Friends of African Village Libraries

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Friends of African Village Libraries

United States
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

FAVL combines five elements to create a replicable and scalable model for bringing access to reading materials to hundreds of thousands of villages in sub-Saharan Africa:

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Your idea
Country your work focuses on:

Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda

What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

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What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?


Describe your idea in fewer than 50 words.

We support small community libraries in rural areas through long-term commitment to librarian salaries, training and library programming.

What makes your idea unique?

Nobody else is doing it! Lots of groups support building libraries, or they ship books, or they have one-off library workshops, but we offer a long-term commitment to developing small libraries.

Our five key elements:

1) Emphasis on long-term management of small community libraries. We invest in a local team of librarians and coordinating staff so that librarians are constantly improving their services. Librarians largely come from the villages themselves, and so need a lot of guidance and support to be effective. In Uganda we established the Uganda Community Libraries Association (UgCLA)

2) Emphasis on libraries that suit the needs of small communities. We typically refurbish an existing building, and emphasize a low-cost ($5,000) refurbishment of a one-room structure stocked with 1,000-2,000 books, and open 20 hours a week with a paid librarian. A typical village does not need much more than this to help first gneerations of literate students and graduates.

3) Emphasis on reading materials that respond to requests of readers in villages (African novels, picture books set in Africa, bande dessinees in Africa). We strive to purchase books from local and regional publshers, and have begun to create programs to create books ourselves that will be in high demand by readers in villages.

4) Focus on libraries. We are not an "integrated" development organization. Our mission is to promote libraries and reading, and we try to stay focused on that purpose. Specifically, we do not believe in tying libraries to unrelated income-generating projects.

5) Volunteers and networks. Our major emphasis is on embedding libraries into a dense network of volunteers and donors who can help. To that end we use social networking sites (like Ning) and blogging and frequent visitors and volunteers to keep people in touch.

What is your area of work? (Please check as many as apply.)

Children & Youth , Education , Girls' development , Adult education , Rural development , Public Participation & Engagement .

What impact have you had?

Libraries see hundreds of visits per month, and thousands of books are read over the year, in villages where typically only a handful of books circulate. A randomized experiment found that summer reading programs improved test scores.

Describe the primary problem(s) that your project is addressing.

Lack of access of rural persons (students and adults) to reading material (books and newspapers).

Describe the steps that your organization is taking to make your project successful.

We focus on rigorous reporting and accountability by library staff.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Success in Year 1:

We currently are very successful, and have been expanding slowly and steadily. We would however like to expand our operations in Burkina Faso in a more coordinated and larger-scale way.

So, year 1; establish 30 more community libraries in Burkina Faso, randomly selected from communities with primary schools, in the province of Tuy in southwestern Burkina Faso.

Success in Year 2:

Implement impact evaluation study comparing reading abilities in 30 villages with libraries with 30 villages that serve as control groups. Implement summer reading camps and other summer reading programs for 12 years olds (level CM2) in villages with libraries.

Success in Year 3:

Work with local rural councils to have librarians become local council staff persons (currently rural councils have only limited budgets as part of the government's process of devolution and decentralization). We believe that librarians are ideal "first employees" for a local rural council, because they provide such an immediate and visible service to the community.

Do you have a business plan or strategic plan? (yes/no)


What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization? STEP 1:

We need to increase our local coordination staff to include more educated and experienced education professionals who can interact with larger-scale government agencies. (We currently employ mostly village-level staff and younger coordinators.)

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization? STEP 2:

We need to establish a cell-phone based reporting mechanisms, where librarians can use cell phones to directly enter daily statistics (visits, books checked out, expenses) for greater transparency. Cell phones can also be used to verify librarian performance (through taking of pictures at opening and closing). (In many education setting absenteeism is a big problem.)

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization? STEP 3:

We need a paid staff members in the United States to coordinate a larger-scale expansion like this. (Currently US personnel is all volunteer.)

Describe the expected results of these actions.

Each village impacts approximately 100 library members (avid readers who check out 100-200 books per month) and several 100 casual readers. So 30 libraries would be impacting, on an ongoing basis, 200 persons i each village (the typical village is about 2,000 persons, with adult literacy in Burkina Faso at less than 30%).

What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

While doing research in Burkina Faso, a close friend in the village had read Confessions, of jean-Jacques Rousseau, four times, because it was the only book he had. I resolved then and there to try to do something about the "book divide", where millions of young people are cut off from the opportunity to engage with the great literary traditions of Africa and the world.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Michael Kevane is Associate Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University, with 20 years of work in development economics.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

A friend.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

We have developed our model slowly and steadily over the past 10 years. So we see no significant obstacles to continued expansion. People in villages all across Africa are eager to have access to a variety of reading materials.

Financing source


If yes, provide organization name.

Friends of African Village Libraries, a 501c(3) organization based in San Jose, California.

How long has this organization been operating? (i.e. less than a year; 1-5 years; more than 5 years)

Eight years (founded in 2001).

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Yes. Profiles are available on the FAVL website,

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs? (yes/no)

Yes. We work closely with a number of other library support organizations, such as Osu Children's Library Fund.

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses? (yes/no)


The Story
Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government? (yes/no)

Yes, we work with CENALAC, the structure of the government of Burkina Faso that coordinates reading and library activities.

Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

We have a dense network of NGOs and government actors, especially at the local level in Burkina Faso (and other countries).

How many people will your project serve annually?

As noted earlier, approximately 6,000 readers in 30 villages.

What is the total number of employees and total number of volunteers at your organization?

We have approximately 10 volunteers in the United States, and in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, approximately 15 employees or persons who receive salaries through FAVL.

What is your organization's business classification?

Non-profit/NGO/citizen sector organization

Have you received funding from any of the following groups? (Please check as many as apply.)