Each year 8 September marks UNESCO’s International Literacy Day. 16.4% of adults in England, or 7.1 million people, have ‘very poor literacy skills‘.
As a result, they will have limited job opportunities and, as parents, they won’t be able to support their children’s learning. Supporting literacy is key to changing the world and enabling children to become independent and self-sufficient adults. Lulu Skantze, co-founder of children magazine Storytime, is a long-time advocate of literacy issues in the UK and the world. Here is her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current role
I’m the co-founder and Editorial Director for Storytime magazine. I started my career in advertising but moved into publishing after my MA at Central Saint Martins. In the publishing world, I found I could combine my love for words and images, and I knew I had found my space. I have always been an avid traveller and I was curious about languages and the world from a very young age. I went to work in Germany when I was 20 and I have been on the move ever since. Storytime is a magazine with stories and illustrations from all over the world, and I wanted it to be inspirational to children the same way stories inspired me when I was little. I think that was how it all started – reading, writing, drawing, sharing, sometimes I feel that is what I have been doing my whole life.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I did! From a very young age I had a clear vision of some of the things I would like to do, learn and places I would like to visit. I think it has helped me to achieve a few dreams. I tend to look at my plans again every few years to make sure I’m happy with the direction I am going and where I am. I love changes and my biggest fear is getting stuck. We all change, and so do our dreams.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I think we all do – it’s part of the journey. Sometimes being a woman, being young, being a foreigner, are all things that can be hurdles. I found that people took a while to take me seriously. Self-funding a publishing company was a bold move, and it was a fine balance to launch a new product and make the financials work while establishing it. There are a lot of variables and unseen obstacles once you take a product to market, so it’s important to build some financial resilience and keep a close eye on the budget, while still taking risks. Leslie Coathup, my co-founder, and I are constantly learning new ways to do things and having new ideas to grow the business. It never ends, but we operate well outside our comfort zones.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Now is a pretty good time! Publishing a magazine title that is still growing strong seven years on, is read in over 60 countries and is now about to launch in China – feels like a dream come true.
Also, I am proud that through the lockdowns we worked with schools to send out copies of the magazine, both physical and digital, at cost price, to pupils most at risk of falling behind. It’s wonderful to feel that our work has a positive impact for children and society at large.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I never stop learning. I am constantly open to new things and willing to learn and improve. I think the thirst for knowledge, curiosity and observing the world around me is essential to what I do.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have met some great people who have inspired me along the way, but I have not been mentored. Experiences have more value when shared and I think we all can learn a lot from that exchange. I would love to pass on my knowledge to others and become a mentor to someone starting their journey in publishing.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
I think there is some work that needs to be done on both ends of the scale. Whilst I agree that we need more women in top positions and supporting other women to get there too, I also believe we need to start early on and introduce those ideas to children from a very young age in our education system. I would like to see more children reading stories that are not labelled as “stories for girls and stories for boys” – but that are simply great stories and that everything is possible in them. If we can teach children from a young age that there are no such things as jobs or roles specifically for boys and for girls, we are more likely to see these changes happen naturally.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Do not be afraid to adjust your sails. Sometimes being too fixed on a plan or an idea means that you miss some incredible opportunities. It is very important to have the courage to start something and follow your dreams, but it is equally important to be open and adjust your direction along the way. I was very driven but not very flexible when I was younger.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur setting up a new business right now?
It is very hard to do it alone so find people that share your vision and your work ethic and share the victories with them too. I am incredibly grateful and lucky to be sharing the Storytime journey with Leslie Coathup, my business partner. Sometimes you need new perspectives and a push when feeling stuck. We work very well as a team and complement each other’s skills. We remind ourselves to celebrate each milestone because when you are busy sometimes you forget to do that.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Storytime has just expanded into EdTech with the STORYTIME HUB launch and our digital offering is growing with audio stories and interactive content coming next. It’s a huge step and a whole new market for us. We want to be the go-to brand for quality stories children – accessible to everyone, everywhere.
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