Rohini Nilekani pours her wealth into getting books to India's poorest children
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.
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Pratham Books uses Creative Commons licensing to make its books more accessible. 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. Good professional translators are difficult to find in a country with so many languages. With CC, translators are free to use Pratham Books's content and create versions in their own languages.Skip to next paragraph
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"When it comes to learning, why put it behind walls?" Nilekani says. "Everything does not have to be a commodity."
This free sharing of content has already created a bevy of new products, such as audio versions for blind readers, versions for iPads, and books in regional languages. Pratham is also active on social media, which is helping it to gather an army of volunteers. On Sept. 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. "Knowledge is still kept under wraps in India: We must open it up."
Ms. Sen Gupta sums up what keeps the Pratham family going.
"Once, after doing two sessions with a bunch of kids, I was getting my breath back by sitting on a bench when they were all going past," she says. "One boy patted my shoulder and said with aplomb, 'Bahut mazaa aya! (It was great fun!).' Then I got patted by about a hundred kids with loud 'thank-yous.' It felt like they had pinned a medal to my chest.
"That is what Pratham does. [It] brings the joy of stories and imagination into the lives of kids who have so little of that."
• To learn more, visit www.prathambooks.org.
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