Tanyella Evans, Operations Consultant at Library For All, told the story of the organization and its founder Rebecca McDonald on The Huffington Post this past week.
McDonald, an Australian who moved to Haiti to help rebuild after the devastating earthquake, met two Haitian entrepreneurs Alex and Noel while working on a solar project in Haiti. The two entrepreneurs had managed to get their hands on some MIT OpenCourseWare material detailing how to build solar panels. With this information, they were able to teach themselves how to manufacture solar panels from scratch and now run a successful business bringing light to Haitian families.
What McDonald realized from this experience was the potential impact accessible information had on those who suffered from knowledge poverty.
“Seeing Alex and Noel succeed helped me to realize that if these two guys could do that with a little piece of information, just think how a nation could be transformed with access to a library of free knowledge,” said McDonald.
She had visited schools with less than 30 books shared between hundreds of students. The books were so precious that they were kept under a lock, rarely viewed, and never allowed to be taken home.
Many organizations over the years have tried to address knowledge poverty by donating books to developing nations. However, it is simply too costly to ship these books in a way that would reach all and the demands are too great.
In July 2011, McDonald founded Library For All. Library For All is a digital library that partners with publishers using a buy-one-give-one model. For every book that is sold, one is given for free to stock the library. The book is lent for a certain number of days and returned to be lent out again. In return, the Library For All platform will collect and analyze data on user preference and attitude, giving publishers key insights into emerging markets. Publishers are also able to sell their books through the platform, enabling them to reach new markets.
The idea is one whose time has come because of many new technologies and infrastructure. Already there are a vast number of people in emerging markets who own a mobile phone. Library For All has partnered with biNu, a free mobile application that turns an ordinary mobile phone into a smartphone equipped with an e-reader. Partnerships with One Laptop Per Child and Worldreader are in the works.
With a sustainable business model, Library For All will help eliminate the knowledge gap while strengthening the publishing industry. The hope is that many more like Alex and Noel can improve their own income earning capacity and livelihood by using information that is easily accessible.
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