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29.01.2014

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When she found herself suddenly wealthy, the Indian philanthropist founded Pratham Books, a nonprofit publisher that uses innovative ways to put low-cost books in the hands of millions of kids. Rohini Nilekani, a philanthropist who founded Pratham Books, which produces low-cost children’s books, sits in her home in Bangalore, India. Bangalore, India — "My mission is to put a book in every child's hand," says Rohini Nilekani. Set up in 2004, Pratham Books is an offshoot of Pratham, one of India's largest nonprofit groups, which supports education across India.
That's an ambitious goal anywhere, but especially in India, where there are more than 300 million children, most of whom can't afford books, or even read.Ms. Nilekani is founder-chairperson of Pratham Books, a nonprofit publishing house that uses innovative ways to tap India's vast market."The children we reach are first-generation readers," she says. So Pratham Books was set up to bring "as many [high-]quality books as possible, as cheaply as possible, in as many languages as possible, to the unreached child," she says.Eight years later, Pratham has published more than 10 million books with 225 titles in 11 languages.


Most of the books are priced at less than 25 rupees (about 45 cents).Nilekani's own journey is something of a fairy tale. Even by Grade 5, many children still can't read.Pratham Books also has to cope with a hugely diverse country with more than 22 languages and innumerable dialects. Nilekani is unapologetic about this and says that while financial sustainability is a goal, Pratham Books's first priority is social impact.But Pratham Books also keeps its costs low through continuous innovation.
Children who can't afford books can share and trade these easy-to-read, easy-to-store cards.
Recognizing that it can't possibly cover the whole of India alone, Pratham teams up with both government and private organizations.
In 2008-09, it partnered with the government of the state of Bihar, one of the largest and poorest states in India. The state gave more than 70,000 government schools budgets to buy books.Kamal Jha works in the nonprofit sector and helped the Bihar government obtain the books.


Its new pilot program, currently operating in 45 schools, partners with small private schools, giving them what it calls a "Library in a Classroom," which includes books, activities, and training for teachers.Pratham Books also teams with large consumer brands, whose distribution networks reach into every corner of India. Pratham Books persuaded Unilever to send Pratham Books along, too.Children's author Subhadra Sen Gupta has published her books with many top publishers, including Penguin and Puffin. Yet her books with Pratham Books are especially meaningful, she says, because of its reach."I have done sessions with children in government schools who usually only see textbooks, and I love the way their world opens up with Pratham Books," she says. CC allows anyone to use, tweak, rewrite, and translate Pratham Books, most of which are freely available on the Internet through sites such as Scribd and Flickr. 8, International Literacy Day, it held a storytelling day in which 250 storytelling "champions" across India read the same book to children.Pratham's next task is to "scale up" to face the huge challenges that remain and continue to rethink how books can be used or shared, Nilekani says.



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