When Rebecca McDonald moved to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, she wasn’t a career humanitarian. Her most recent job was overseeing construction projects for Australia’s Department of Public Works. But while construction management might seem a useful set of skills in a country where so much had been destroyed, McDonald was moved by something else.
"Most schools have less than 30 books and these books are so precious they are not allowed to leave the school. Imagine if the entire span of knowledge available to you was just 30 books!" she wrote on her blog.
Meanwhile, she had access to all the world’s knowledge on her Kindle. It was the seed for the charitable project for which she is now fundraising on Kickstarter: Library for All.
The basic idea: To put together a library of educational materials that can be accessed on cheap but powerful Android mobile or tablet devices throughout the developing world.
The Kickstarter-funded pilot will be tailored to its audience at a school on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Respire Haiti, where the greatest needs are for basic literacy in French and supplementary textbook materials on science and math. But the available content will also depend on publishers.
"Our vision for the library is to provide content for all age groups," says co-founder and COO Tanyella Evans. "But the publishers really wanted us to focus initially on K to 12."
They have yet to ink a final deal with any publishers, but they have already incorporated their feedback to adjust their business proposition; originally, they thought the "library" could sell books to those who could afford it, alongside its free offerings for those who couldn’t. "The publishers hated the idea," says Evans.
Instead, they now hope to have digital materials donated as part of a goodwill project for the publishers. A hardback could be sold in the U.S., with a sticker indicating that every sale would make a (different) e-book accessible to someone in the developing world. "It’s kind of like a Toms Shoes model, but for books," says Evans.
The Kickstarter campaign will pay to create the initial digital library, but for the real world e-readers and other costs of making them available in Haiti, they’re hoping to partner with nonprofits and foundations. Evans emphasizes that while no one has been paid thus far, they don’t plan on letting funding become an obstacle. "Anyway, we’re going to move forward, we’re going to find a way," Evans says. Perhaps they could do another Kickstarter?
"I dunno," Evans replies with a laugh, "Maybe we’ll do Indiegogo next time."