CSR Times: What is your Library program? What is the cost of setting up a library? How do you manage it?
Suzanne Singh: We have a simple solution that we have developed for a library. As per the RTE, every school in India must have a library. Most of the times books are kept locked in the cupboard are not shared on a regular basis with children. Also since infrastructure is an issue, a separate room is usually not available for a library.So we came up with a simple solution. We createda small modular unit with plastic pouches that can be hung up on a wall. These pouches can accommodate about 125 books per classroom. We call this a Library in a Classroom.The idea was to create a print rich environment in the classroom itself where the child can actually pick up a book whenever she wants to read and put it back. With feedback from teachers, we also added zip to the modular library that allowed teachers to lock the library unit whenever required. It is something that they can put up on the wall and can be accessed by the child in the classroom without the need for a separate library or room,and this has been very successful.
CSR Times: Your organization is a social business model and is in proper alignment with the CSR and its requirements. So what according to you can be the role of CSR in context with your organization and how you can play a role?
Suzanne Singh: Books can really be transformational and we need to understand the importance of reading. When a child has access to a library at very early age, it opens up their minds, expands their horizons and their interaction with books helps them grow.
I think CSR can play a really big role in helping set up libraries across schools and communities. There is an acute shortage of not only books but also people who can work at ground level. The pleasure of reading is diminished because the children simply don’t have access to books apart from textbooks. They can’t just pick up a storybook and read it. So CSR funds can be deployed very effectively in creating a network of libraries in schools and communities and spread the joy of reading. If companies take up the responsibility of ensuring that kids have access to books in the locations where they have their industrial plants and branch offices in non-metro cities, it will go a long way in addressing the gap that exists on the ground today.
CSR Times: Would you like to be approached by NGOs across India.
Suzanne Singh: Certainly, our books are subsidized and affordable so that they can be accessible for everyone across the country. Like I mentioned earlier most of our books are priced under Rs.35. We also have a low cost ‘mini storybook’ option called a story card which is an A4 card folded down the middle with a full story and 4 to 6 illustrations. We priced these story cards for Rs 2 when we started and now it is sold for approximately Rs. 4 per card. The idea was to make these stories available to children at the least possible cost.
CSR Times: Would you like to suggest something to increase people’s participation? To engage as many as possible.
Suzanne Singh: One of the things we do amongst many others, was to engage with volunteers who we call Pratham Books Champions. Hundreds of Champions participate with us in our mission to bring books closer to children because we believe that this is a societal mission and we all need to join hands to make this a reality. Every year on International Literacy Day we have a campaign called ‘One Story One Day’ and we invite volunteers to conduct story-telling sessions in their communities. Last year we selected a book called “Paplu the Giant” for this campaign. We had published the book in 5 languages and our volunteers translated it into many more languages for their sessions. 500 Champions participated to conduct storytelling sessions with 40,000 children and what was quite astonishing is that the story was told in 25 languages. This year we have picked a book called ‘Takloo, the little Salt Seller’ and we have done about 1500 storytelling sessions across the country. We encourage our Champions to share their experiences on our blog champions.prathambooks.org. You can read on the blog how people are becoming change makers and a simple idea of reading a book to children, brings forward hundreds of volunteers who do so in their own ways.