Book enthusiast and actor, Levar Burton, nominates the founders of Better Word Books, a company with a mission to support global literacy.
Levar Burton | Jan/Feb 2010 issue
I was lucky. I grew up in a house where reading was like breathing. My mother was an English teacher, and as such, reading was not an optional activity in her household. Where my mother was concerned, you either read a book or got hit in the head with one. Not only did my mother read to my sisters and me when we were young, she was constantly reading books for her own enjoyment as well and it was this early childhood influence that has fostered my own lifelong love affair with the written word.
But not every child is so lucky. Globally, UNESCO estimates 781 million adults are illiterate, which impacts poverty, health, development and more. The importance of giving children a reason to read, and setting the stage to make them readers for life, was the motivation behind Reading Rainbow, the show I hosted and produced on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) for 26 years. Through Reading Rainbow, I became involved with PBS’ Share a Story program, giving adults the tools to help children develop literacy skills. In many ways, literacy advocacy has shaped my career. That is why I consider it so inspiring to find those who share my passion for imparting a love of books to others.
Xavier Helgesen and Kreece Fuchs, the founders of Better World Books, are two young men who share my same passion. As a for-profit company with a business plan that shows it is possible to do well while doing good, Better World Books is leading the way to support global literacy with an approach that makes it easy for us all to participate. The online bookseller contributes a percentage of each sale of a new or used book from their online inventory of more than 6 million titles to help fund non-profit organizations supporting literacy at home and abroad. Since it was founded by the two University of Notre Dame seniors in 2003, Better World Books has raised some $7 million dollars for groups like the National Center for Family Literacy, Books for Africa, Worldfund, Invisible Children and Room to Read, and raised awareness for the cause among casual consumers looking for a good deal on a good book.
Better World Books has inspired countless student organizations at colleges and universities to get involved in book drives to support literacy, while making some money for themselves or their volunteer organizations in the process. Better World has supported our libraries by finding new homes for books removed from circulation, while paying commissions to those libraries and funding non-profit literacy partners. The fact that the business offers carbon-neutral shipping and has diverted 25 million pounds of books from landfills through -re-selling and recycling only sweetens the deal further. It’s a decidedly win-win-win situation.
The founders of Better World Books are truly Intelligent Optimists. Rather than be discouraged, they’ve developed a simple and effective way to inspire and motivate change in the world around them. They understand that literacy is about not only the delight of enjoying a good story, but also empowerment and opportunity. If that doesn’t sound like a promise for a better world, then I don’t know what does.