Worldreader President David Risher shares his story

Posted on | October 20, 2015 | 1 Comment

We’re getting ready to kick off our annual fundraiser on November 8, 2015. This year 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Worldreader to bring e-readers and e-books to libraries in Kenya. We’re thrilled today to offer a bit of the behind-the-scenes story of Worldreader from its president and co-founder David Risher. 

Learn more about David at the Worldreader website.

A huge thanks to David for taking the time to share his passion for children, books, and travel, all things that matter hugely to the Passports with Purpose team. Learn more about our fundraiser and partnership with Worldreader.

How Traveling Changed my life

Seven years ago, my family and I were lucky enough to take an entire year traveling around the world. We’d been living overseas with our young daughters, and decided that rather than return directly to the US, we’d take a full year to visit 19 countries we’d long wanted to see, try our hand at teaching our own children (we called it “road schooling”), and participate in some service opportunities along the way. We knew it would be an extraordinary year; little did we know how much it would change our lives.

 The map that my daughters, Zoe and Mia, made before we started our trip in 2009.


The map that my daughters, Zoe and Mia, made before we started our trip in 2009.

Our trip began in China and Vietnam and ended in Latin America– Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, where we (naturally) had to visit the Galapagos Islands. As many people do, we stopped in Guayaquil, and were lucky enough to spend time volunteering at the Perpetuo Socorro orphanage, where an old friend had taught for several years. As we were getting ready to leave, we noticed a building with a big padlock on it. So I asked Jacqueline who ran the orphanage: “What’s that building for?” And the head of the orphanage answered: “it’s our library.”

I paused for a second, absorbing the implications of this. Then I asked if I could take a look inside. She answered: “David, I think I’ve misplaced the key.”

That was a big moment for me.

Jacqueline proceeded to explain that the books destined for the library would take months to get there, and often by the time they arrived, the books were already out of date or were not really what children wanted in the first place. (Since then, I’ve seen more 20-year-old history and accounting books than I knew ever existed.)  It was clear that the children at the orphanage weren’t getting the books they needed to become inspired, engaged and their best selves.

My wife and two daughters with some of the children and staff at the Perpetuo Socorro orphanage in Ecuador.

My wife and two daughters with some of the children and staff at the Perpetuo Socorro orphanage in Ecuador.

This is the case for millions of children around the world. And if nothing changes these same children will struggle to become tomorrow’s doctors, tomorrow’s writers, tomorrow’s investors and creators.

Being at that orphanage in Ecuador and seeing the curiosity in those children’s eyes made me remember what a privileged childhood I’d had. We didn’t always have much in my family, but I never had trouble getting the books that helped me fuel my imagination and curiosity.

Luckily, we have an entirely new set of tools today to solve this problem and unlock kids’ potential. E-readers that cost $400 a few years ago now cost $50, and still last weeks on a single charge. Cell phones are more prevalent every single day  – some say there are already more mobile phones on the planet than there are toilets. It costs less than $100 to deliver an entire digital library of books via a Kindle e-reader to a school or library in Africa – a library that never closes and can be shared by several students or a family.

So here’s the thought that struck me at the orphanage: let’s use simple, inexpensive technology, engage authors publishers and teachers, and get books to kids in the world’s poorest countries so that we unlock the potential of millions.

Today, Worldreader is five years old. We’ve reached over 5 million people through our mobile phone apps and we have reading programs in 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, reaching 40,000 students in 133 schools and libraries with thousands of books via e-readers. By putting local content from African Publishers on these e-readers, we’re providing books in 43 languages that students can relate to, are interested in reading and that teachers are eager to use in their classrooms. A recent study we did with e-readers in Kenyan libraries showed that the presence of e-readers led to an average increase of 178% in monthly library visits and 84% of patrons reported reading more with the devices. What’s more is the reading isn’t confined to the walls of the libraries: during the study there were 254 library-initiated community events held to encourage reading in a much bigger way. These findings illustrate a real change in behavior towards reading and the birth of a reading culture in the schools, libraries and communities that receive e-readers.

David reading with a student in Kenya

One outstanding student in our e-reader program at the Kibera School For Girls in Kenya shows me her favorite books on her e-reader.

Traveling is eye-opening. It introduces you to new cultures and new experiences, while exposing you to different living conditions and challenges that people around the world face everyday. But it also shows you that no matter where you are in the world, every child shares the same curiosity about life that each one of us grew up with and that I see in my own daughters’ eyes. Books can help children in the developing world stimulate this curiosity so that they can pursue their dreams.

My youngest daughter, Mia, teaching English at a Chinese school in Xi’an, China.

My youngest daughter, Mia, teaching English at a Chinese school in Xi’an, China.

Meeting new faces along the way in India.

Meeting new faces along the way in India.

We’re extremely grateful to Passports with Purpose and their entire travel community. Because of your hard work, five libraries in western Kenya will each receive 50 Kindle e-readers – providing an estimated 6,250 children, teachers and parents with access to more than 50,000 books. That’s huge. But it’s what these books represent for these communities and the future of every one of their members that is truly exciting, because they unlock the potential of their children.

Students browse the library of books on their Kindle e-readers for the first time.

Students browse the library of books on their Kindle e-readers for the first time.

All photos courtesy of Worldreader.

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One Response to “Worldreader President David Risher shares his story”

  1. Passports with Purpose 2015 Prize | Hotel del Coronado
    November 3rd, 2015 @ 8:01 am

    […] David Risher, president and co-founder of Worldreader, was inspired to start the initative after a round-the-world trip with his wife and daughters. Find out more about his story and about Worldreader on the Passports with Purpose website. […]

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