David Risher: mind in California, heart in Africa



I’ve already talked about technologies for literacy in Africa, with the virtual libraries of the project Librii. Today I am back on the topic thanks to David Risher, an extraordinary person I had the pleasure of meeting at the time of the Harvard Business School, which we were both attending.

David, one of the leading figures behind the success of Amazon.com, has combined his two great passions, the Internet and books, to give life to Worldreader. To date, his startup has distributed over 600 thousand electronic books in different countries of Black Africa, digitizing thousands of titles by local authors. The goal is to reach one million people with an app that turns old generation phones into e-book readers, with access to a constantly updated catalogue.

Access to books is a serious problem in Africa. The World Bank estimates that only one school in 19 has sufficient provision. But a digital book costs at least ten times less than a printed copy, and now a simple mobile phone can take the place of an expensive library. This is why David’s story is so important. If the very young and women are its most loyal users, the cultural benefits of a platform like Worldreader are amplified because it is destined to be spread throughout the family and grow over time. The UNESCO report published recently for World Book Day explains it well.

But, aside from its philanthropic scope, this is also a great business adventure. David is working with American and African publishers and developing a new market. Many of Africa’s future, successful authors might today be young people, discovering literature thanks to David’s valuable work.