Worldreader, headquartered in San Francisco but with offices in Barcelona, Accra, and Nairobi, was co-founded in 2009 by former Amazon.com executive David Risher and Colin McElwee. The genesis of the non-profit was predicated on two simple notions:
1. Everyone should have access to books.
2. Technological advances are quickly making digital books cheaper and easier to distribute in more scalable ways than physical books.
David and Colin spent a year or so preparing, gathered some Kindles, and in March 2010 went to Ghana to test the idea with twenty students. In his report, David writes:
We came away more convinced than ever that e-readers will change the face of reading in the developing world.
Their most recent annual report, released in June 2014, outlines their 2013 accomplishments, showing just how far they’ve come in three years:
2013 was a monumental year in our growth. Each month, Worldreader provided over 200,000 children, families, and adults in 27 countries in Asia and Africa with hundreds of digital books on e-readers and thousands of digital books on inexpensive phones. As a result, the children, families, and adults whom we serve have read 990,034 digital books in 2013.
In total, Worldreader’s catalog of books offered to the developing world now tops out at 6,699, with an average of 184,000 people reading per month (on ereaders and mobile phones), and a total of 1,784,419 completed books.
I wanted to see some of their accomplishments first hand.
It’s initiatives like these that cause me to swallow back bile every time I hear some well-off Westerner, usually on Facebook, pounding the table about the romanticism of physical books.