Posted by admin on 12.31.2007 at 9:48 am
Check out who’s on the cover of this month’s Business Week “Small Biz” magazine:
That’s right, it’s Better World Books’ own, co-founder Xavier Helgesen! Xavier, on top of a throne of Reader’s Digest books that resides in our “Fortress of Solitude” (ok, it’s just the warehouse) is the image of the hot new topic:
Strategies: Mission Possible
Making money while doing good isn’t easy, but more companies are proving it can be done. Here are some successful strategies. (article by Anne Field)
Pick up the issue at newsstands (or wherever you pickup up your glossies) and read about it. If print journalism doesn’t float your boat you could always root around for it online at their website.
Posted by Jack on 12.31.2007 at 9:06 am
Everybody’s got their party hats and soundmakers and getting ready for the infamous ball drop this evening. No doubt many of you have your New Year’s resolutions as well, such as “read this blog more” or for some of those working here “post on this blog more” or some similar sentiment.
This year, however, think about last year and what you made happen. Maybe this year you forget about buying the gym membership that you used 3 times all year and perhaps recreating that “Pete & Pete” episode in which Pete ”travels through time” by crossing the time zone boundary after midnight is somewhat misguided–if fun. Maybe you want to consider something else, go green with your cleaners, dip your toe into solar (or just read about it first), learn a language (Swahili anyone?), get some hiking gear and get out there, learn to ski, adopt a penguin, or maybe just read a little more. If you want it enough you can do it, and if you look, you’ll see we can help.
2007 is just a memory, we look forward to seeing you in the future!
Have your say » | Tagged Uncategorized, books, humor, new years
Posted by admin on 12.30.2007 at 8:59 pm
The Better World Books excursion to south east Asia has begun successfully. Niko, Yanna, Damara, Natasha and myself (Aaron) have all survived the ~20 hours of flights to arrive in Ho Chi Min, ready to embrace the culture.
No time for elaborate postings right now, we are off to see a Pagoda.
Little known fact: our flight took us over the North Pole. We left Chicago and headed due North, contrary to my expectations that we would go West. I almost went to knock on the cockpit, but I decided to trust in the Pilot. We circumnavigated the globe and arrived safely with no Internatonal incidents of note to report.
see you soon from the other side of the world.
Posted by admin on 12.29.2007 at 7:37 pm
This is part of a series covering BWB Co-Founder Xavier’s trip to Africa.
*November 10, 2007
Since we only arrived a few days ago to South Africa, we are still in the switch-time zone, get–the-lay-of-the-land phase. Yesterday our group split into three, and my group, including Xavier and fearless leader Henry, went on a drive down toward the Cape of Good Hope. The roads were washed out, so we only got as far as Hout Bay, which is where the British set up camp back in the day (Cape Town was first Dutch), and is also cool because they didn’t really enforce apartheid. I hear Hout Bay even issued its own passports, such was the local pride, which new property owners can still obtain. We made it to Chapman’s Peak, overlooking the bay, and watched Right whales spouting in the waters below. One even waved to us with his big tail! I felt like I was really at the end of the Earth there, where these green hills dropped right into the sea, near the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and at the end of a continent so far from my home.
Hout Bay and Chapman’s Peak, South Africa.
Our tour guide Loki, a friend of Xavier’s, is a biologist interested in human-elephant interaction. After observing the troubles between farmers and elephant herds, he started a company called Elephant Pepper that educates farmers in high-incident areas and assists them to grow chilies (which elephants don’t like) along with their subsistance crops and to use the same chilies to make sauces to sell. (The Baobab Gold is perfection; tangy, perfect amount of heat, actually contains baobab…)
I get the impression that there are many support roles here that are filled by non-South Africans, such as in education. This is not a bad thing, of course. I think if all the best information and resources went where they were needed the world would be a better place, and South Africa is such a great candidate for these resources. It has the infrastructure to receive them, plenty of educated English-speaking folks and cultural connections to most parts of the world.
Today was a travel day. We flew to Durban on the southeast coast, a stopover on our way to the KwaZulu-Natal region, or Zululand. Cape Town was a good introductory city for our group: beautiful, historic, but still a bit removed from the real poverty of Zululand. Plus, we got to go hiking up Table Mountain this morning and get some ocean views, a real treat!
Xavier remembers his life path to this moment on the Table Mountain hike.
The Durban airport countdown until the next time I will be in South Africa… World Cup 2010!
Posted by admin on 12.28.2007 at 9:43 pm
As Xavier noted earlier, we didn’t have the technology to live-post to the blog during the Africa trip, so here it is, time-delay included for your reading pleasure.
