Posted by admin on 04.16.2008 at 1:53 pm
If you’re near a computer, come 6:35pm EST, check out this live interview hosted by “RSS Ray” about Green business with our own Xavier Helgesen!
Posted by admin on 01.24.2008 at 1:34 pm
Check out this interview with Xavier from Brightcove at Sundance.
For more info check out his previous post.
Posted by Xavier on 01.22.2008 at 4:56 pm
What a crazy five days it has been! We arrived at the Sundance Film Festival the day before it started on January 16. We’d been asked to take part in The Giving Suite at Sundance Film Festival, which takes the concept of an exclusive celebrity gifting suite and turns it on its head. At this Suite, everyone is welcome, and people buy eco-friendly products (and books!) with 100% of proceeds going to charity.
We’re hoping to fund a lot of girls’ scholarships through Room to Read‘s “Room to Grow” program. We set up a mini-bookshop of about 150 carefully selected titles, and of course people could shop BetterWorld.com if they couldn’t find something on the shelves.
I’ll be posting much more from the festival soon. For now, a few photos:
Some new friends showing off their “Speak softly and carry a bag of books.” tote bags from Better World Books.
Well Read indeed! The Book Throne: it’s everywhere you want to be.
Posted by admin on 01.11.2008 at 12:39 am
This is part of a series covering BWB Co-Founder Xavier’s recent trip to Africa.
*November 12, 2007
Rain is soaking the red dirt roads and we are exhausted as we head to the fifth and final school of the day, Nomevu High School. We are running late because of a long presentation at Mafunda HS, but the students at Nomevu are waiting for us, even though many have quite a walk home ahead of them. Alone on a grassy hill, this school has just one building. There’s only room for the 8th and 9th graders, so they’ll have to drop out by 10th grade.
Teachers greet us at Nomevu High School.
Thankfully, ECAG-USA, an non-profit building classrooms in this area and that organized our Africa trip (see their website or read the previous post), has placed this school as #1 on the waiting list for more classrooms, so that the students can graduate.
The process for a school to get new classrooms is that the school’s home community puts up a $1000 payment per classroom, and then, through fundraising and donations, ECAG sponsors the additional $11,000. The classrooms have a standard design, so the materials are accountable to the last brick and can house around 50 students comfortably. They are built with electrical wiring, but adding power is an extra for the school to pay. What happens if ECAG doesn’t build? That’s it; no new classrooms. The kids don’t graduate, or in some cases, have no school at all. Many students in this area still learn under a tree, but on a rainy day like this, it’s a day off. Cool! say the American kids, but think of how often it can rain in a season here! And, no desks, no library.. hardly a good learning environment.
I have mentioned that all primary students are fed a meal each day at school. What we learned today is that the government doesn’t sponsor high school students, so that means these kids at Nomevu had been waiting for us, without eating all day. Our hearts are breaking for these humble, appreciative students. Sorry this post might be a downer, but after we’d fallen in love with so many kids all day it was really hitting us, how hard life can be here. On the way here, on the radio, the newscaster announced that HIV/AIDS is the #1 killer of children in South Africa. How were these kids today so full of life? I had to wonder if they thought our visit meant that we would be able to solve their problems, or if it was, you know, just a lot of fun. I certainly had a wonderful day, but still I felt a bit guilty.
The end of a long day, Nomevu HS.
Like at every school, the students had songs and dances ready for us, including the native costumes for the girls. I don’t feel comfortable posting video of the girls to BWB because they are topless, but I did think they were so beautiful. My favorite choral performance of the day, however, was this one:
Let it shine in Zululand video. (youtube)
The teachers provided a snack for us of sandwiches and chicken in the other classroom. Knowing the kids hadn’t eaten, and since we’d had snacks all day, nobody made a move for the spread. Some of the ladies in our group whispered we had to take something to not be rude, so begrudgingly, we did. More guilt… Anyway, we unloaded the sandwiches and drinks we had in the vans. With that and all the leftovers from the snack, there was enough for a small meal for each student, and we felt better knowing they had eaten.
