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A year of progress: the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund, 2020-2021

The IPA’s Africa Publishing Innovation Fund (APIF), set up in 2019 to support literacy, book access, indigenous publishing, and library restoration in Africa, is currently vetting over 300 applications for support under its second annual round of grants.

Once the 2020-2021 winners are selected and begin to address some of Africa’s distance learning challenges, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the seven projects from the APIF’s inaugural year will be nearing completion.

One year on, the 2019 winners have received all their funding and are making good progress towards their goals, despite the enormous challenges presented by Covid-19. This is some achievement, given the pandemic’s nefarious power to halt projects, lay waste to carefully made plans and throw personal and working lives into disarray.

To their infinite credit, the people behind the seven initiatives have all successfully revised their programs of work to stay on track; living proof of the resilience, commitment and innovative spirit that the APIF aims to cultivate.

Here is an overview of those projects and their current status. 




Publishing innovations

Children at a Puku workshopSouth African nonprofit Puku Foundation, which promotes children's literature, education and literacy in Southern Africa, is building a digital portal called ‘Pukupedia’. The portal will serve as a hub for multilingual expertise in children's literature; for nurturing new local talent through writing workshops, online courses and mentoring; and developing reading culture among teachers, librarians, writers, literacy activists and young people. The work is part of Puku’s ongoing development of a comprehensive network of children’s literature reviewers through multilingual writing and review workshops.

Writer and Puku founder Elinor Sisulu said her team had made best use of the months in confinement by developing its workshop curriculum for training writer and reviewers, strategies for communications and engagement, and sustainability. Puku has also developed e-commerce gateway where visitors can buy books from third-party vendors. 


Accord Literary workshop attendeesAccord Literary, from Ghana, is mentoring and developing original African children’s authors in several countries, aiming to having them published across Africa, in the UK and in the USA. This partnership formed by Sarah Odedina and Deborah Ahenkorah Osei-Agyekum, has signed six authors, is mentoring five more, and has commissioned specialist agents to represent them in the USA, UK and non-English language territories. In addition, the team has received more than 100 submissions of manuscripts.

With international book fairs cancelled, the Accord Literary team has prioritized online author workshops and training to keep the project on track.


Bibi Bakare-Yusuf portraitIndependent Nigerian publisher Cassava Republic is working to create and translate 10 children's books into the underserved Nigerian languages of Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba, giving kids access to beautiful, illustrated stories in their native tongues. On the coattails of this project, Cassava co-founder Bibi Bakare-Yusuf plans to launch a special imprint for local language publishing which will last long after this project is completed.

Bibi (pictured left) said Covid-19 had delayed the receipt of commissioned works, disrupted marketing and publicity plans, and hampered most aspects of the project, yet she remains confident that the 10 books will still hit the shelves as planned in summer 2021.



Nairobi street scenePositively African is a Kenyan content-creation and literary events company that wants to make African literature accessible, encourage lifelong learning and help connect communities by developing the Story Jukebox. The goal is to distribute audio stories Africa-wide via digital platforms and on the streets through partnerships with universities and centres for the visually impaired.

During the first half of 2020, the creator of Positively African, Maimouna Jallow, has concentrated on business development and building the Positively African online platforms, work that could be continued unhindered by confinement. In the second half of the year, the team produced a 90-minute audio drama which will be launched in October 2020 and distributed both online and offline through local radio stations.



Schoolgirl learningThrough its Write the Future project, Nigerian e-publishing start-up OkadaBooks is driving literacy by giving teachers, students and parents free mobile phone access to books that children in Nigeria’s low-income communities can relate to. By identifying new talent through writing competitions, OkadaBooks is going to create and distribute 10 new titles that address issues of gender equality, ethnic unity and environmental awareness. The project, in partnership with Teach for Nigeria, has already engaged seven children’s authors and an editor, and has now turned its attention to marketing, publicity and graphic design.  

OkadaBooks CEO Okechekwu Ofili said the pandemic had forced a him to delay the roll-out of the books to schools to Q2 2021 instead of Q4 2020. 


Library support 


Book Bunk, a project to restore the McMillan Memorial Library in Nairobi, was awarded $50,000 towards work on the library's Kaloleni branch and an additional $10,000 worth of children's books to stock the library. The architectural restoration of the library is approximately 80% complete with only the library’s furniture, decor, security, book collection, and digital life outstanding. Book Bunk works with the Nairobi authorities to encourage community engagement in libraries, through events, walking tours and film screenings. The next phase of Book Bunk’s larger architectural endeavours will be to secure the support needed for the Makadara Branch of the library, with the goal to begin work on that branch in Q3 or Q4 of 2020. 


The Exposing Hope project has built a library for one of many schools in the world's largest refugee settlement, the Kakuma camp, in Kenya. Kakuma is home to refugees from DRC Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Uganda among others, and the APIF has provided funds to buy hundreds of textbooks listed in the Kenyan national curriculum to underpin the pupils’ studies