The Bookmark

Your exclusive look between the pages of Worldreader

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Summer 2014

From the President

Mia Risher in Ghana
Earlier this year, co-founder and president David Risher visited Worldreader's program sites in Ghana with his family. Above, Mia Risher reads with a student.

Photo of David Risher, President of WorldreaderI’m thrilled to be writing a column for our first-ever major donor newsletter— because this suggests that we now have lots of major donors!

Worldreader celebrated its fourth birthday in March, which puts me back in the mindset of being a parent to a young child. Something that started as 20 Kindles in a school in Ghana now touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and families each month, in schools and libraries, with e-readers and mobile phones.  We’ve digitally published over 6,000 books ourselves in over 30 languages, from Amharic to isiXhosa to Urdu to Yoruba. (Clearly we have to find a Z language soon). It’s been an incredible journey, and we’re just getting started.

Thinking more about children and the role that we parents have, it’s heartbreaking to read about the empty classrooms of Liberia (for fear of Ebola) and the tragedy of Nigeria’s abducted girls (for fear of education.) I might be accused of being the man with a hammer to which everything looks like a nail, but to me, both cases scream out for a new approach to getting books into kids’ hands, and to the broader importance of education. Once a child has an e-reader full of books or a cell phone that’s a digital library, there’s no stopping how much she’ll read and learn.

For us, “back to school” is something we take for granted, but for many, it’s a life-changing opportunity. I thank you again for your help getting books to those who have so little. In many cases, this represents your largest charitable gift of the year. We — and the children we serve — are eternally grateful for your support.

David Risher signature

David Risher

President and Co-Founder


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The Donor Experience

Traveling to Malawi to See Philanthropy in Action

Matt and Donna Bellew in Malawi
Matt Bellew (right) recently helped launch an e-reader program that he and his wife, Donna, funded in Malawi.

When Matt and Donna Bellew came across a struggling library during a visit to Namitembo, Malawi a few years ago, they knew that Worldreader could help.

What they found – a beautiful library with too few books on its shelves – represents an all-too-common reality in the developing world: it’s difficult and expensive to get kids the paper books they need for a good education.

For the Bellews, they had actually funded the construction of this particular library, so it was especially upsetting to find it partially stocked when they visited in 2012.

“It wasn’t great,” Matt says. The Bellews understood right away that actually getting enough books into the library would be a challenge.

“Seeing the shortage of books in that library and knowing about Worldreader, Donna and I made a pretty natural connection,” Matt says. “We decided our next donation would be for e-readers and e-books.”

Fast-forward to 2014 and the Bellews have now sent 100 Kindles and 10,000 e-books to Namitembo Primary School through Worldreader’s “sponsor-a-school” program. And this summer, Matt traveled back to Malawi to see their philanthropy in action.

Matt and the Worldreader Project Managers arrived at Namitembo just before the large box of e-readers did. At the school, he helped prepare the devices and showed the kids how to use them. He spent a lot of his time working with the teachers as they learned how to incorporate the e-readers into their classrooms.

“There was an interesting thing going on with the teachers,” Matt said. “They had some familiarity with the devices because we had sent a couple ahead of time. But when we sat down to train them, they were almost too quiet; very politely asking questions here and there.

“Once they got in front of their classrooms of students though, they were using the e-readers and repeating the material like they had known it forever,” Matt says.

In a matter of hours Matt helped train three classrooms of students who were all immersed in e-reading activities by the end of the school day. Over the course of the week, he was amazed to see the transformation of the students as they mastered the materials. And through all of it, he noted the important role that the teachers continued to play as the kids learned the subtleties of working with a Kindle.

Now back in Seattle, Matt and Donna are looking forward to hearing from Worldreader about progress at the school over the next several years. And Matt, who says the visit was an “invaluable opportunity to connect with the project,” plans on keeping in touch personally with many of the people he worked with.

“You see the difficult conditions and poverty around the school and it can feel overwhelming. But seeing the teachers and leaders there really counters that. It really boosts your confidence in the project,” Matt says.

Traveling to the Field

Many Worldreader donors have visited our programs in different ways. Like Matt, some have attended launches of programs they’ve funded. Others have participated in Vacation Reading School, a fully supported “voluntourism” experience WR provides in Ghana each summer. To learn about how you can fund and visit an individual project in Africa or India, contact

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Worldreader’s Next Move

Understanding Our App, the Apps We Need, and Android

Preview of Worldreader Mobile Windows Phone App Interace
Worldreader Mobile will be coming soon to Windows Phones everywhere.

A few years ago, Worldreader expanded its model of using Kindles in classrooms to a new method of distributing e-books through something most people in the developing world already carry in their pockets: mobile phones.

Since then, Worldreader Mobile has become a means to reach thousands of new readers in a relatively short amount of time. But the best is yet to come.

To help understand the often-complicated world of mobile development, here are our answers to the most common inquiries.

“What is Worldreader Mobile?”

Worldreader Mobile is a mobile phone app that provides free access to nearly 7,000 e-books to over 250,000 people in the developing world.

“Tell me about your app. Where did it come from? Who is using it?”

It was built and promoted by a company called biNu, our technology partner. biNu has a free application that over 2 million people use to make lower-end “feature phones” (think of something between a flip-phone and iPhone) behave more like a smartphone. After they developed our app, biNu made it appear automatically on all of these phones, and it just happens that many of those phones are in Africa and Asia.

As a result, almost overnight we had 250,000 people each month using the Worldreader Mobile app. Other people are downloading the app and using it outside of biNu too. All together we’ve had over 600,000 users since it was created.

“Sounds great! Why would you need a new app?”

