Around 757 million people worldwide, or one in 10, are unable to read or write, she argued, and these individuals are significantly more likely to be affected by major social issues such as illness and crime.
Ms Cole was speaking as she launched new research by published by the Project Literacy campaign called the "alphabet of illiteracy".
It suggests that illiteracy is the root cause of almost every major problem currently faced by humanity.
She said that her own daughter has recently started saying different letters and the idea of her learning to read and write seems "as inevitable as growing teeth".
"The importance of her being literate is not intellectual snobbery on my part: it's not about her becoming an academic or even writing a CV," Cole said.
"I'll be quite happy if she wants to become a baker or a dancer. Her literacy is important because I want her to be equipped with the necessary skills to navigate this planet in empowered and simple ways: to be able to read a food packet, a train sign, or respond to a legal contract."
She added: " There are 757 million illiterate people in the world right now. And this is not a developing world problem: one in five children in the UK, or one in four in the US, leave primary school unable to read and write properly.
"Illiteracy is not a sexy or exciting topic. It's not confronting in its raw emotional power. People aren't directly dying or overtly suffering of illiteracy. As far as global issues go, it may feel a little vanilla.
"But when you look at the relationship between illiteracy and most other global issues, a statistical pattern emerges. Illiterate people are significantly more likely to be affected by almost every major social issue."
Cole urged the public to sign a petition urging the UN to help tackle the issue.
"Project Literacy has an ambitious goal: that by 2030, no child will be born at risk of poor literacy," she said.
"Their first call to action is asking people to sign a petition calling on the UN to put illiteracy more at the heart of how we think about addressing the UN's Global Goals.
"I would encourage you to sign that petition today. It's a very simple maxim: inform and empower people to take charge of their own lives, and they will become the agents of the change we wish to see in the world."
Project Literacy is a campaign backed by 40 charities and education groups, including Unesco, Microsoft and the UK’s National Literacy Trust.