Africa Publishing Innovation Fund Names Five 2021 Projects

In News by Porter Anderson

These new Africa Publishing Innovation Fund grants respond to the educational shortfalls in parts of Africa where the switch to digital has left students without adequate resources.

The fishing village of Butre in Ghana, the type of rural community in which girls in particularly have faced challenges in accessing online learning because of a significant urban-rural digital divide. Girls are expected to take on childcare responsibilities and household chores. Image – iStockphoto: TG23

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Scalable Digital Learning Innovations’
In its announcement today (March 10) of its allocations of US$170,000 in 2021 funding, the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund has named five projects to receive grants, from an initial total of 311 applications from 26 African nations.

Publishing Perspectives readers will remember our interview with the Accra-based publisher Akoss Ofori-Mensah, a member of the Innovation Fund’s committee who told us, “The virus has dealt a disastrous blow to the book industry in Ghana,” but that the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has been such that “I believe practically all publishers in Africa are hurting.”

In addition to Ofori-Mensah, that committee also includes Brian Wafawarowa, Gbadega Adedapo, Lawrence Njagi, and Mohamed Saleh Maalej. And leading the team is Bodour Al Qasimi, the UAE-based publisher and president of the International Publishers Association (IPA).

As you’ll remember, Bodour led the formation of the fund in association with Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of the philanthropic program Dubai Cares, and the program is designed to operate for four years with an endowment of US$800,000. The program is administered by the IPA which has provided today’s news of the 2021 grants.

Because of school closures and the transition to online learning triggered by the pandemic, the fund this year has prioritized what the committee classifies as “scalable digital learning innovations to help millions of African students in under-resourced rural communities. Many of them are beyond the reach of national efforts to transition to remote learning and do not have access to libraries.”

It’s expected, organizers say, that the funding announced today will have some impact on as many as 11 million younger African citizens in five countries.

Programs Receiving 2021 Grants

Students inside the first of Book Aid International’s ‘Voyager’ shipping-container libraries, set up in 2019 in Kigali. One of the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund grants for 2021 will see three such libraries put into place by Book Aid International in Tanzania. Image: Book Aid International

The grants announced today are being described in the context of their markets’ conditions relative to the COVID-19 health emergency. The descriptive copy below comes to us from the fund.

  • “Ghana’s Learners Girls Foundation: As schools shifted online because of COVID-19, girls in rural communities have faced challenges in accessing online learning because of a significant urban-rural digital divide. With online learning reaching only 70 percent of school-age children, the Learners Girls Foundation will support 400 at-risk Ghanaian girls in Paga, a rural community of 100,000, to continue their education and access educational resources despite technology and internet connectivity challenges. Girls are seen to be especially affected by school and library closures because they’re often expected to take on childcare responsibilities and household chores.
  • “Kenya’s eKitabu: As African publishers embrace digital content because of schooling moving to online means, many lack expertise in inclusive publishing practices to meet global accessibility standards. Starting in East Africa’s regional publishing hub of Kenya—with plans to scale to 12 African countries—eKitabu will work with publishers to enrich the remote learning of more than nine million students and teachers with accessible digital learning materials.
  • “Save the Children Rwanda: With the closures of schools, community libraries have taken on a more important role in building critical literacy skills and fostering a reading culture. Save the Children Rwanda will train 270 librarians in eight community libraries on the use of technology to strengthen a culture of reading in remote and rural communities while providing digitally accessible reading materials in Kinyarwanda that will keep 1.6 million children reading while unable to attend school.
  • Book Aid International in Tanzania: Competing government budget demands have led to a significant shortage of community and school libraries in the Zanzibar region of Tanzania. The United Kingdom-based charity Book Aid International will transform three shipping containers into fully-equipped libraries in Dunga, a rural community of 76,000, where children can enjoy reading; young learners can study for exams; and adults can read and learn new skills, all in the Voyager Container Library setup.
  • “A new initiative in Zimbabwe: With schools and rural areas poorly resourced, communities across Zimbabwe lack social infrastructure, such as libraries. Led by Chirikure Chirikure, the country’s most famous poet, this initiative will build a modern community library in Nemashakwe that will provide 800 students and youths access to books, a place to study, and programs to attain livelihood skills.”

The fund estimates that as many as 250 million children are out of school in Africa because of the pandemic’s disruption. In addressing these challenges, the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund is working to help avoid a major setback in critical literacy, livelihood, and life skills.

Bodour Al Qasimi

In prepared comments for today’s announcement, Bodour, the IPA president, is quoted, saying, “The COVID-19 pandemic has set back the education of millions of learners around the world, but its effects are most acute where the infrastructure can’t support the connectivity required for distance learning.

“Having received far more applications than we could have imagined, we’re all very excited to have found five projects that we believe will deliver significant benefits for a great number of children and young people.”

Tarik Al Gurg

And Al Gurg, the Dubai Cares CEO, is quoted, saying, “While COVID-19’s effect on education has been devastating, it’s our responsibility now to look beyond the challenges and find and implement unique solutions that would mitigate the outbreak’s impact and enable children and youths to continue on their path to learning.

“Reading is an intrinsic element of education, and we’re optimistic that the five projects chosen by the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund will successfully facilitate the provision of the necessary resources that will contribute to children’s educational journeys.

“We wish everyone involved in these projects great success and look forward to seeing the positive outcomes in the form of more and more empowered students and youth.”

A shot from an existing project with a grant from the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund, Nigeria’s OkadaBooks, an e-publishing startup. Image: APIF

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing in Africa is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, and more on the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.