Golden Baobab

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Golden Baobab is thrilled to welcome Strategic Development fellow, Tiffany Morris, to the team. Tiffany comes from the Strategic Partnerships team at Ashoka, the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide. A Stanford graduate with an International Relations degree, Tiffany has extensive experience in strategic development having served in similar capacities at ACLU, IBM and Centre for Researching Education Outcomes. She brings her passion to see social impact across different economic sectors to the team for a month (locally) and two months (virtually). She will be working with Golden Baobab for 3 months to develop sustainable corporate partnership models. Let's have a quick chat with Tiffany. 

 

You’ve been in Ghana a little over 24 hours, what are your initial impressions, how long are you staying, and how are you feeling about your stay? 

This is my second time in Ghana and though it’s only been 24 hours, it hasn’t disappointed!  The plane ride was easy, the staff in the airport were very helpful during what could have been a painful luggage mixup (my bag arrived on Monday although I arrived yesterday), and the friendly Golden Baobab Fellow Phoebe was there at the airport to welcome me to Accra as soon as I arrived.  

So far, I am overwhelmingly pleased with the weather.  When I first walked outside, it had just finished raining so that air had a fresh, cool quality to it. As a native of the hot and humid Southeastern US, coming to 83 degrees weather feels like home!  

I also feel very luck to be staying with a wonderful host family: Uncle Kobby and Aunt Joyce live near the office and have been amazingly kind and welcoming so far.  I’m looking forward to the rest of my time here!

 

How did you decide to join the Golden Baobab team?

I’m going to business school in the fall and wanted to use this summer to get hands on experience working on financial sustainability efforts with a social enterprise with 1) a great team 2) large growth potential and 3) a mission that I am personally passionate about.  Soon after speaking with Debbie and her team I knew that objectives 1 and 2 were covered in terms of number 3, I couldn’t find a social enterprise whose mission felt more personally relevant than that of Golden Baobab’s.   I attribute much of who I am as a person to the books that I read as a child.  Moreover, as an African American woman, Golden Baobab’s mission particularly resonates with my personal experiences as I remember a marked dearth of African-American and African protagonists in the books I read growing up.   There’s a certain empowerment that comes from seeing qualities of yourself reflected in your childhood literary heros, a sense of empowerment that is often not as available to children who live outside of the elite circles where books are produced in the US and Europe.  There’s a quote by Junot Diaz that speaks to what I’m trying to say here about the power of self-recognition and narrative.  At the risk of making this already long interview even longer, I’ll include it here because it’s just that good:

“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, ‘Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?’ And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.” 

From another perspective, I also know how reading a book as a child can make a person deeply empathetic for a character’s experience and the world that that character lives in.   The idealistic part of me (which is a very big part of me) believes that in our increasingly globalized world, it is critical that we increase our understanding and empathy for cultures and perspectives other than our own. In other words, children need to read stories from every part of the world so that they are prepared for their place in it.  Right now, the stories that children read in Europe, the US, Indonesia and Ghana overwhelming reflect only the former two countries’ way of life.  And that’s no fairer to kids in he US than it is to the kids in Ghana.  

I think by putting more diverse stories into the marketplace, the Golden Baobab has the potential to at least put a dent in the huge disparity in the types of stories that we, as a global human race, have access to.  And that’s a very good thing! 

 

Who was your favorite storybook character growing up?

O man this is a difficult question. I loved so many! Josephine from Little Women and Anne of Anne of Green Gables were two of my favorite characters, the Chronicles of Narnia was one of my favorite series and I loved anything by Shel Silverstein. There was also a wonderful picture book called Mufasa’s Beautiful Daughters that stands out as a favorite illustrated story. 

 

What did your 8 year-old self want to become in future?

At age 8, I’m pretty sure that I wanted to be an artist although to be honest, I probably didn’t know what that meant.  

 

What will you be doing at Golden Baobab and what about it is particularly exciting to you?

I’ll be working on corporate fundraising for the Golden Baobab and while I’ve worked in this area for almost 3 years at Ashoka, which is an international organisation that finds and supports social entrepreneurs, I feel like I still have a lot to learn!  However, I find corporate relationships to social enterprises fascinating and full of possibility for increased social impact as well as business impact (see this recent article from HBR blog for more of what I mean).  

