- Worldreader is an amazing global literacy initiative – motivated to meet the needs of a billion people on the planet with no access to books
- I have two children now who are learning to read – these two videos really touched me with their vision of helping every child on the planet have that same experience
- First, Amazon’s new announcement of their partnership support for the program – giving away Kindles and ebooks to enable the mission
- Second, after spending over a decade at Microsoft and Amazon, Worldreader CEO Risher shares his unique approach to leading an organization working to bring digital books to the developing world – helping about a million children a month learn to read – the secret is all about partnerships.
In the remote village of Adeiso, Ghana, when a bright child such as 14-year-old Emefa asks for something new to read, the answer is usually, “Maybe, in a few years, if the shipment arrives, there will be something.” This is typical of sub-Saharan Africa, where lack of access to books is one of the biggest limiting factors for a child’s future.
But because of new technology, this may be changing.With Kindles, you go from empty libraries and children unable to get their hands on reading material, to suddenly being able to carry a library around with them in their hand.”
Susan Moody of Worldreader
That’s the hope of Worldreader, a non-profit organization devoted to using Kindles to bring books—and the life-changing, power-creating ideas within them—to all in the developing world. “We are working in a part of the world where there are no books,” says Susan Moody of Worldreader. “With Kindles, you go from empty libraries and children unable to get their hands on reading material, to suddenly being able to carry a library around with them in their hand.”
Why Kindles? Susan explains: “The Kindle is a device that was made for you and me to use on the bus and at night in our beds, but it’s a device that actually meets the needs of the developing world very nicely. Kindles have become increasingly affordable, the battery-life can be as long as a month, and they are easily recharged using wind or solar energy. Since they use cell-phone networks to operate, which are already omnipresent even in the remotest parts of Africa, they don’t require new infrastructure in the schools. And the kids can read them outside, even in the brightest sunlight.”
“Best of all,” continues Susan, “one Kindle holds more than a thousand books, and new books can be downloaded in 60 seconds. That means printing costs disappear, and shipping gets reduced to nearly nothing. Suddenly it becomes feasible to imagine every child having access not only to books, but to a choice between thousands of books from all over the world.”
The situation at Adeiso Junior High, where Emefa is a student, was bleak. “They were one of the schools lucky enough to have a library, but the library had very few books, and 10 of them were The History of Utah,” says Susan. “While book drives are often meant with the best of intentions, often times the books that arrive aren’t the ones that will inspire a child to read more.” Last year, when Worldreader brought Kindles to the kids at Adeiso, each one was loaded with hundreds of children’s stories and local Ghanaian folk tales, in English as well as Twi, the local language.
“The children could operate the Kindle within minutes. They are used to operating cell phones, so the gadgetry wasn’t foreign to them. Within minutes kids were downloading books and reading.”
When Emefa finished one book and asked for another, the answer was one she wasn’t expecting. “Sure! Just push this button…”
So with all their new choices, what are the kids reading? “We see that children love to read stories about things that are impacting them,” says Susan, “stories about how to care for a friend that has malaria, and other everyday problems in their lives. They are reading local books by local writers, while at the same time they are exploring ideas from around the world. They are reading Curious George, they are downloading samples from international newspapers, and they are even reading things like Jay Z’s autobiography.”
Mohamed Aminou, a teacher at Adeiso Junior High School, was one of the first to use the Kindle in his classroom. “From the very day that the children had this Kindle in their hand, you could see that they were motivated. They take it everywhere they go, and they are reading, and they have delight in what they are reading. The ability of children to read more, also to read ahead— that ability has increased. It has gone high!” Mohamed hopes that soon Kindles will arrive for all the children. “The school would be flooded with kids if that should happen.”
Worldreader has brought over 200,000 e-books to children in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda, and their new goal is to increase that number to a million. They are working with publishers and companies like Amazon, who donated the initial Kindles, delivered the e-books using Whispercast, and has recently increased its support with additional free Kindles and free cloud computing from Amazon Web Services.