«We provide books for people of every age and background»: An interview with the Chief Executive of Book Aid International

Published: jueves 6th junio 2024
Category: Other
Books being unloaded by Book Aid International partner

Copyright: Book Aid International

In this Research4Life interview, we hear from Alison Tweed, Chief Executive of Book Aid International, one of Research4Life’s likeminded partners. Book Aid International is a non profit organisation that provides books of all shapes and sizes to African libraries, including schools, refugee camps, prisons and hospitals.

Tell us a little about your background and how you found your way to Book Aid International?

I began my career in educational publishing and worked for over 20 years at Macmillan as their International Publishing Director. Our work had a very strong focus on Africa, publishing school curriculum materials across the continent, so I became very familiar with Africa and its educational systems well over time. At Macmillan I got to know of the work of Book Aid International as we were one of the publishers who donated books, and I always thought what a great organisation it was, but I never thought I’d one day have the huge privilege of becoming its Chief Executive!

For those who don’t know your organisation, what does Book Aid International do?

Alison Tweed, Chief Executive, Book Aid International

Alison Tweed, Chief Executive, Book Aid International

Book Aid International shares the power of books and helps create a more equal world. Every year we provide over one million brand-new, carefully selected books donated to us by UK publishers, to thousands of communities where people have very few opportunities to read, and we work with partners to support and establish libraries.

We work everywhere from refugee camps, prisons and hospitals to remote schools where there has never been a library before, in over 25 countries around the world, and we also respond to requests for books in response to conflict and disaster.

In addition to providing books, we work with our partners on funded projects to establish and refurbish libraries, train teachers and librarians, promote reading and we also fund the purchase of locally published books.

Tell us about the range of content that is donated? Subjects? Sectors? Levels?

We provide books for people of every age and background – from picture books right through to children’s fiction and non-fiction, educational textbooks, general fiction and leisure reading, technical and vocational books, business and management books and advanced medical and law texts.

What innovation are you most proud of?

I am very proud of our entire way of working and believe it offers a unique service to libraries and schools that would otherwise have few or no new books. While there are many charities that donate books, few have the range and reach of Book Aid International, the truly partner-led approach and the access to the brand-new, high-quality books that we source directly from UK publishers. Two years ago we launched our Partner Development Programme to support the work that our partners are doing, building on their existing strengths, plans and objectives. Last year we took part in our first peer to peer event in Nairobi, bringing nine of our partners together to share their experiences and insights.

And of course I am proud of our library and school library projects, creating everything from children’s corners in public libraries to school libraries powered by solar lights, have made a huge contribution to improving access to books and supporting reading across the continent and beyond.

How can publishers get involved in your work?

Over 100 UK publishers support our work, from the largest international publishers such as OUP, Bloomsbury, CUPA and Elsevier through to the smallest independent publishers. But we are always looking for new publishers who can donate books to us from their overstocks, returns or office clear-outs. We simply couldn’t do what we do without the support of the UK publishing industry. Interested publishers can contact our head of Operations and acquisitions Brian Martin at [email protected]

How can libraries register with you and how do they select content?

Children reading books from a Book Aid International Discovery Book Box, Sierra Leone

Copyright: Book Aid International

In every country where we work, we have a main distribution partner, and individual schools and libraries and NGOs can apply direct to them for books or make a direct request to us on our website. https://bookaid.org/contact/how-to-request-books/

Once a partner is registered, we send them a needs assessment form in which they detail the categories of books they require, and we then select the books according to their stated needs. We make sure every book we send is relevant and up to date and appropriate for the partner.

How is Book Aid International funded?

All our income is voluntary-we receive no government grants. We are supported by individuals, grant-making trusts, corporates (including many publishers), community fundraisers and through legacies. We are always amazed by the generosity of people and organisations who support us because they share our belief in the power of books to improve and transform lives.

Looking ahead to 2030, what’s the biggest challenge for Book Aid International?

There are challenges on many fronts! The industry is changing its approach to printing and stockholding, with zero based stock and last-minute fulfilment and of course migration to digital and online and a much stronger focus on sustainability issues. So, we are working even harder to build our relationships with publishers and ensure steady donations of print books for our partners.

Income generation is also always a challenge, but we are fortunate to have many thousands of loyal supporters who have stayed with us through thick and thin.

Despite all these challenges we are ambitious to grow our work in the future. And Africa is a continent of young people eager to read and learn and take their place in a changing world. We hope to be with them for many years yet to support them on their journey.

Thanks Alison! We look forward to following your progress and invite any interested parties to get in touch.