Friday, June 22, 2012

1 Million e-Books to Developing Countries - CNN

It’s difficult to break the cycle of poverty when there are no books to read.  Over 200 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have never read a book simply due to the fact that books never make it there. One non-profit is trying to change that. 

As discussed today on CNN, Worldreader, a non profit in the US and Europe, is using technology to change this ratio.  Since the pilot began in 2010, Worldreader has already achieved success in the delivery of 190k e-books and 1,100 e-readers to kids in Africa.  They are now involved in a campaign to bring 1 million e-books to the developing world.

You might be wondering how is this possible?  And, why even bother going hi-tech?
Founder and CEO David Risher, (a former SVP at Amazon and general manager at Microsoft) explained the rationale.

He noted, it's actually less expensive to publish and distribute e-books than paperbacks even in very remote areas.  Relying on the core technologies of e-reading devices, one can download thousands of books and access new books instantly.  Built in dictionaries and access to Wikipedia have been bonuses.  Plus, the device can receive local newspapers, flyers and health information.

Currently, Worldreader relies on Kindle Touch 3G and Kindle 4. Devices are 100% donated by outlets such as Amazon or through donation funds.

And in terms of delivery, it’s a process. E-readers are not handed out to individuals, but instead, given to identified organizations. Local governments and school administrators must sign off on educational technology and content.

They noted when it’s averaged out, the cost of distributing just an e-book (the content alone) is as little as $0.50 or next to nothing and for a full Kindle unit, cover, light, etc., it’s about $5.

Device power.
Fortunately, cell phones have become so prevalent in these areas that they’ve paved the way for electricity. I didn’t realize Ghana has mobile phone penetration above 80%; Uganda (70% penetration); and Rwanda (42% penetration).

One charge can last two weeks.  That’s a bonus, but, yes power can still be a problem.  In some school areas with issues, Worldreader has teamed up with partners that could provide solar power chargers and satellite internet.

Worldreader has also partnered with a manufacturer to create a solar powered Kindle cover that is due out later this year.

They noted there are also centers for wi-fi in many areas.

Is the program working?
The success rate is high - they noted they are seeing children spending up to 50% more time reading than before, with some reading up to 90 books in a single year. Also, soccer club FC Barcelona has taped video messages for the devices encouraging kids to read.

Is there theft of the devices?
Community involvement is key because they value education for children and want the program to work. They have lost fewer than 5 e-readers out of 1000.  One child stated, “Thieves don’t steal education”.

Learn more about the one million e-books program here.

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Copyright © 2012 Katie Linendoll