What a day! We are overwhelmed but ready to help these students graduate. If you’ve been following this blog, you remember that at the end of this day, after Nomevu HS, we went to visit the student Nomkhosi’s family.
Xavier and Erin, bottom left, and the ECAG and Books for Africa group, enjoy the show.
Posted by admin on 01.10.2008 at 1:38 pm
This is part of a series covering Xavier’s recent trip to Africa.
*November 12, 2007
If you’ve noticed it’s been Nov. 12th for a few posts, you are not crazy and I am not mistaken; as I mentioned earlier, we went to five schools and visited a student’s home all in the same day! There is so much to cover that I had to break it up into several posts.
After Thembalisizwe Primary, we headed to Emasundwini Primary school. We’re not cruising around a town to get there; we drive on small country roads, through hills dotted with clusters of straw-roofed huts (don’t forget the zebras by the roadside). At the school, are six buildings, green and white this time. This is another Books for Africa school and we visited the new library.
Additionally, some of the group, including Xavier, taught the students a small lesson using a world map (“Can you tell me where South Africa is?”). The teachers surprised us with finger sandwiches, which we ate tentatively (would we get sick?).
[I have to note, looking back, that nobody did get sick from the food. I was expecting to, since my world travel experiences have taught me that when one travels, one spends a day not eating if you know what I mean.]
I think Xavier needed to work off his sandwich, so he challenged some kids to a footrace. Note how he thought the finish line was a bit earlier than the kids.
Xavier races kids 3.mov (2.18 MB)
Next up was Gqokinsimbi High School, a very special one to our leader, Henry Bromelkamp. He has personally sponsored a classroom here through ECAG-USA. He started this organization after visiting the area and learning about the original organization, Eshowe Community Action Group, whose purpose is to build classrooms in the rural area around the town of Eshowe. Henry founded the US arm so that American donors could give money more easily and be able to write off donations at tax-time. This all begs the question, Why doesn’t the South Africa government build classrooms in Zululand? Exactly. The government, possibly via some lingering racist sentiment (this authors opinion), doesn’t build here, but if ECAG does, the government will provide teachers and daily meals for primary students.
About the school name: I think the letter q stands for a click sound. Awesome!
I like this video because it shows that high school kids are truly the same everywhere.
video of Xavier talking to a cute girl at Gqokinsimbi HS. (youtube)
Barb Ryan, Xavier and Henry teach some maps at Mafunda HS.
Later on was Mafunda High School, with slogans “We Live For Tomorrow” and “Conquer the World Through Education” displayed near the entrance. Here again, our group taught classroom lessons, this time using photos of Minnesota (where most of the group hails from), showing seasons and such. Not one student answered affirmatively to the question, “Has anyone seen snow before?” None of us thought a description alone can really convey what snow is like, but the students did enjoy seeing pictures of snowmen and discussing what makes our countries similar and different.
Here again, we were treated to food and drink and a very detailed PowerPoint of the school’s goals through 2010. These included the idea that the “doors would never shut” because the school would create an adult ed. program in the evenings, and sponsor community meeting space.
Here are some guys with beautiful voices and sweet moves. The ululations you hear are typical of how girls sing while guys dance here.
video of boys performing at Mafunda HS. (youtube)
Posted by admin on 01.10.2008 at 9:46 am
The now oft-photographed co-founder Xavier, caught
in his 5 minutes of sitting down time, on “the throne”
If you happen to be perusing CNET’s News Blog today (or if you like following the myriad links that we post), you’ll see a reference to a company you may recognize. Hailed as “Eco-Alternative to Amazon funds literacy programs” Better World Books gets a pat on the back for all the hard work we do (which isn’t why we do it, but it feels good sometimes).
The article begins with a story you may have heard before:
F. Xavier Helgesen had big dreams to build Web sites after graduating from Notre Dame in 2001 with an MIS degree, but then the dot-com industry crashed.
