WILLIAMSTOWN, Massachusetts — Former Microsoft and Amazon executive, David Risher, used his experience in the high-tech industry to start Worldreader, a nonprofit that ships e-books to kids in Africa. Worldreader has reached readers in 37 countries, providing them with over 6,000 book titles in 23 languages.
Risher is a pioneer of the tech business. He began his career as manager of Microsoft’s database products, and then proceeded to run the then-blooming Amazon retail business.
Risher’s decision to leave Amazon in 2002 was spurred by his sabbatical in Ecuador. During a trip delivering supplies to an orphanage, Risher noticed a padlocked local library. The key had been lost because no one cared about the outdated and irrelevant books.
“The kids didn’t care about the 1972 version of the Encyclopedia Britannica,” he explained in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.
Worldreader works with communities in Sub-Saharan Africa to choose which books would be best for their schools and libraries. An on-the-ground team gives technical and pedagogical training to teachers and e-reader repair training to local businesses.
The readers delivered to children and families have been specifically tailored to meet the needs of their demographic.
A reinforced casing designed by Amazon’s hardware engineers protects the devices from harsh environmental conditions. Special software enables free e-books to be delivered wirelessly to the children’s e-readers every few weeks.
Risher worked with top publishers in order to make thousands of classic titles available for download on the Worldreader devices. Classic series’ from Roald Dahl, and novels like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are some of the books that now captivate the young audiences in Africa.
Worldreader also assists African authors and publishers in the translation and digitization of their books.
In conjunction with the e-readers, Worldreader has created a mobile app, so anyone in the developing world with a feature phone has access to free literature.
According to statistics reported by UNESCO, 740 million people worldwide are illiterate, and 250 million children of primary school age lack basic reading and writing skills.
Risher believes these statistics are unacceptable and that “20 years from now we should live in a world where any child should have the books he wants or needs to improve his life.”
UNESCO believes that literacy has the power to increase earning potential, decrease inequality, improve health outcomes and break the cycle of poverty. With the help of the e-readers provided by Worldreader, literacy can be a powerful tool in lifting millions of needy children out of poverty.
– Grace Flaherty