Librii: philanthropy and enterprise, living side by side in Africa



To date, only 1% of Africa’s population has access to broadband. However, there are projects afoot that are attempting to change this situation.

One of these is Librii, created by a number of young American architects with a view to bringing the Internet to Africa via libraries. Not any old “traditional” libraries, but innovative, digital libraries. The first will open in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, in the spring.

The spirit is that of Andrew Carnegie, who established thousands of libraries around the world at the beginning of the last century, in order to provide an opportunity “to the industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those most anxious and able to help themselves.” Initial funding has been collected on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform where ordinary people become investors.

The Accra library will, however, be run in all respects by local staff. A bridge between the diaspora of Africans in the U.S. and the motherland, a way to provide information rather than money, and to foster ideas, culture and enterprise. The students of Accra, for example, will be able to watch YouTube videos, but also lessons from the MIT Open Courseware Initiative; they will be able to print the texts from Project Gutenberg and create a Wikipedia in their own language.

Librii is a symbol of how the values of culture and enterprise can be created together. It is a modern form of philanthropy that enables local activities to develop without paternalism and without creating dependency. This is what Africa needs today: to connect with the world and grow with its own voice.