Instead he co-founded a company in 2002 that sells books otherwise destined for the landfill, sends some of the proceeds to literacy groups, and uses carbon-neutral shipping…
and goes on with the good news of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, including our free shipping in the US, our flat rate $2.97 for international orders and how we use not just no-value books but use discarded, once landfill bound library shelving to store the books (680,000 lbs of library shelving, in fact).
Check out the full article.
Have your say » | Tagged Uncategorized, betterworld.com, CNET, press, Xavier Helgesen
Posted by admin on 01.06.2008 at 10:11 pm
This is part of a series covering BWB Co-Founder Xavier’s recent trip to Africa.
*November 12, 2007
Library in Thembalisizwe Primary School.
We started our day of school visits at a very fortunate school, Thembalisizwe (“Hope of the Nation”) Primary. We passed by zebras on the drive down rust dirt roads bordered by emerald green fields. I say fortunate because this school has benefited from the generosity of many organizations. It has a water reticulation system and latrines from a Wisconson Rotary Club, classrooms built by the Eshowe Community Action Group (ECAG) and a library from BWB. The buildings are pink and yellow and surrounded by manicured walks and ornamental bushes planted by students.
We are hosted by Jethro, dressed in a pin-striped suit with yellow shirt and gold tie. He is the principal and a born orator who has recently been to the USA and knows what wealth we have in our country. After we saw the school he appealed to us, “Some of you may be touched, and donate.” He lays out his vision for the school: more computers, internet, a dining hall with a proper kitchen, more classrooms. Currently, two volunteer women prepare food over fires in a shed-like structure; each primary student is fed one meal a day at school.
We wandered the campus for a few minutes, listening to the learners singing in their classrooms as they do each morning and then headed to a multi-use room for a presentation by the student body.
Xavier, Jethro and Melanie (ECAG South Africa director) watch students perform.
This was such a treat! Students of all ages sang, danced and recited poetry and speeches for us. We heard our national anthem and joined in for South Africa’s, heard gospel songs in Zulu language, and one seemingly written for our group. The lyrics included these lines:
America, America! America you’re so beautiful.
Some of us are the orphans, some of us are so needy (2x).
America, America! America you’re so beautiful.
We love you, hey! We need you, hey! Can you help us, we’re so needy!
We were a little uncomfortable to hear that one. It was strange to be somewhere for the purpose of helping, when the need is known, but to hear the kids sing about it. Xavier and I discussed how in the US it is bad form to appeal in that way. More cultural lessons: the 5th and 6th grade girls left the room in school uniforms and returned in costume, which was a miniskirt, a string of beads and a cardboard shield. Our group had to overcome a bit of shock to see these young girls dancing and singing, quite well in fact, but wearing nothing above the waist. I thought it was cool to see this total other sort of body acceptance, as compared to the US.
According to the program director, the school is “not like a pond, but like a running river,” never stagnant. When she thanked the Books for Africa board members of our group, she said the learners “have acquired certain skills, such as investigation. Our learners can investigate to find information. Our learners are different than previous; they have learned new skills from their library.” (YAY!)
Video of the library (youtube)
Students wave goodbye at Thembalisizwe Primary School, Zululand, South Africa.
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 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.
Posted by admin on 10.30.2007 at 11:43 am
Check out the following video, a la www.brightcove.tv. It’s an interview with Better World Books’ own Xavier Hegelsen! The interview was taken at the Green Festival in D.C. which is “a two-day party with a serious purpose: to accelerate the emergence of a new economic paradigm that is life-affirming and life-restoring. Together we are cultivating a culture of sustainability and social equity that honors our interdependence with all life.” Read more about the festival.
- Aaron King africa ARC betterworld.com better world books fund Better World Books in the field blog book drive book drives book reviews books books for africa bookstore campus chicago children's books conferences dana barrett david murphy green festival green for all hilarious posts Impact invisible children library literacy literacy statistics massachusetts Natasha National Center for Family Literacy NCFL off-topic Our Partners partner updates Pat Plonski Phi Theta Kappa podcast Poll Wednesday press room to read Show Us Some Love social entrepreneurship Spooky Book of the Day worldfund Xavier Helgesen
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