Beyond Access Partner READ Global recently won the $100, 000 Lipman Family Prize of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. A key component of the award is a partnership between the organization and students, including graduate students at the Wharton School and undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. The students are working on an interdisciplinary, nine-month-long program to complete a case study and field application project for READ Global, a non-profit organization that builds community libraries around the world. Recently, Beyond Access spoke with Tina Sciabica, Executive Director of READ Global, and Sara Litke, the organization’s Marketing and Communications Manager.
The READ Global Model
READ Global’s model focuses on education, enterprise, and community development to create lasting social change in rural communities. Each center provides the community with a library and partners with other organizations to offer training programs in literacy, health, computer skills and more. After each center is established, the organization works with the community to start a for-profit enterprise that can provide long-term support for the READ center. In anticipation of a possible partnership, READ staff spend time educating communities about the organization’s model and the level of participation required, as well as the long-term goals for the center. Then, each community forms a Library Management Committee and presents a proposal for a new center. Communities co-invest 10-15% of the total cost of building the center, often achieved through fundraising, land donation, or renovation of an existing building.
Partnership Between READ and Wharton
Wharton School students are completing a case study on the community ownership piece of the READ Global model, which is perhaps more critical to the sustainability of each center than the sustaining enterprises.
“Ultimately, if the business fails, it’s the community ownership and initiative that’s going to ensure that the center stays open no matter what, and we’ve seen that over the last 21 years” said Tina Sciabica.
Next year, students will be working on a field application project, which will likely be about sustaining enterprises. This project will be key to assisting READ Global as it determines what models of sustaining enterprises have the most impact and potential for replication across different communities. This is especially significant because the organization plans to upgrade the technological infrastructure in its centers, and it needs to to ensure that each center has an effective sustaining enterprise to support these increased costs.
Although READ Global plans to develop SMS programs to reach those who can’t visit READ centers, it is critical to have a space where people — especially women — can come together and feel like they belong, Sciabica said. Sara Litke said that it’s critical to provide services for all marginalized people who have not had the opportunity or the platform to pursue their own development needs. Libraries provide a safe, neutral space that acts as an equalizer for people of all backgrounds, she said.They can be one of the only places where women feel like they belong, especially for those who haven’t attended school or worked outside the home.
Sciabica said, “We’ve had women who at first wouldn’t even step foot in a library because they thought since they had never gone to school, that it was not appropriate for them to go inside.Then, with the mobilization efforts of some of the women in the community, they start forming the self-help groups, the savings cooperatives. They’re literally finding their own voices through this process and it’s incredibly powerful. They’re becoming change agents in their own communities and decision makers in their families and actually taking control of their lives. That’s not happening without the library.”