Cape Town, South Africa
*November 7, 2007
Happy birthday to me! I have the greatest birthday gift today: my flight to Cape Town, South Africa! It’s going to be 11 hours from London to Johannesburg and another 2 to Cape Town, but only one-hour time change. I will be joining Xavier, co-founder of Better World Books and Books for Africa (BfA) board member, and other people involved with BfA and a classroom-building organization, ECAG-USA (more on that later). Some of the group’s goals for the trip include finding out more about the book delivery and distribution process on the Africa side, and also more about the needs and opportunities for education in the neediest regions of the country. I don’t know anyone else on the trip, but they are Minnesotans, so they must be friendly, right? Another birthday ‘gift’ – it’s almost summertime in South Africa! I can’t wait for the warm African sunshine after the month I have just spent in blustery, cloud-covered central Europe.
We are in South Africa until the 20th, and then we are in Malawi, a small country to the north, until the 29th. We will be seeing many schools that have received book shipments and classroom donations, and potential recipient schools. I have a feeling we will learn so much…
*November 8, 2007
Unfortunately I arrived this afternoon from my overnight travel, so I missed the morning boat trip around Robben Island just off Cape Town’s V&A Harbor, where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner for 27 years under the country’s apartheid regime.
The drive to Cape Town from the airport encapsulates what I expect to see in this country. There is beautiful natural scenery, with ocean view and rolling green hills (South Africa is the world’s 3rd most bio-diverse country, with over 20,000 plant species), and rich and poor communities awkwardly side-by-side. Just a few minutes after leaving the airport, black squatter camps surround the highway; tin-roofed shacks with many-colored scrap walls lean on each other amidst dirt pathways and women carrying the day’s wash. My driver said the new government, like many recently, promised jobs to lift these people out of poverty, but thus far to no visible result. Just a couple of miles beyond, I could see the University Cape Town, founded 1829 and still with nearly 50% white enrollment in a country that is 80% black, perched grandly up on the side of Devil’s Peak. While there is no longer apartheid, the advantage is still to the white folks here, it seems.
Cape Town itself is nestled in the lowlands of the oceanfront mountains, much like Rio de Janeiro. High rises are grouped near the Atlantic Ocean’s edge and lead up to private homes painted in rainbow colors up the hillsides. It was in one of these neighborhoods, called Bo-Kaap, where we had a fantastic, family-style Malay dinner.
The restaurant name, Bo-Kaap Kombois, essentially means the neighborhood kitchen. According to the owner, the local people historically held all family meetings, group decision-making and quality time in the kitchen, and so he wanted his restaurant to reflect the welcoming, homey atmosphere and the local cuisine. He enthusiastically told us about each dish and the sauces (think ginger, curry, tamarind and chilies), how the white landowners brought in workers from Malaysia, India, China and from the surrounding area, and how the lingua franca Afrikaans and the cuisine came out of this immigrant melting pot that is Bo-Kaap. He also spoke very highly of the generosity of the local residents (he claims we can walk into someone’s home and use the bathroom, and we will not leave without a cup of tea and having been asked about our mother), the strong sense of community and the prevalence of the Islamic faith here. Xavier and I had a laugh at the thought of the walk-in-to-your-neighbor’s bathroom thing… I think we may try that back in San Francisco!
The view from the restaurant’s wall-sized windows was stunning; we were up on the edge of a bowl-shaped valley that poured down to the waterfront, and could see the red, pink and yellow houses of Bo-Kaap and a very curious sight—the little putting green in the empty lot below. Four boys, each with a 5-iron were hitting a golf ball up this strip of (how did that get there?) ratty astro-turf surrounded by unkempt lawn, one even wearing an Argyle sweater. I guess this was golfing Africa-style.
What a great first day! I am excited for the villages and the schools, but some transition time in lovely Cape Town will start us off right. I’m still not over the “am I really here?’ feeling. This city is just so, well, European and modern that it is hard to fit it with my idea of Africa. But maybe that is the point: each place I will see here will stand alone and will have much to it that I don’t expect. How wonderful!
Xavier digs in to the Malay cuisine with Erin on his left; the owner smiles over the satisfied customers.
Posted by admin on 12.26.2007 at 11:53 am
Books for Africa and UMECS (United Movement to End Child Soldiering) are putting efforts to help form school systems in Northern Uganda.
For $13,000 assembly, packing and shipping costs, Books for Africa will be shipping 35,000 well selected school books (approximate retail value: $150,000) and ten computers to four secondary schools in Northern Uganda. We are leading the campaign to raise these funds which will bring needed books to classrooms and libraries at Sacred Heart Secondary School in Gulu District; Alliance College Secondary School in Kitgum District; Lira Palwo Secondary School in Pader District and a secondary school in Amuru District in Northern Uganda . For more information about Books for Africa. (original text at Pan-African Empowerment)
Have your say » | Tagged Impact, Our Partners, africa, books for africa, uganda, UMECS
Posted by admin on 12.26.2007 at 11:37 am
Over at GeekSugar, the femme hip/intelligentsia mashup site, they have some interesting information about literacy. First of all they have the following:
The Education Department is blaming the country’s increasingly poor spelling and writing skills in youth on their love of text messaging. In a recent report on the national test results in English for about 37,000 students aged 15 and 16, the department’s Examination Commission said cutting-edge communications technology has “encouraged poor literacy and a blunt, choppy style at odds with academic rigor.”
