Thursday, March 8, 2012

Doing Good With Books

I recently discovered two enterprises which focus on books. My discoveries of each of them came so close together, that I decided it was a sign to write about them.

Just when books seem to be going out of fashion, replaced with ebooks or online texts, along come two social enterprises that use books to change lives.

Better World Books, in Mishawaka, IN, is the brainchild of two Notre Dame Alumni (yet another reason why I like them), Xavier Helgesen and Kreese Fuchs. They have built a for-profit social enterprise which collects used books, resells them online and funds literacy programs around the world. For each book they sell online, Better World Books makes a book donation to someone in need. Better World Books (BWB) delivers on its dual -- environmental and social -- mission; used books are saved from landfills and BWB contributes to individual literacy in the United States and in some of the poorest countries of the world.

The BWB website summarizes its astounding impact: Since it began 11 years ago, BWB has raised over $11.6 million for literacy including $5.7 million for over 80 literacy and education nonprofits and $4.9 million for libraries nationwide. BWB has contributed more than $2 million to college service clubs who have run book drives and has directly sent more than 5 million books to Books for Africa, the National Center for Family Literacy and Feed the Children. BWB has collected over 77 million books through active book drives at over 2,300 college and universities and collections from over 3,000 libraries. If you or your kids need to offload some old textbooks, that is where this all began. The founders credit their success on the fact that all of us want to do good. Their business allows us to solve a book inventory problem and feel good knowing we are giving back at the same time.

More Than Words is a nonprofit social enterprise, located in Waltham, MA, that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. The youths who work at More Than Words (MTW) run an inviting 501(c)3 nonprofit used bookstore featuring a wide array of titles, comfortable seating, and free wi-fi. The in-store coffee bar serves Starbucks coffee, espresso, tea and other popular café drinks, as well as delicious baked treats. To manage the bookstore and online business, these at-risk youth work as a team which helps them develop management responsibilities, leadership and self-confidence. MTW also provides personal transition planning and case management to support these kids as they progress toward employment and education. These often marginalized youths use these skills to help themselves make the transition to adulthood and become thriving members of their communities.

The MTW website speaks to the youth whom they embrace, with alumni stories of encouragement and a strong feeling of success throughout the site. MTW workers are proud of their business and proud of themselves. The business can be an escape from their chaotic life, but rather than just treading water, the youth who commit to the program are offered a future that may have been otherwise unattainable.

What does this have to do with social media? Who cares! But both enterprises maintain terrific blogs to broaden their reach and BWB is very active on Facebook (one of my favorite Facebook Pages) and Twitter. The beauty of engaging communities who enjoy books is that the potential content is limitless: authors, genres, events, hot topics, etc. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg on content potential when you consider how much there is to say about doing good.

Have you read any good used books lately?

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