How to build a city that shapes thought leaders

A child who reads is an adult who thinks,” goes the saying. But how can a child read, and hence think, without access to books? In a country like Peru, a public library system is unheard of. Even though the public school system distributes thousands of books to schools, basically no school has a functional library system. It is therefore unsurprising that Peru ranks last on the Pisa scale for reading comprehension.

Teresa had a dream: to transform a generation of children into thinkers by increasing their accessibility to books through an improved public school library system. To achieve this, she founded the social enterprise Un Millon de Niños Lectores(One Million Readers). In five years, Teresa has built libraries at 21 schools across Peru, transforming the relationship with books for 18,683 children. Yet her impact remained local, isolated within the boundaries of the school community.

Alberto is a believer of ethical public service. As a lawyer, he has dedicated most of his professional life to local politics: at 25 he became head of cabinet for the Mayor of the Municipality of Miraflores and now at 31, was elected to the Peruvian congress who will begin its mandate on July 28th 2016.

Teresa and Alberto

Under normal circumstance, Teresa and Alberto would have probably never met. Teresa and Alberto, however, are not normal, they are global shapers (an initiative of the World Economic Forum). Once a month, they meet with other members of the Lima Hub to discuss issues of importance for their community. Here, Teresa realized that her and Alberto shared similar views and pitched him an idea: to make Miraflores the first Peruvian district with a public ordinance for an integrated public library system. Her goal: to push beyond school boundaries and implement her methodology at a district level. His goal: to be the first district in Peru with a public library system. Their goal: to create public libraries at all twelve of Miraflores’ public schools and design a public ordinance that would protect them by 2018.

2018 was overly ambitious — they reached 80% of their goal by mid-2016. The public ordinance granting infrastructure rights and the implementation and training for the management of a book loaning system at public school libraries was passed on June 28th. In parallel, libraries have been inaugurated at nine of the districts’ schools, with the remaining three scheduled to open by 2017. In just the first year, the project will transform the lives of over 100,000 citizens.

More importantly, the project has caught the eye of another fellow shaper: Felipe. Felipe knows that unless the necessary public mechanisms are set into motion, change will be slow. Currently advisor to the Peruvian Minister of Education, he is a part of a team reconstructing an education system in disarray. With this successful first results, Teresa and Alberto now hope that a district-level ordinance can be scaled up to a country-level policy.

For now, these shapers have shaped a new future for the schoolchildren of Miraflores; they have given them access to a library. A library that will not only offer them books, but that has also created a safe space where they can read and let their imagination run wild, a space where they can begin to think.

Schoolgirls at their newly inaugurated library in Miraflores, Lima, Perú.