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New X PRIZE Will Reward Literacy Solutions

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The annual TED Conference is a popular platform for unveiling big ideas, and this year is no different. Last week, the X PRIZE Foundation announced that it will fund a $10 million global literacy competition in 2013.

Details remain sparse about "The Race to End Global Illiteracy." Originally slated to launch Jan. 9, 2012, it remains in development. The foundation aims "to transform established beliefs about the timeline, nature, quality, and scalability of literacy solutions to serve the needs of over 60 million children who are not receiving primary education." Competition organizers use literacy and literacy instruction as stand-ins for education in general, and consider the prize their contribution toward the second of eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals: Achieve Universal Primary Education by 2015.

To help fund the award, X PRIZE has set up a microfinancing site to solicit support from up to 150 "Visioneers." Each Visioneer acts as a small-scale fundraiser and/or sponsor, raising $1,000 each toward the prize in exchange for a tiered suite of incentives. As with Kickstarter, fundraisers can "unlock" access to webcasts and other content in advance of their public availability. However, the Visioneers model resembles corporate sponsorship in its heavy sell of X PRIZE-associated "thought leader" cachet. One of the highest incentive levels—achieved only after the $1,000 fundraising goal has been passed—is the "Opportunity to offer promotional incentives to other Visioneers." This funding model represents a departure from past X PRIZES, which were funded—and branded—by individual corporations.

The X PRIZE is a group of competitions and prizes clustered around four topics: education and global development, energy and environment, life sciences, and exploration. Previous iterations of the X PRIZE have been awarded in areas such as genomics sequencing, space exploration, digital healthcare, and automotive innovation. The X PRIZE Foundation sees itself as part of an "Incentivized Competition Heritage," as detailed on its website.

So far no prizes have been awarded in the education & global development prize group, but a number of projects are in development and under consideration that relate to health, housing, food security, and entrepreneurship. Also in development: An Education Game X PRIZE that promises, "If an online or mobile gaming platform existed that was able to reliably teach students in a compelling and engaging fashion, it would transform education around the world for anyone with a smart phone."

The X PRIZE announcement follows the December unveil of a much smaller, though equally high-profile, award: a suite of three literacy instruction honors to be administered by the Library of Congress.

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