By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Al Qasimi: ‘To Unlock the Literary Landscape’Five projects have been named today (June 16) to be awarded 2022 grants from the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund, a program that’s interesting to watch not only for its choices of beneficiaries but also because of its pattern of selecting thematic approaches to its work. For example, last year, the fund’s work called into question the traditional focus in many African markets on government-funded textbook production.
And this is a chance to see a seminal grant-awarding body growing into its own—evolving its response to needs and applications for assistance as its leadership’s analysis brings issues into better focus.
Like a person’s deepening understanding of the world, a nonprofit service operation like the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund gains traction and clarity for its mission by developing a clearer concept of where its action can have the most beneficial effect. Over time, its work becomes better targeted.
On the sidelines of the Sharjah International Book Fair last autumn, the fund held stakeholder discussions at Sharjah’s House of Wisdom to look for ways to enhance the impact of the program’s work. Those talks have had their effect on the program’s work going forward and we can see some reflection of those conversations in today’s announcement, referencing not only African publishing being “steeply tilted toward textbooks” but a need to look at accessibility concerns for readers who struggle with impairments.
As you’ll remember, Bodour Al Qasimi, now president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), originally led the formation of the fund in May 2019 in association with Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of the philanthropic program Dubai Cares. The program is designed to operate for four years with an endowment of US$800,000. This is its third annual disbursement of grants.
The fund is administered by the International Publishers Association, and in its 2021 grants cycle last year awarded five grants to projects chosen from a submission pool of 311 applications based in 26 African nations.
Once again, the total being distributed in this tranche of grants is US$200,000, and those receiving grants are selected by the committee from applications that arrived from 18 African countries. The committee itself comprises publishers from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tunisia.
In a prepared comment on today’s announcement, Al Qasimi is quoted, saying, “Since 2019, the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund has been honored to breathe life into projects that bring solutions to numerous challenges linked to books and reading.
“As part of Dubai Cares’ support this year, we are directing fund financing toward reading for pleasure and accessibility, both being priorities with the power to unlock the literary landscape to everyone, regardless of level of education or ability.”
And at Dubai Cares, Al Gurg says, “Reading is one of the most important skills children and youths can acquire, as it opens doors to a whole new world of knowledge, wisdom and learning.
“Our support to the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund in 2022, through our partnership with the International Publishers Association, enables us to promote a love of reading among visually impaired young readers and provide access to books for disadvantaged children and young people.
“We are very proud of our partnership with IPA, which has helped place inclusivity at the core of their global agenda and the launch of this program has served as an extension of IPA’s leading role in reviving the culture of reading in the world.”
As the fund says today, then, “The five initiatives that will receive Africa Publishing Innovation Fund” grants this year have been chosen “to spark a love of reading among millions of young Africans.”
The 2022 Africa Publishing Innovation Fund Recipients
Below is a list of the five beneficiaries announced today, with supplemental notes about the projects the fund has awarded for support.
Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), Pan-Africa
- In its Read with the Stars project, this association expects to enlist celebrities and sports stars to catalyze a reading culture in African schools and homes through read-aloud and publicity campaigns in major African cities
Book Aid International, Uganda and Zimbabwe
- This is the second grant that the United Kingdom-based Book Aid International has received from the fund, the first, in 2021, recognizing the organization’s shipping-container library facilities deployed in Tanzania. This time, a Book Aid program called African Story Box is to bring books to children and encourage reading for pleasure. The money from the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund will target 24 primary schools in Uganda and Zimbabwe. Book Aid is also to “organize reading-promotion events for local publishers, head teachers, teachers, children, parents, education ministers, and other stakeholders.”
- “Working with the Masai community living in badly disadvantaged Narok Country, near the Maasai Mara National Reserve,” the fund’s media messaging says, “OliveSeed Kenya is developing educational programs and learning-resource centers at school, each with a well-stocked library.”
Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA), South Africa
- The nonprofit organization often referred to by its acronym PRAESA has been recognized by the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund with a grant that recognizes the project’s attempt “to deepen the impact of reading aloud to children through free webinars and written guides to teach adults how to select the right books, read in an engaging way, and use stories to stimulate imagination and critical thinking.”
Yanbow Al Kitab, Morocco
- Yanbow Al Kitab (Yanbow, the Book) is a children’s publisher based in Casablanca. Its grant-supported project is to give small libraries to 300 low-income Moroccan families with young children. those libraries “will contain 22 books, access to clips of readings by storytellers, and tips for parents on how to optimize read-aloud time with children.”
Issues: Reading for Pleasure, Accessible Publishing
In the IPA’s discussion around today’s announcement, we again hear the point being made that “African publishing is steeply tilted toward textbooks–up to 90 percent of sales in some markets–where consumers typically associate reading with education, and not recreation. The closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact on government purchasing of textbooks, exposed the vulnerability of the publishing sector in African markets.”
This is the organization’s clearest formulation yet of a concern described for us here at Publishing Perspectives in July 2019 by Cassava Republic Press co-founder Bibi Bakare-Yusuf following a Nairobi event with PublisHer event. Bakare-Yusuf described in those comments the domination of many African markets’ publishing business by men because financial gain was greater in educational publishing.
“The fact that men are not as well represented in the trade is only a matter of time,” she said. “They’re waiting for women to pave the road and show them the financial potential before they wean themselves off the very lucrative government contracts. And watch them try to take over, with try as the watchword.”
In terms of its impact on readership, as reflected in the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund’s grant decisions is that reading as a life-habit—for pleasure and information and perspective—can be hampered when the overhang of educational publishing becomes so heavy that a population comes to understand literature and reading only in terms of pedagogical functions.
In addition to the fund’s interest in reading’s place in the lives of beneficiaries of its funding, it has announced today that in the latter half of this year, it will work with the DAISY Consortium “to facilitate and fund the production of accessible works in multiple African markets.
“This final iteration of the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund project will give rise to a new canon of accessible works that will reach blind, visually impaired, and otherwise print disabled African readers. The accessible books produced will have the potential to serve the literary needs of thousands of children, especially those belonging to underserved linguistic minorities.”
Information on this new element of the fund’s focus is to be made public in coming weeks.
More this week on accessible publishing comes from Italy, where the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) is participating in a conference on Monday (June 20) with Fondazione LIA, focusing on accessibility issues in study materials and texts for university students. Our story is here.
This is Publishing Perspectives’ 110th awards-related report produced in the 112 publication days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.
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More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.