[Interview] Elizabeth Wood

Elizabeth Wood - head of digital publishing at Worldreader, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting literacy in the developing world by bringing books to all using e-books - talks about how authors and publishers are making e-books available to readers in rural Africa:

What motivates Worldreader?

As you know, many people in rural parts of Africa have limited access to books. Using new technology (e-books, e-readers, mobile phones, etc), we can provide people in the developing world with access to hundreds of thousands of books and stories.

Worldreader currently has e-reader programs in schools in Ghana and Kenya. This week, we began an e-reader program in Uganda, and soon we kick off in Rwanda.

If efforts to find new ways to bring more books to more people, Worldreader is testing a reading application for mobile phones, that will work on almost any mobile phone thanks to our partner biNu’s technology that turns feature phones into smart phones. As mobile penetration continues to grow in the developing world, this could be a way for millions of folks to have access to books.

Where are the e-books you are making accessible in this manner coming from?

Many international publishers and authors are donating the use of their e-books to our e-reader programs. These publishers include Random House and Penguin. Recently Puffin in the UK decided to allow our kids access to Roald Dahl's brilliant e-books - a huge win for us and for our kids!

We also aim to give people in Africa access to great African writers, both of yesterday and today. We partner with local publishers across Africa, digitizing their books and using them in our programs.

And we partner directly with African authors. We are fortunate to have Chika Unigwe, Meshack Asare, Brian Chikwava, Jackee Batanda and other great African authors donating work to our programs. And we'd love to add more African writers to this list!

If there are writers out there who are are interested in taking part in the programme, what should they do?

One way to get involved would be to contribute one or more short stories - which we would publish digitally and send to the e-readers in our programs. We will pay for conversion costs, which are minimal, so there is no cost to an author. In 4 or 6 weeks' time, we could have our students reading your work!

For example, Chika Unigwe contributed 6 short stories, which we published as a collection of stories. Although the collection of short stories is available to folks in the USA at 99 cents, it is given free of charge to students and teachers in our programs across Africa and will be available free of charge on the book reading application for mobile phones.

In your view, how has this project affected people who have had access to it?

We are passionate about the project and we are already seeing clear proof that our programs are working to improve literacy. The kids in Ghana who have had e-readers for the past year are spending 50% more time reading, and they have improved dramatically in reading fluency and comprehension.

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Updated: February 9, 2012


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