Our current app was designed for low-end feature phones because those phones are very common throughout Africa and Asia. But we also know that smarter phones, especially ones that run on the Android operating system, are becoming the new norm, even in remote parts of the world.

Simply put, our current app doesn’t work well on nicer, newer phones. At the very least, our app can’t offer the features that people have come to expect from a smartphone app experience. Things like annotations, dictionary look-ups, quizzes and social networking simply aren’t possible with our current app.

So, without “smarter” apps, we’re missing out on a huge market of potential readers using “smarter phones.”

“If you had a new app, how many people do you think you can reach?”

Currently, there are 7.1 billion people in the world and 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions, all on different types of phones.

As soon as we have apps that work on some of the most popular mobile phones out there, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Worldreader Mobile could quickly have millions of users, maybe even billions some day.

Of course, first we have to develop the apps, and then get them promoted too. So there’s a lot of work to do.

“You keep saying apps, in the plural. How many apps do you really need?!”

Right now we have four different projects in the works, each at different stages. Each app will reach a different – and very large – group of mobile users.

A while ago, we started working with Nokia to develop an app for their S30 and S40 phones, which number around 1 billion in the world today. Now that Nokia is part of Microsoft, the partnership includes another project: Nokia/Microsoft smartphones.

The third project involves working with a web-browser company called Opera. Again, we’re hoping to develop an app that works on their mobile phone browser called Opera Mini, which is used by over 200 million people.

Finally, as an organization we’re developing a plan for a full-blown Android app; something that will work on any of the many billions of Android phones out there. We may even develop special versions of the app to promote things like girls’ education and women’s empowerment.

These projects will rollout over the next couple of years; roughly in the order they’re laid out here. Assuming we can find the right funders and partners, we could be reaching millions of users on Worldreader Mobile sometime in 2015.

“How can I help?”

For Worldreader Mobile to build its infrastructure, we need people to invest in its potential. For Worldreader Mobile to truly thrive, we need partnerships to help along the way. If you’re interested in supporting Worldreader Mobile or connecting us with people and companies that can, please contact

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Staff Spotlight

Nancy Brown Breaks Down What it Takes to Get an E-Book into the Worldreader Library

Nancy Brown in India
Staff member Nancy Brown met with over a dozen Indian publishing companies when she visited Delhi and Chennai.

“You can’t do what we’re trying to do over email,” says Nancy Brown, plain and simple about the work of Worldreader’s Publishing Team.

“We need to build relationships with publishers who are thousands of miles away from us. Those publishers have the books we need to get more people reading in specific parts of the world; say Nigeria, Tanzania or India.”

What Nancy does is help manage Worldreader’s relationships with over 140 publishing partners across Africa and Asia. These publishers and other non-profit organizations have the books that are most relevant to communities where Worldreader works. For Nancy and the publishing team, that may simply mean getting books in the right languages, but often takes more nuanced things into consideration.

“Books from a local publisher will have local names and cultural references that are important when you’re trying to get people interested in reading more,” Nancy says. “For example, we have a book called Kofi Has Malaria, a great educational story for teenagers…and obviously written with an African reader in mind.”

Getting culturally relevant books into the Worldreader library, however, has its challenges.

In many cases, Worldreader is working one-on-one with publishers to digitize books for the first time. In the past four years, Worldreader has helped African publishers digitize thousands of books for the first time ever. These e-books are now available on Worldreader’s platforms, but also for sale on and via the publishers own distribution channels.

“It’s not crazy to say we’ve ushered many African publishers into the digital age,” says Nancy. “It’s a lot of work, but worth an end result of getting good material from a publisher to hundreds of thousands more people.”

Recently, as Worldreader prepares to launch pilot programs in India for the first time, Nancy traveled to Delhi and Chennai to meet with 15 different publishers to better understand and begin to acquire the best e-books to reach specific groups of students and families in India.

“It’s always important to meet face-to-face with people at these companies, but I’m learning that’s especially true in India,” Nancy reflects.

“We can’t pretend that what Worldreader is doing in Africa will work the same in India. My experience has been that publishers in India are more prone to talking business than philanthropy.”

Shortly after Nancy’s trip, Worldreader signed new partnerships with Prabhat, Katha and New Horizon Media; three Indian publishers that will collectively add about 500 new India-centric books to the Worldreader Library, pushing the library total to over 7,000 unique titles. Some of these books are donated from the publishers and others are purchased at a negotiated price.

“Worldreader is very pro-publisher,” Nancy comments. “We don’t want to make arrangements that are going to hurt the book business. We are here to help publishers grow and create thriving cultures of reading in every part of the world.

“There are a ton of really great books out there! We’re just helping the publishers find ways to get them to more people in need.”

Sponsoring Books

Worldreader now offers the opportunity for donors to sponsor a unique collection of books to be added to the Worldreader Library. Your affinity for a particular language or subject matter could help define an entire series of e-books available to Worldreader users. Or you can help translate or digitize individual books for the first time ever. If you are interested in sponsoring your own collection of books, please contact

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Photos From the Field

Evolution of the Worldreader Charging Station

The first Worldreader charging station
Staff member Joseph Botwey with the first Worldreader charging station.

People often ask: how do people keep the Kindles charged at schools? The answer is that Worldreader – often with the help of local carpenters – makes sure that every school using e-readers is equipped with a Kindle charging station, which is fed by the local power grid or a solar connection.

Over the past years, as Worldreader has launched larger and larger programs in the schools we serve, our charging stations have grown!

These photos span 2009 to 2014 and tell the story of Worldreader’s growth through the size of our stations. The first shows Ghanaian staff member Joseph Botwey with one of our first charging stations. The most recent photo is a full-on charging vault made to hold hundreds of Kindles!

A Worldreader charging station A Worldreader charging station A Worldreader charging station

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