Mother Tongue Stories Now a Click Away
What are the chances that a Psychology graduate, a corporate lawyer and an NGO worker come together to create a virtual library? Though from diverse backgrounds, the heart of the founding team at NABU.ORG was aligned – democratizing access to literacy particularly for children from underserved backgrounds. The girl power behind the innovative publishing network realized the importance of education to combat some of the major development handicaps like poverty; youth unemployment and safety of women and girls. So how is the app NABU.ORG revolutionizing online learning by creating and distributing local language books? Let’s hear more from Isabel Sheinman, Co-Creator and Director of Strategy and Fundraising about the genesis of the social enterprise and how it is breaking down barriers for young readers.
How did you conceive the idea of a virtual library?
For years, my good friend and now Co-Creator Tanyella Evans worked as part of the relief effort in Haiti following the devastating earthquake. In the midst of this suffering and rubble, she was building the first free high school in Port Au Prince for 900 children. Shortly after, Tanyella met her friend Rebecca who was also living in Haiti. Rebecca was an avid reader and would bring her kindle back to the US to load it up with books. Suddenly an idea was born – why are we building brick and mortar schools, when even business is going virtual? Why not reach children everywhere, whether in the classroom, in their homes or in the playground? Why don’t we create a reading app that would make children’s books available on low – cost mobile phones already available in the community?
Around this time, Taniya Benedict was in Australia making the decision to leave corporate law to study international development. During a placed internship, Taniya came to the US to work with our small team for a summer and three years later the three of us are heading the social enterprise. Our mission at NABU.ORG is to solve the imbalance in children’s book publishing and distribution.
In both cases, we were invited into the country by a distinguished partner. In the case of Rwanda, we were invited in by the First Lady of Rwanda’s Foundation, the Imbuto Foundation, through our partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. We have also run pilot programs in Congo, Mongolia and Cambodia.
What were some of the initial hurdles that you came across?
One hurdle is access to funding. To this date, we have been philanthropically funded through individuals and institutions. While we have been fortunate to find extremely loyal and committed funders, we do not want to rely solely on philanthropic funding and we are now developing earned revenue streams to complement our fundraising efforts.
A second hurdle is access to content. During our pilot phase, we quickly discovered that there is a severe lack of mother tongue language content available, primarily because publishing local language children’s books is currently not a viable business. To solve this, we are engaging local authors and illustrators to create original books and publish them through our reading app. Original, mother tongue story publishing is now one of the core components of our work.
How do you get new local language content to sustain the app?
40% of children globally are not taught in a language they speak or understand. Local language reading books at the early grades build children’s confidence in reading, and are essential to help them bridge the gap to literacy in English and other national languages. We create original children’s books by working directly with local authors and illustrators in-country. We provide training in children’s book writing and illustrating. We have trained over 70 authors and illustrators to date. We also license content from local publishers and publish it in our app.