Regardless of whether or not you’re buying into that as legitimate, GeekSugar links to The Great American Word Challenge. The game involves filling in the missing letter of the word, as defined. Why would you engage in such a thing? Well…
The city that achieves the highest-cumulative average score takes the title and the prize of a Ubisoft donation of My Word Coach video games and Nintendo DS systems to local NCFL learning centers. Even better, everyone who takes the challenge will be entered to win a trip for two to Washington, DC, and have the chance to win one of two Wiis.
Ah! The plot thickens! So support the NCFL as Nintendo battles illiteracy in the USA (seriously). If that doesn’t feel right for you, you could always go to FreeRice (as previously reported).
Posted by admin on 12.23.2007 at 11:38 am
Hey all. Check back on the 26th for some updates but for now Better World Books (and thusly the blog) will be taking a few days to enjoy the holiday season. Happy holidays, best to you and yours, and come back soon!
Jack and the everyone at Better World Books.
Have your say » | Tagged Uncategorized, happy holidays!
Posted by admin on 12.21.2007 at 12:35 pm
The Library Division is proud to announce that Better World Books is now a member of the Georgia Recycling Coalition! The mission of the GRC is to compliment and coordinate activities relative to recycling, to foster communication amongst professionals, organizations, government agencies and individuals and to promote and enhance waste reduction and recycling programs throughout the state.
We believe that the new relationship with the GRC will further enable BWB to connect with those who are as committed as we are to making a positive environmental impact.
Have your say » | Tagged Our Partners, book drive, library, Our Partners
Posted by Xavier on 12.17.2007 at 5:15 pm
“Xavier, you need to come, it’s going to be incredible.” Henry’s a convincing guy, a skill that’s clearly served him well in building a successful software company, and he had a willing prospect on his hands. “Come visit my friends in Malawi, tour the schools I’ve helped build in Zululand, South Africa, and we’ll check on all kinds of Books For Africa recipients.” I suggested that we visit Better World Books Zambia (more on that later) as well. Henry countered that if we were doing that, it would be a shame to not see Victoria Falls. Sold.
I know Henry through my work on the Board of Books For Africa. It’s a collection of truly dedicated and passionate professionals who come together on their nights and weekends to help end the book famine in Africa. Henry’s a traveler after my own heart, preferring backpackers’ hostels to any hotel that brags about its star rating. He invited a number of his friends and business associates along on the trip, and over the weeks, they quickly became new friends. Although I normally abhor group travel, it made a lot of sense for this trip. The logistics of all the school visits and book recipient visits would have been daunting if we had not banded together. Another unexpected benefit was that I got to drive a rental 6-speed Mercedes mini-van on the left side of the road all over South Africa. Fun! I hate cars for the damage they do to the environment and culture… but I love to drive, especially in unfavorable circumstances. Consider it a guilty pleasure.
I blocked off what was easily my longest stretch away from the office since we founded Better World Books five years ago. The whole month of November I would be largely offline, with the exception of a few phone calls and email checks. A trip like this would have been inconceivable a few years ago, but thanks to the incredible team we’ve built at Better World, I didn’t sweat it in the least. I knew the ops would keep humming under Kreece’s leadership, BetterWorld.com would keep getting better thanks to Dale, Geoff, and Justin, and on and on. I think everybody was glad to not have to humor any of my crazy ideas for a whole month.
Speaking of crazy ideas, I had high hopes of being able to live-blog this trip from a OLPC, the $199 laptop designed specifically for the developing world. Sadly, the OLPC people didn’t have pre-release laptops available, and at any rate, Africa’s low Internet connectivity wouldn’t have permitted much blogging other than a few quick posts. So, loyal readers, you get the next best thing. Think of this as a time-delayed live-blog. We’ll be blogging with videos and photos and get as close as we can to bringing you along on the trip.
Also speaking of crazy ideas – we’ll be launching a customer loyalty system for Better World in 2008. Rather than give away blenders, coffee mugs, and similar rubbish, we thought that a few loyal customers should come to Africa with us to visit the literacy projects in person. After all, it’s customers that make this whole thing possible. Why should Better World employees have all the fun? This idea deserved a beta test. My friend and longtime Better World customer Erin Fleming agreed to join me and help document the trip. She’s typical of our customers – well read, globally minded, socially conscious, (and cheap!). Her perspective will really bring the trip to life for you.
Keep tuning in over the next month as Erin and I travel Zambia, South Africa and Malawi.
To whet your appetite, I’ve attached a few Youtube videos. These are from Erin and I hitchhiking in Malawi. Don’t worry – our traveling companions took a lot of convincing to leave us by the side of the road in Malawi.
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