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Barefoot Books Partners with Books For Africa to Promote Literacy in Mozambique

Thursday, August 22, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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Barefoot Books Co-Founder and CEO Nancy Traversy (top row, fourth from the left) gives books to COVida activistas as part of the partnership with Books For Africa to bring 300,000 books to Mozambique.

Recently, IBPA member and independent publisher Barefoot Books partnered with Books For Africa to ship 300,000 copies of their bestselling titles to orphans with AIDS and their caregivers in Mozambique. IBPA was impressed with this sizable and noteworthy project, so we spoke to Barefoot Books’ Co-Founder and CEO Nancy Traversy to see how it all came to be.

“Supporting literacy programs has always been a very important part of our mission at Barefoot Books,” says Nancy. “We admired the important work that Books For Africa was doing and wanted to help.

“A bit of background on Books For Africa. They are the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent, shipping over 44 million books to all 55 countries on the African continent since 1988. They collect, sort, ship and distribute books to African students of all ages with the goal of creating a culture of literacy and empowering the next generation of parents, teachers, and leaders in Africa. Access to an education is one of the only opportunities young people have to end the cycle of poverty and attain a better quality of life than previous generations.”

So in 2017 when Executive Director of Books For Africa, Patrick Plonski, approached Nancy about partnering to send 300,000 books to Mozambique (a retail value of $6 million), she was whole-heartedly on board. In order to ship that many titles, the books were custom-printed in Hong Kong and shipped from its port. They are scheduled to arrive at the Port of Maputo in Mozambique later this summer.

“The books will go to orphans and vulnerable children affected by AIDS, as well as their caregivers,” says Nancy, “and will be distributed in 62 districts in all 11 provinces across Mozambique. The majority (about 230k) will be distributed to beneficiary families (about 3 books per family) with the rest going to facilities, schools, orphanages, the Peace Corps, community leaders and child protection committees.

“The shipment comprises 30,000 copies each of 10 bestselling and beautifully illustrated books from Barefoot Books, all with African themes and characters, and including educational notes and other learning materials. All of the books have been translated into Mozambican Portuguese, and the 10 titles were carefully selected by the Ministry of Health, as well as the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Action, and span a wide range of ages, from babies and toddlers, through pre-school, elementary and secondary school.”

Nancy goes on to explain that “The project was funded by a major contract from FHI 360, who are a contractor of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) undertaking work in Mozambique. It is part of a five-year multi-million-dollar effort in Mozambique funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative of USAID and administered in country by COVida—Together for Children.

“This project has definitely been a labor of love and a posterchild for the power of perseverance. It was planned over the past three years and involved meetings in Minnesota and Washington, D.C with the Mozambique Ambassador to the U.S., Carlos dos Santos, meetings with FHI 360 officials in Mozambique, a lot of outstanding contributions by my team at Barefoot Books, as well as great work by local Mozambican Portuguese translators and editors.”

Next up for Barefoot Books, they have multiple titles coming out in their fall/winter catalog, including Global Kids, World Atlas Sticker Book, and Barefoot Books Solar System.

Barefoot Books' upcoming title, Barefoot Books Solar System
Four Questions with Barefoot Books Co-Founder and CEO Nancy Traversy

IBPA: Can you share advice for fellow independent publishers who are looking to organize their own charitable efforts?

Nancy Traversy (NT): There are many ways to work with literacy and other charitable organizations both in the U.S. and abroad. Some of these have budgets to purchase books, albeit at reduced prices, and others are looking for book donations. Cultivate relationships with these organizations so you can work together to meet your shared goals.

IBPA: In the past, Books For Africa has shipped books in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Why was it important for you all to send newly-printed books in Portuguese?

NT: This book distribution project in Mozambique marks the first time Books For Africa has partnered with a publisher to custom-print local language books. While books in English were welcomed by schools and other organizations that Books For Africa worked with, there is a huge demand for books in children’s own languages. So this marked the official launch of the new “Books For Africa Publishing” initiative which provides the opportunity for other African countries and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to undertake similar projects, and print high-quality books, translated in their local languages, for distribution to children for education, healthcare and social welfare initiatives.

And this new model will enable Books For Africa to provide even more books for children across Africa and further their mission to end the book famine in Africa.

IBPA: Can you list three key lessons you’ve learned about how one can succeed as an independent publisher?


  1. Have clarity about who you are as a publisher, the types of books you want to publish, and what your core values as a business are. From the very beginning back in 1992, we wanted to create beautiful books that open children’s hearts, minds, and worlds. We are still making the same books with the same mission statement more than 27 years later. It is particularly rewarding to know that this mission is no longer on the fringes, but in the mainstream.

  2. Think out of the box about where your customers might be and how you reach them. Most importantly, keep persevering even when conditions are challenging. And don’t be afraid to follow your own path.

  3. Relationships are what matter the most.

IBPA: How has it been beneficial to you to be a member of Independent Book Publishers Association?

NT: It is wonderful to be in the company of so many other independent, entrepreneurial and creative publishers and, in particular, to have the support and backing of IBPA, with all of its fabulous resources, knowledge and tools. We have also enjoyed membership discounts on trade ads and taken advantage of the fantastic Media Outreach Program available through IBPA.

IBPA: Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story and insight with the IBPA community!

Click here to learn more about Barefoot Books!

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