By Liz Bury
LONDON: One of the highlights of the final day of the London Book Fair, which closed yesterday, was the giving of the UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur Award. This year, Gavin Weale, 32, of LIVE Futures picked up the £5,000 prize for his work with young people, and his idea to begin publishing a magazine with Langa township in South Africa.
Now in its fourth year, the award is run by the British Council, which sponsored six finalists to visit South Africa to meet with publishers and booksellers.
The population of South Africa consists of approximately four million whites and 39 million blacks. “Anecdotally, I learned that just one million of the white community buy books,” said Weale of his visit, “I thought, why is no one doing anything to reach out to this other huge market?
Weale began his career as a journalist and web editor, before going on to become a founding member of Livity, a socially responsible marketing agency based in south London, one of the poorer areas of the city. Around 2004 it began a media project based on a marketing brief from the city council to reach out to disaffected young people. Livity created the concept of LIVE magazine, and handed over the responsibility of making it to the 13- to 25-year-olds.
“It blossomed and grew and it’s now this glossy 48 page magazine,” said Weale. “They do everything apart from send it to print. Hundreds of young people have come through it, communicating the message across south London. It’s repeatable and we’ve now set up Live East in east London and soon Live North in north London.”
In all, Live Futures’ development now employs some 20 staff, publishes 5 titles a year, and has helped over 75 young people move on with their education or find full time employment. Weale has himself gone on to work social enterprise and youth engagement advisor to organizations like the BBC and commercial brands. Now a well known brand in the city, Live magazine has also become integral to other publishing projects, including the launch of Penguin Books’ Spinebreakers teenage writers’ initiative.
On visiting South Africa, Weale says he was “shocked by the small, inward-looking” publishing industry, and by its lack of engagement with the problems the country faces. “Not only could they use the power of their brands to improve literacy and deprivation, but also to open up a new market,” he says.
In response, Weale contacted Liam Black in the UK, a famous social entrepreneur, who used his connections to introduce Weale to a young black journalist who took him on an impromptu tour of Langa, the oldest township in the Western Cape.
“I met loads of people, I felt that I’d found the real South Africa. It’s not in the offices of the rich, white corporations,” said Weale, noting, “The lack of engagement with [the black] audience is a huge gap in the market.”
About 80% of disposable income spent in South Africa comes from within the townships, but although people buy consumer goods like fashion, and have high-speed broadband, they don’t buy books or magazines. “I thought, why not bring about a way to engage people and to bring that audience through as consumers and beneficiaries?”
Weale promised a group of young boys he met in Langa that he would go home, win the award and return to start a magazine with them. Now, he can keep his promise.
The project is already beginning to take on a life of its own in Cape Town. “We want it to be a sustainable social business that we create with the community and then set free, and be repeatable in other townships,” Weale says. The next stage is feasibility work to figure out the right business model — whether it’s corporate sponsorship, or advertising, or another approach.
In September or October, after the World Cup is over, Weale plans to travel with a group of young people from London to South Africa to help with the project.
“We’ll start the process of cooperation and talk to the community about how it will work. We think social responsibility is the future of business. We use marketing as a positive force, a commercial approach to solving issues. Without question business should have some responsibility for local society.”
DISCUSS: Does big publishing do enough to empower the disenfranchised?