Nepal is not a place many Americans think about on a daily basis. An oblong nation about the size of Arkansas, wedged between India and China, Nepal is perhaps most famous for its oddly-shaped flag and for being home to eight of the 10 tallest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest. Nevertheless, business software and information services provider Reprints Desk is taking an interest in this nation of nearly 29 million, partnering with a charity called Room to Read to build a library in the mountain nation.
Room to Read was founded by former Microsoft executive John Wood in 1998 after a trip to Nepal, in an effort to promote literacy, publishing, and gender equality in developing nations. Room to Read now sponsors libraries, publishing programs, and elementary education in eight Asian countries and South Africa. Among other things, Room to Read publishes children's books written by local authors in the children's native languages.
Education, particularly elementary education, is hardly a priority in Nepal, resulting in a 48.6% literacy rate, a number that drops to 34.9% for women. "In many of the countries, we're actually the largest children's book publisher in the country," says Nicole Rigg, development associate for corporations and foundations at Room to Read.
Room to Read came to be involved with Reprints Desk through an interesting series of events. Room to Read operates some 40 volunteer fundraising chapters around the world, which, in total, are expected to raise $10 million for the organization's literacy and publishing projects this year-a third of all funds raised. Christian Gray, a member of Reprints Desk's business development staff, had been part of the volunteer fundraising chapter in Los Angeles and got the company to commit on a corporate level.
"Every transaction that we deliver at Reprints Desk, we will be making a contribution to Room to Read," says Ian Palmer, Reprints Desk's head of marketing. Neither Palmer nor Rigg would say how much would be donated, either per transaction or in total, but Reprints Desk and its parent company, Derycz Scientific, moved 5 million articles last year, and Rigg says the company has committed to build at least one library in Nepal and fund one girl's scholarship through its Girls' Education program.
In addition to Gray's involvement, many of Reprints Desk's executives, including Palmer and founder Peter Derycz, had been to Nepal before, and Derycz had been toying with the idea of building a library in the mountain nation even before partnering with Room to Read, to the point where the idea influenced the founding of Reprints Desk.
"Many of the challenges of building a library are what fueled the structure for Reprints Desk, both in terms of how the company operates and its systems structure," Palmer says. "Trying to overcome physical, technological, and even political challenges that exist shaped [Derycz's] thinking about how a library should be created and how information should be delivered."
If building the first library turns out to be a success, Reprints Desk plans to include feedback from its customers in selecting a site for any possible venture. "We think that's important," Palmer says, "because by doing business with Reprints Desk, our customers and our publisher partners, in essence, are contributing to this, and in doing so we'd like them to have a voice and participate in this process."
That is a long way down the line, however. Room to Read is still vetting applicants for the first library's site. This library, Palmer says, may not feature computer access because "many of the libraries are built in locations where electricity-and even food and water-are scarce, so there may not be any way to install a computer or to re-charge an iPad." Even reaching the new library may be a challenge.
"It could take a couple days to get to this area, depending on where we choose," Rigg says. "Really, it's up to the communities to apply and see what works out. Some of them are in closer proximity to Kathmandu [Nepal's capital and largest city], but some of them can be very remote."
The challenges of constructing, funding, and maintaining a working library in a potentially remote area of the world are not to be underestimated, but Nepal spends only 3.4% of its GDP on public education, which ranks 134th in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. That's about two-thirds what the U.S. spends and less than half what the Scandinavian countries spend on education. In a country where resources can be scarce, even one library can make a difference.