By Doug Stone, Books for Africa
A new business model is emerging in Africa and it has the potential to benefit millions of underserved people around the far reaches of the continent. The model embraces corporate social responsibility and involves business leaders giving back to the places where they built and acquired their wealth. These private benefactors are now also collaborating with NGOs and governments to advance core development needs and goals.
No better example exists than Sir Emeka Offor, a leading Nigerian businessman, who since 2011 has donated $950,000 to Books For Africa (BFA) to ship 1.7 million books and computers valued at over $18 million to children and students in 19 African countries, including his own home country Nigeria.
What is unique about Sir Emeka’s generosity beyond the size of the donation, is that his support will help people in so many different countries: large and small; Muslim and Christian; geographically diverse, land-locked and coastal, and poor countries thousands of miles from his own homeland.
Time and again, studies show that literacy and education are linked to health, wealth, and prosperity. Literacy is the foundation for a good education. However, there are many developing places in the world that do not have adequate access to reading materials to foster a culture of learning, including many communities in Africa Over the past 25 years, Books For Africa (BFA) has supplied more than 30 million books to 49 African countries. BFA could not have done so without the tremendous support from partners like Sir Emeka Offor.
Sir Emeka Offor impresses American visitors with his desire to help African compatriots to help themselves through education. His goal, he says, is to help every man, woman and child in Africa learn to read and he approaches this goal with enthusiasm, tenacity and uncommon generosity.
Sir Emeka Offor is the largest donor in the history of Books For Africa, and the largest private sector donor in the history of the program. Sir Emeka’s foundation now serves as the prototype and catalyst for other private sector companies and state governments in Nigeria, with books, computers and school supplies being provided to all areas of Nigeria with no regard to religion or ethnicity.
Significantly, Sir Emeka Offor has also paid for the logistical costs of book distributions in Nigeria, which are valued at an additional several hundreds of thousands of dollars. By establishing a warehousing hub in Southern Nigeria, Sir Emeka Offor has built a distribution machine to process huge numbers of books. More than 50 people have been hired to sort, catalog, box and distribute the donated books. This distribution center represents a best practice for how to efficiently and properly distribute large quantities of books in a single country, and has become the prototype for other donation programs in Africa.
It is not uncommon for African philanthropists to support education and literacy projects in their own countries. It is unprecedented, however, for an African business leader like Sir Emeka Offor to financially support projects of this size and scope across Africa in addition to a major book project in his home country. Projects of this scale are more often conceived and executed by government entities such as USAID, DFID, the EU, and various United Nations offices, but never by a single individual.
Sir Emeka Offor’s generosity has benefitted the following 19 African countries through book and computer donations: Nigeria, the Gambia, Somalia, Liberia, Tanzania, Namibia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Uganda and Niger.
Sir Emeka’s work is certain to inspire other African business leaders to adopt his model of philanthropy. He has hit a home run heard around the continent.
Author Doug Stone is an Associate at Books for Africa Headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.