The African Publishing Innovation Fund leadership—Dubai Cares’s Tariq Al Gurg and the International Publishers Association’s Bodour Al Qasimi and Hugo Setzer, center—is joined onstage by representatives of the organizations that will share in the 2020 funding at Sharjah Book Authority’s Publishers Conference on October 29, 2019. Photo credit: Nabs Ahmedi, Publishing Perspectives

Five African organizations related to writing and publishing have each been awarded a $20,000 grant from the African Publishing Innovation Fund to launch innovative projects that will develop literacy, book accessibility, and the use of African indigenous languages in African literature. The five inaugural recipients of the grants were recognized on October 29,  the eve of the official opening of the 2019 Sharjah International Book Fair Publishers Conference. Listed alphabetically, they are:

1. Accord Literary 

Accord Literary is a literary agency based in Ghana that was founded by UK publisher Sarah Odedina and Ghana-based publisher Deborah Ahenkorah. The agency seeks original and unique African voices and aims to help get these books into the hands of readers worldwide. With the grant, Accord Literary will mentor, develop, and encourage African authors writing for young readers.

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2. Cassava Republic Press

Cassava Republic Press is a Nigerian publishing house led by Bibi Bakare-Yusuf that has blazed trails in the Nigerian and African publishing scene. With the grant, Cassava Republic Press will produce and translate 10 children’s books into three Nigerian languages, with the aim of giving children access to picture books in their native tongue that will aid cognitive development and instill cultural confidence among youth.

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3. OkadaBooks 

OkadaBooks is a Nigeria-based e-publishing company. With the grant, OkadaBooks aims to drive literacy by offering teachers, students, and parents free access to books that children can relate to via mobile phones, to generate and distribute Nigerian content, and to identify new talent through writing competitions.

4. Positively African

Positively African is an organization devoted to the celebration of African culture based in Kenya. With the grant, Positively African will invest in Story Jukebox, a project that aims to make African literature accessible, encourage lifelong learning, and help connect communities. Positively African will distribute audio stories across the African continent through digital platforms and partnerships with universities and centers for the visually impaired. The first phase of the project involves the adaptation of eight stories from the Humans of Nairobi anthology into audio form.

5. Puku Foundation

Puku Foundation is a South African nonprofit led by Elinor Sisulu that promotes children’s literature, education, and literacy throughout Southern Africa. With the grant, Puku Foundation will build a digital portal, Pukupedia, that will act as a hub for multilingual expertise in children’s literature, nurture new local talent through writing workshops, online courses, and mentoring, and developing a reading culture among teachers, librarians, writers, literacy activists, and young people.

In addition to these five recipients, two library-related projects will receive grants as part of the African Rural Libraries Initiative, also funded by the African Publishing Innovation Fund.

1. Kakuma

Kakuma is the world’s largest refugee camp to asylum-seekers from DRC Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, and other countries. Kakuma received $20,000 to implement libraries for resident students. The grant will add to yearly efforts by other organizations that supply the camp with books which allow the young, mature students, and teachers to stay abreast on contemporary topics of interest.

2. Book Bunk

Book Bunk is an organization that works with Kenyan authorities to encourage community engagement in libraries through events, walking tours, and film screenings. Book Bunk received $50,000 to help restore the McMillan Memorial Library’s Kaloleni branch in Nairobi. It also received a surprise $10,000 worth of children’s books for the library from Dubai Cares, an educational philanthropic program and co-sponsor of the African Publishing Innovation Fund.

The African Publishing Innovation Fund was created in May 2019 through a strategic partnership between the International Publishing Association (IPA) and Dubai Cares. Dubai Cares is part of Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, an eponymous foundation established in 2007 by the vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. The charity’s mission is “to break the cycle of poverty by ensuring all children have access to quality education [as] an irrevocable asset and an essential right of every child.” Dubai Cares has committed to a four-year allocation of some 2.9 million dirhams ($800,000) in support of the African Publishing Innovation Fund.

According to a statement by IPA vice-president Bodour bint Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi:

the competition was tough, and every single application received had real potential to bring big benefits to literacy, reading, or book accessibility in Africa. This is why the committee has awarded five projects an equal share, to ensure these Dubai Cares grants will impact a broad range of issues and countries.

Congratulations Accord Literary, Cassava Republic Press, OkadaBooks, Positively African, and Puku Foundation – we look forward to hearing more about your innovations!