While doing a degree at the London School of Economics, Tobi Jaiyesimi got inspired to set up The Book Banque in order to solve the problem of access the books to disadvantaged children and bridge the knowledge gap that currently exists. In her interview with us, she tells us all about the amazing work The Book Banque is doing. Enjoy!
Can you tell us what The Book Banque is all about?
The Book Banque is an organisation committed to empowering children in disadvantaged communities in Nigeria through education, and enriching Nigerian youths through an appreciation and understanding of cultural heritage.
There are two arms to The Book Banque: the first deals with collecting, sorting, and redistributing academic and non-academic books to select schools, in order to foster learning. The second arm of The Book Banque is a virtual book club. By adopting a multidisciplinary approach to learning, we share and review literature that addresses social, economic, political, and cultural issues in Nigeria, through our social media platforms.
How did you come up with the idea for it?
The Book Banque was birthed by the realisation that opportunity often makes the difference; I am able to think the way I do, make informed decisions, and pursue certain career goals today because I was privileged to have quality education, as well as books and resources to facilitate my learning and development process
In the case of 10.5 million Nigerian children, however, they lack access to basic education for a number of reasons including the inability of their parents to afford books and other learning materials needed to foster their learning, and consequently excel. The first arm of The Book Banque was thus created to address this issue, and ensure that nothing hinders the invaluable opportunity for children in Nigeria to access quality education.
The second arm of The Book Banque was influenced by the depth of knowledge I acquired while conducting research and writing my dissertation on the political economy of Oil in Nigeria during my undergraduate degree. Even more so, while studying International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), I was intrigued by how much there was to know, not only about Nigeria, but the development of other nations, and how little we were taught at home.
I was completely embarrassed by the fact that I had to learn about my motherland on foreign soil. The Book Banque was thus inspired by the desire to fill the gap in terms of resources and knowledge, in order for Nigerian youth to broaden their horizons, innovatively seek solutions, be more (culturally) aware, and avoid making the same mistakes of our past leaders.
How do you plan to achieve your goal of ensuring that children in disadvantaged communities have access to books?
Our model relies on the generosity of people who donate their used/unused/unread books to us. We then go through the process of sorting the books according to the demographics of students in the select public schools, after which we distribute the books to the schools.
The schools we work with are identified through thorough research and are often schools in areas that are rarely concentrated on, and thus, have a great need for books and other resources. Similarly, we plan to work with private schools that are willing to donate unused material and books, thereby maximising allocative efficiency.
How has the response been since you started?
The response so far has been exceedingly positive! It is really encouraging to have people who share the vision of engaging, empowering and enriching Nigerian youths through a common yet uncommon medium – that is, reading. We have also had people particularly interested in the second arm of The Book Banque, which is pretty exciting for us!
What challenges have you faced or do you anticipate that you will face?
The main challenge has been getting people to truly understand the concept, the economic and social value of donating books and actively participating in our projects. We however hope that as we grow and share our projects, people would be more receptive and willing to contribute in their own way.
How do you think the reading culture in Nigeria can be improved?
I remember, as a child, my mum required me to read and summarise books in order to score a holiday or hours of playtime! As extreme as it sounds, I must confess it worked! Back in the day, my grandparents made it compulsory for my siblings to read newspapers to them daily, and were willing to correct them and answer questions. This is indeed a fantastic way to instill the spirit of inquisitiveness in children and create a thirst for further knowledge through reading.
Secondly, by integrating book clubs or book reviews into the extracurricular activities of schools, which is something that we work with schools to achieve. The responsibility then lies with the schools to encourage students to read beyond the scope of the curriculum, not simply for exams. This way, people are better able to develop a genuine interest in reading and learning.
Why should people get involved with The Book Banque?
One of the main reasons for the low enrolment rates in Nigeria is the unaffordability of books and other resources, which forces parents to withdraw their children from school. By getting involved with The Book Banque and donating books, we are collectively able to tackle this pressing issue, especially to support the government and other institutions that provide appropriate training for teachers in order to improve the schooling system. This collective approach enables us to positively impact various aspects of students’ lives in such a way that we further reduce underemployment, underdevelopment, and poverty in Nigeria.
On the other hand, getting involved with our book club would be a great way for people to be reconnected with their history and heritage. This would help develop a sense of unity and (national) identity amongst Nigerians, and would better equip people with the knowledge to make the right decisions as citizens of Nigeria and potential future leaders!
How can people donate books?
By indicating their interest via email and letting us know their location. For Lagos, we have set days for collections for the Mainland and the Island which vary with the projects but are communicated via our social media platforms.
Alternatively, they could drop off the books at our office located in Oregun, Lagos, Monday to Friday, at any time between 12pm and 4pm. We are pretty flexible and are also currently looking to get the diaspora involved. Simply send us an email and we work out the logistics.
What impact would you like The Book Banque to have made in the next five years?
Through the activities of The Book Banque, I would like to see an increase in the number of children attending school in disadvantaged communities across Nigeria, and more importantly, an improvement in the performance and development of students in these schools. We hope to achieve this by partnering with public and private institutions in order to increase the accessibility of books, particularly through the means of free, well-resourced and maintained libraries in communities.
On a larger scale, I would like for The Book Banque to increase the level of engagement young Nigerians across social groups have with social, economic, and political issues in the country. Hopefully, this results in a more empowered youth population continuously seeking to catalyse inclusive development in Nigeria.