Rewind to 2004, Pratham, an NGO, was setting up libraries for children across the country and they needed books in local Indian languages. The publishing market in India back then, and even now is heavily tilted towards English and Hindi. With other languages ignored, there was a dearth of books in Indian languages at an affordable price. And to serve that very need, was born Pratham Books, a non-profit publisher of children’s books.
Suzanne Singh, Chairperson, Pratham Books adds,
In India, there are critical supply side shortages for supplementary reading resources for children – not enough books for children, in not enough languages, compounded by poor access and issues of affordability. As most publishers cater to middle and upper income urban audiences, demand based economics dominate, to the detriment of creating books for economically weaker groups where the profit motive is low.
Here and now
In the last 11 years, they’ve published 14 million books in 18 Indian languages, including 6 tribal languages. For the first 8 years of operation, they did not increase the price of their books. The average price now is Rs 35, as opposed to Rs 25 earlier. In 2008, they became the first children’s publisher in India to have an open licence for their stories and even illustrations, which means that their content and images can be reproduced by other parties in whole or in part to create new content.
To promote reading, they have multiple initiatives running. ‘One Day-One Story’ is one of the largest volunteer driven reading activities conducted in multiple Indian languages across the country. They also run a competition on World Story Telling Day where budding authors send in their entries with original content. One of these author’s works even got picked up by another publisher!
A tell-tale sign of a seasoned organisation is when they hear the voices around them, take notice, and work towards a symbiotic solution. Pratham Books was requested by many organisations for free books. Often these organisations do not have the resources to buy books that are relevant for their children. As much as they wanted to give away books, being a non-profit publisher themselves, they couldn’t afford to send in books for free. At the same time, many organisations extended their philanthropic arm to Pratham Books and expressed an interest in investing some money.
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Donate a Book
Their mission is ‘a book in every child’s hand’. It has two parts, one, to create more reading material for children and the second, which is more of a corollary – to get books to children who need them the most. There are 300 million children in India and Pratham Books prints about 1 million books every year. Citing the gap, Suzanne adds, “Very quickly, we realized that just publishing wonderful books was not enough – we needed to innovate and do much more if we were to make our mission a reality.”
Looking at a larger impact and a solution which is aligned with their mission, they hit upon the idea of ‘Donate a book’. A crowdfunded initiative that brings together the ones with the need and the ones with the means. Once the campaign wraps up successfully, books worth 100% of the funds collected are sent to the organisation.
The process is fairly simple. A beneficiary can log onto the website and place a request. Within 48 hours, the Pratham Books team does a basic background check and sets up the campaign on the website. The fundraisers are agnostic in all senses. Through this, they hope to raise funds for 50,000 books by Children’s Day.
A few examples
An example of a wonderful campaign running is for the Avalokitesvara Trust’s reading rooms in Leh and Ladakh. Avalokiteśvara Trust has an initiative called ‘The Foundation of Learning’, an initiative to nurture and educate children in isolated villages of Ladakh. Far from their base in Leh, they have set up 40 reading rooms and book corners in schools and learning centres, stocking them with a range of materials, mostly children’s books, in all the languages taught there – Hindi, Urdu, English and Ladakhi/Tibetan.
Another campaign was for Indian Moms Connect, who are teaming up with Youth For Seva, to fund books for a library for a bridge school which has about 25 to 40 students at one time. The school is run at Poorna Prajna layout at Bengaluru where volunteers from Youth for Seva teach children (in the age group of 4 to 14) of immigrant construction workers till these children can be enrolled into the nearby Government school. The campaign got funded within a week! Swathi, from Youth for Seva says, “We have received the books and the little kids are very happy“.
Multiple versions of the ASER point to the fact that about 50% of children in India cannot read at grade appropriate level. Several research studies have shown that when it comes to literacy, children who read often become better readers, and better reading leads to success in school and other aspects in a reader’s life.