David Risher


Worldreader is creating a future where everyone can be a reader.
Focus: Education, Technology
Geographic Area of Impact: Predominately Africa, India (total of 69 countries)
Model: Hybrid non-profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 17 million (since 2010)
Annual Budget: $13.7 million (2015)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 40% (2015)                                                                                                                  
The Social Problem
There are 740 million illiterate people in the world and 250 million children of primary school age who lack basic reading and writing skills. Books are necessary for the development of these skills, and still 50% of schools in Africa have few or no books at all. In addition, books are frequently culturally alien, out-of-date, and in languages that children are often just beginning to learn. Traditional methods to get paper books into the hands of people fail due to poor infrastructure and the high cost of printing and transportation.
Innovation and Activities
Worldreader is a global non-profit that uses low-cost technology, a personalized digital library, and a worldwide network of corporate and non-profit partners to help millions of underserved children and families reach their potential. It offers a collection of more than 31,000 digital books from over 331 publishers in 44 languages including Kiswahili, Hausa, Afrikaans, English, and more, contributing to local heritage and identity. 70% of its library comes from African and Indian publishers. Worldreader supports over 17 million people in 69 countries through two primary means:

  • Digital early reading programs in schools and libraries, typically through programmatic partnerships with organizations like USAID, UNHCR and community development organizations as well as companies like DHL and Amazon. $4,250 provides 25 e-readers loaded with 100 digital book titles each (total of 2,500 books) as well as training materials and technical support. Amazon donates e-readers to Worldreader and sells additional units at factory cost to Worldreader. To date, 127,000 students benefit from over 2.5 million books on 17,000 e-readers in 315 schools and libraries.


  • Digital Adult reading programs using Worldreader’s free mobile phone apps, reaching millions of users through mobile distribution partners and grassroots organizations. Companies such as Opera, Microsoft and Orange promote and preload Worldreader on their platforms and the phones they sell; organizations like India’s Society for All-Round Development and the Merrygold Heath network promote reading to children on mobile phones. Worldreader tracks reader behaviour, including how many books are being read, how long users spend reading and more. To date, nearly 17 million people have accessed Worldreader’s app and spent 15 million hours reading. On a monthly basis, there are 2 million people in the developing world actively reading on their cell phones through Worldreader.   

Rigorous monitoring and evaluation determine the educational impact of Worldreader’s program. 7 out of 10 primary students and 8 out of 10 library patrons report reading more, and Early Grade Reading Assessments show significant increase in reading-fluency scores. Since 2010, students in e-reading programs and users of the app have spent more than 15 million hours reading. Surveys conducted by Worldreader on mobile phones show that while girls and women make up 23% of readers on the Worldreader reading app, they consume 66% of the content, showing that digital reading has a positive impact on marginalized groups. 
The Entrepreneurs
David Risher is Worldreader’s CEO. Before founding Worldreader, he served as Amazon’s Senior Vice-President of US Retail. Under his leadership, the company’s US revenue grew from $16 million to $3 billion and a customer base from 1 million to 30 million. He was named a Microsoft Alumni Integral Fellow by Bill and Melinda Gates in 2011 and a Draper Richards Kaplan Social Entrepreneur for 2011-2015 for his leadership at Worldreader, and is an invited member of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Co-Founder Colin McElwee was previously director of marketing at Barcelona’s ESADE, where he successfully transformed a local Catalan business school into a globally recognized player in executive business education. He is an invited member of the Global Agenda Council on Africa of the WEF.