By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Deadline for Proposals: August 31In its announcement today (June 1), the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund has opened its proposal period for grants to be made in 2022. And in what may be its most interesting contextual move yet, this still-young but highly influential fund is calling into question the continent’s focus for so many publishers on textbooks as their core business.
If enough impactful and effective programs are put forward and selected, the African book business could begin to see movement of its trade publishing sector, long relegated to a second-sister position by the traditional emphasis on government-funded textbook production.
Specifically, what the fund says it’s looking for in this cycle is “proposals for projects to develop reading culture beyond the classroom in Africa, with grants from the US$200,000 Africa Publishing Innovation Fund on offer to the best ideas.”
As you’ll remember, Bodour Al Qasimi, now president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), led the formation in May 2019 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. (Hence the $200,000 offered for this new round of grants in the program’s third year.)
The program is administered by the International Publishers Association, and in its 2021 grants cycle, as we reported in March, issued five grants to projects chosen from a pool of 311 applications based in 26 African nations.
Promoting the Trade Over ‘a One-Track Business Model’
In introducing its focus on “nurturing Africa’s reading culture beyond the classroom,” today’s media messaging says, “African publishing leans heavily towards education—up to 90 percent of sales in some markets—with reading widely viewed exclusively as a means to further schooling or professional skills.
“In parallel, many African publishers are overly dependent on selling print textbooks to governments, a one-track business model that left them foundering when the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and drove learning online.”
In essence, then, the fund is making a purposeful pivot toward “cultivating reading for fun–especially among children and young adults.”
The idea behind the move is that this approach can “bring continent-wide socioeconomic advances in the medium- to long-term.”
Al Qasimi, who leads the fund’s selection committee, is quoted, saying, “The joy of reading and its enormous benefits to mental well-being, intellectual capacity, and social aptitude are there for the taking in Africa, where 60 percent of the population is younger than 25.
“Moreover, a diversified book sector is good for publishing and its many satellite industries, which employ hundreds of thousands of people.
“This year’s Africa Publishing Innovation Fund challenge is especially exciting because it’s so far-reaching, and I’m hoping to see some really big ideas to get more Africans reaching for a book in their spare time.”
Tariq Al Gurg, the CEO of Dubai Cares, says, “Reading is one of the most essential life skills that can open people’s minds to a world of possibility and discovery. Therefore, instilling and nurturing a culture of reading cannot be limited to the classrooms and students alone.
“The goal of the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund challenge this year is to expand the scope of reading beyond the four walls of schools and encourage ideas and innovations that will take this wonderful experience beyond the educational fold, and make it more inclusive to a wider audience.
“We at Dubai Cares are confident of the response that the fund will receive for this challenge, and we look forward to the impact this will have on the wider African community across all age groups.”
That 2022 fund theme of cultivating reading culture, organizers say, is intentionally broad to attract a wide range of innovations.
Examples could be developing the publishing value chain (authors, illustrators, translators, literary agents, booksellers, distributors etc.) or increasing access to books, such as through public libraries.
The Africa Publishing Innovation Fund selection committee led by Al Qasimi (United Arab Emirates), includes Akoss Ofori-Mensah (Ghana–our interview with her is here); Brian Wafawarowa (South Africa); Gbadega Adedapo (Nigeria); Lawrence Njagi (Kenya); and Mohamed Saleh Maalej (Tunisia).
Until August 31, Africa-based entrepreneurs and innovators are invited to pitch their ideas at the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund site. They’ll then be sent a form to complete and return to firstname.lastname@example.org . Eventual winners will be selected by the IPA Africa Publishing Innovation committee.
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 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.