • Secondly, international research consistently shows that reading for enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.

In a country where we continue to battle to address the inequities in our education system, it therefore makes sense to invest in books and libraries. The Otto Foundation (and apparently the learners we work with!) agree with education expert Stephen Krashen, who has said that

“Free voluntary reading, or ‘reading because you want to’, is the missing link in language education…It is not only the easiest way and the most pleasant way of developing literacy – it is the only way.”

This is why we continue to invest in libraries.

One Library at a time

The Protea Library is the third library created by the Otto Foundation to serve a cluster of schools at the foot of Table Mountain in the District Six/ Zonnebloem area. It is the second library (along with the Liyabona Library at Holy Cross Primary School) that we have developed in partnership with the
Kamvalethu Foundation.

The Protea Library was officially opened on 12 November by Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde.

We know that this library will touch the lives of many learners and has the potential to change the trajectory of their education journey.

We hope to continue partnering with the Kamvalethu Foundation to invest in the success of South Africa’s children by investing in children’s libraries.

Photography credit: Nardus Engelbrecht