The Bookmark

Your exclusive look between the pages of Worldreader

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Winter 2014

From the President

David Risher and Brian Gougherty at Facebook Seattle
David signs the wall at Facebook Seattle (with Brian Gougherty).

Photo of David Risher, President of Worldreader In the past month I’ve met with over 200 current and potential Worldreader donors in five cities around the world, asking many of you one question:

“Why do we give?”

Your answers are as varied as you are, but one theme comes through loud and clear: We give to make a difference.

Sometimes it’s because we see the difference a gift can make to a single person; sometimes it’s because we can see a vision of a future that’s much happier and more prosperous for billions of people if we act. But whether it touches a single life or an entire community or country, we give to make an authentic, enduring difference.

At Worldreader we’ve spent the past six months looking deeply at our work and coming up with a very ambitious plan to make the biggest difference possible. It’s called “Reading into the Future,” a campaign that aims to use digital books to unlock the potential of 15 million people around the world—and puts us on track to touch one billion more. It’s got four parts:

  • Building the largest culturally relevant, free digital library in the world;
  • Establishing large-scale digital reading programs in schools and libraries to reach one million students;
  • Building and distributing cell-phone apps to get to 14 million readers;
  • Investing in our own infrastructure and people so we can serve millions of readers around the world.

Together we’ve made a difference to hundreds of thousands of children by giving them access to digital books wherever they are. One of my favorite stories is of Kenyan teacher Joseck Amwayi, who says: “I had only one option in life: either learn, get some education, go to school…or die.” He goes on to talk about the difference e-readers make in his classroom.

And to see the difference our work can make on an entire school system, read through our just-published 18-month research study that shows how we’ve lifted kids’ reading levels dramatically. It’s available here.

In the coming months, I look forward to sharing Reading into the Future with you, our closest donors. And I hope you’ll join me in supporting this plan with a three-year contribution. We’re at an important tipping-point for Worldreader, and I look forward to your helping us make a bigger difference together.


David Risher signature

David Risher

President and Co-Founder


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Staff Spotlight

Our Most Important Research To Date

Sarah Jaffe in Ghana in 2014
Staff member Sarah Jaffe sits with a student in Ghana

Last month Worldreader published a milestone report on the impact of our e-reading programs in Ghana. The report, “Ghana iREAD Study 2012-2014,” proves what has inspired Worldreader’s work since the beginning; that e-reader programs help children read more, faster and better than in traditional classroom models.

A summary of the study and the entire 110-page report are available on our blog. It represents a massive undertaking that spanned two years of classroom observation, measurement and evaluation, all led by Worldreader’s Senior Manager of Research, Sarah Jaffe.

“Worldreader is definitely ahead of the game here,” Sarah says. “For being a relatively young organization, we’re collecting huge amounts of data on our programs and analyzing in ways you’d only expect to see from much larger, more established organizations.”

Over 700 students were involved in the study from eight different schools. A handful of staff members and volunteers all worked with 16 different test facilitators (enumerators) who worked one-on-one with the students, meeting with each of the students two or three times to assess their progress over the course of the study.

For Sarah, the last few months of compiling two-years worth of data into one final report meant sequestering herself to a home office where she spent hours of time alone with her computer, plenty of spreadsheets and lots of numbers. Lots and lots of numbers.

“Proper program assessment,” Sarah Jaffe will tell you with a smile, “takes a huge amount of time and effort.”

It also takes a quirky personality to maintain your sanity through literally hundreds of isolated hours studying data. Sarah, as it turns out, discovered a little trick to help keep things moving along.

“Action movie soundtracks,” Sarah says. “They’re amazing! They make everything you do seem really important and urgent.”

And in truth, the Sarah’s work – and that of her entire team – really is really important and urgent. As a result of her efforts, Worldreader is now armed with the type of research needed to get the attention of serious funders and government organizations that will help us scale-up our e-reading programs to millions of students.

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The Donor Experience

Seattle Supporter Helps Worldreader Go Solar

Solar panels at Worldreader headquarters in San Francisco and in Africa
Solar at Worldreader Headquarters in San Francisco and in Kisumu, Kenya.

One of the most common questions people ask when they learn about Worldreader has nothing to do with reading at all.

“How do you charge them?” is by far and large our most frequently asked question about the e-reading devices we ship to Africa.

Many of our donors know that our schools are often able to find ways to meet the minimal power needs of a Kindle. Generators are one way. Even access to an unreliable grid is enough to ensure power once every few weeks to charge the e-readers.

But, what many people don’t know is that Worldreader is about to have a new answer to this old question: Worldreader is going solar.

The idea came from a magazine featuring a story about an entrepreneur harnessing the power of low cost solar in the developing world. Dr. Cynthia Hammer, a Worldreader supporter in the Seattle area, saw a connection to e-readers and invited president David Risher to talk about what it would take to get solar power to the schools using Worldreader’s programs.

Neema Afwande presenting the solar panels
Staff member Neema Afwande presenting the solar panels in Kisumu, Kenya

One conversation turned into many, and what was a lofty idea turned into the Worldreader Solar Initiative. Cynthia made a generous contribution to cover the testing and trial implementation of solar solutions, including staff salaries in the US and Kenya to manage the project.

She admits, at first her husband was reticent. Had solar power progressed enough to be affordable in the remote places Worldreader has reached with e-books? Sharon Langevin, Worldreader’s Senior Manager of Product Development, began to figure to that out.

Sharon researched what cost-effective products were already available. She reached out to consumer solar producers in East Africa, met with experts in Nairobi, and then returned to the US to run a series of trials on products in San Francisco.

Back in Kenya, Neema Afwande, Worldreader’s new Solar Project Assistant, ran trials in Kisumu. After several months of testing, two companies qualified for field-testing: Barefoot Power and BBoxx.

Eight schools and libraries with Worldreader programs agreed to be part of the trials, and the results are now coming in. Sharon and Neema are combing through logs the schools kept, tracking things like number of devices charged and weather conditions. So far, we’ve seen that the solar panels are being used regulary, and more importantly, are proving a practical solution for keeping e-readers charged in the field.

So what’s next? Worldreader will soon have an inexpensive solar add-on available for e-readers going out to schools and libraries across sub-Saharan Africa.

Cynthia is excited to see those results come in. Without power, kids cannot have access to digital books. Solar power brings books, and books bring an education.

“True reading educates the self,” Cynthia says, “Bring that to people, and you allow them to develop their potential in ways that would otherwise not be allowed.”

We couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Cynthia, for bringing your dream of solar power to Worldreader!

Have a ground-breaking idea for bringing books to all that we haven’t thought of?

Let us know! Contact today.

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Behind the Books

Full Immersion Into the World of Publishing

Paul Warambo, Muthoni Muhunyo, and Alex Polzin
Translators Without Borders’ Paul Warambo (left), with Muthoni Muhunyo and Alex Polzin of Worldreader.

In the last edition of The Bookmark, you learned about how Worldreader Publishing Staff Member Nancy Brown is building relationships with Indian publishers to meet our growing demand for digital books in India.

Worldreader’s not just in the business of distributing great books, though. Our goal is to work holistically with publishers, meeting them where they are to help show the benefits and grow the demand for digital reading throughout the developing world.

Earlier this fall, another member of our publishing staff, Alex Polzin, went to Kenya to attend the Storymoja Festival, a multi-day series of events held at the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya. Kids from all over Nairobi and Kenya are bussed in to attend the event, where they get a chance to share in the excitement about books through activities, singing and, of course, reading.

Along with Worldreader Kenya staff Joan Mwachi-Amolo and Muthoni Muhunyo, Alex helped lead three sessions with kids to promote reading on mobile phones. It sounded something like this:

“Do you like to read?” Kids: “YES!”

“Do you like your mobile phone?” Kids: “YES!”

“Do you like to read on your mobile phone?” Kids: “Huh?”

It turned out to be a great opportunity to turn kids onto the possibilities of reading beyond paper books. East Africa has one of Worldreader’s largest concentrations of Worldreader Mobile users (as many as 30,000 users every month), and getting kids reading on their phones gives them more books, in their language, than many are able to access otherwise.

While at the festival, Worldreader staff had the opportunity to meet Okwiri Oduor, whose Caine Prize winning story “My Father’s Head” can be read on Worldreader Mobile. They also led two sessions for writers on self-publishing.

While in Africa, Alex spoke on another panel at the East African Footnote Summit entitled “Digital Publishing Solutions for Emerging Markets” attended the Kenya International Book Fair hosted by the Kenya Publishers’ Association (a big supporter of ours), and touch base with some of the dozens of East African publishers Worldreader works with. Alex and Muthoni also found some time to work with Translators Without Borders to get vital information about the Ebola crisis translated for publication and promotion on Worldreader Mobile.

You can read Alex’s thoughts about Worldreader, digitization, and helping to create greater access to books in the Nigeria International Book Fair’s 2014 Catalog.

Building a movement and culture of digital reading takes a lot of imagination, and the support of donors like you is what allows our staff to garner the support of publishers and authors, and yes, even kids, in making “books for all” a reality.

Sponsoring Digitization and Translation of Local Content

You can help translate or digitize individual books for the first time ever. If you are interested in sponsoring digitization and translation of books, please contact

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Photos From the Field

A Tale of Two Distribution Systems

shipping to Africa can be difficult
Shipping physical goods (such as Kindles or print books) to Africa can be complicated.

As a Worldreader major donor, you have likely seen a number of photos from our project launches by now. This issue’s Photos From the Field story is a collection of photos taken over the years on the way to our projects.

Imagine shipping 5,000 physical books along roads like these. The difference in the price of gas, alone, is significant. In contrast, a Worldreader BLUE Box, which contains 5,000 e-books in an 18″ x 18″ x 18″ box is shipped by our partner DHL, for a fraction of the cost.

And, not too far from these roads is another common sight from our trips to the field. Cell towers are being built in remote locations in Africa, making it possible for our partner schools and libraries to add new e-books to their e-readers with a few button clicks, and making it possible for anyone with a cell phone to access thousands of great reads via Worldreader Mobile.

truck full of people in Africa flooded road in Africa cell towers are common in rural Africa Cell Tower in Kibera in 2014, Photo by David Risher

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Thank You

Thank You, Event Hosts!

David Risher in San Francisco
David speaks to Worldreader supporters and partners in San Francisco in October 2014.

Over the past two months Worldreader has benefited from five events hosted by supporters across five great cities. We’d like to thank these hosts:

Henrik Jones kicked off our 2014 event season by opening his home to supporters in San Francisco on October 23rd.

Board member Charles Brighton invited guests to an eclectic dinner at the Velvet Underground Dining Experience in downtown Seattle on November 3rd.

Worldreader co-foundeder Colin McElwee organized our first event across the pond at the Hospital Club in London on October 30th.

John and Kristin Clark invited guests into their stunning Manhattan home for a Worldreader fundraiser on November 11th.

Our new supporters, Terry Atkinson and Kathy Taylor, closed our event season with a reception in their Rancho Santa Fe home in Southern California on November 20th.

Collectively, these events raised over $300,000 to support brining more e-books to children and families in the developing world! Worldreader is in awe of the generous donations our event guests made, and the continuing conversations that will surely lead to new partnerships in 2015.

Hosting a Worldreader Event in Your Venue

If you are interested in hosting an event on behalf of Worldreader in your own home or office, please contact

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