The aspect of this project that excites me is figuring out how to valuate the knowledge, expertise and presence that the Golden Baobab has developed over the past 5 years to corporations.  Then, most interesting to me, is figuring out how to communicate that value to corporations in a way that they would not just understand, but see the benefit in investing in for their own bottom line. Really, it’s all a matter of telling the right stories to a different sector in a way that they would understand and I guess I’m someone who loves storytelling, no matter the context or form that it takes!

 

What do you want to achieve in the role?

I plan to learn as much as possible about the publishing industry, children’s literature and the infrastructure that exists and needs to exist in order to ensure that children in every part of the world have access to high quality stories that reflect their varied experiences.  In addition, as a Strategic Development Fellow, I hope to use what I’ve learned by working with social enterprises to contribute to the short-term and long-term sustainable financial planning of the Golden Baobab. 

While in Accra I hope to solidify my understanding of local CSR efforts and of the publishing industry here.  When I return to the States, I hope to use that understanding to expand the network of individuals and organizations that know about and actively contribute to the Golden Baobab’s success.

 

What do you enjoy about being part of the Golden Baobab team?

I’ve only been here one and a half working days so answering this question is probably a bit premature!  However, I will say that thus far I have appreciated Debbie’s availability and openness to answer any questions that I have, as well as the ready brainstorming and creative energy that is felt in the office.  It’s a comfortable way to work that feels natural to me!

I very much enjoy working on teams and think one of the best professional feelings is to build something excellent with a group of people who you respect, trust and believe in.  I’m excited to work with the Golden Baobab team to hopefully accomplish this with regards to a sustainable corporate fundraising model.

 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love dancing of any sort (I’m partial to salsa), playing tennis (when it’s nice out) and having interesting conversations with interesting people, strangers and friends alike.  I also am addicted to the American television show Scandal so my couch is usually where you will find me when I’m in the US on most Thursday nights. 

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This week on Golden Baobab’s blog: an exclusive interview with 2012 Golden Baobab Prize Winning Author Jenny Robson!

Jenny Robson won the 2012 Category A Golden Baobab Prize for her story “Wha-Zup Dude”. This story, written for readers ages 8-11, follows a young boy who finds an abandoned mobile phone on the ground beside the sidewalk. On his way to turn the phone in to the police station, the boy answers the phone when it rings and finds himself in the middle of a suspenseful and highly illegal plot!

We had the opportunity to ask Jenny some questions about herself as an author and her hopes for the future. Keep reading to hear what she had to say!

 

 

What is your name and where are you from? 

My name is Jenny Robson. I was born in Cape Town, South Africa but I have lived in Botswana for the past thirty-five years

 

Describe your childhood. What were you like, what was your family like, and what did you like to do?

I was quite a sad little girl, far too sensitive and easily hurt, I think. I found it difficult to make friends and never seemed to fit in with my peers.

 

When you were young, did you like to read?

As a child, reading was the one place where I felt at home. I lost myself in books and the real world faded away.

 

What types of books did you read when you were young? What was your favorite book as a child?

At eight, I discovered Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series. They were the only books available in our school library and I devoured them. My grandmother who lived with us, would send me to borrow adult historical romances from the municipal library. I would wait till the coast was clear and my parents were out and then read those as well. Reading for me was a subversive, rebellious activity – and all the more exciting because of that!

 

When did you start writing, and why? Describe how you developed into a writer.

In my mid-thirties, I went through a very traumatic experience. Even now, years later, it is too painful to speak about. But as I finally reached the other side of that horror, I realized that there was this yearning within me to write.

As I was a teacher, I knew most of all I wanted to write for young people. I enrolled in a well-known long-distance writing-school. My tutor told me, after marking several of my story attempts, that I had little talent and should take up some other hobby.

That was like a red rag to a bull! I was utterly determined to prove him wrong – even though it took three years of rejection before I finally had my first story published.

 

Describe yourself as an author. What types of stories do you write and which audiences? What is it about writing that you love?

Most of all, I love to write for young people. My stories are mostly true-to-life, mostly about “ordinary” young people faced with difficult challenges and finding a way to conquer these. To me, there is no such thing as an “ordinary” person: everyone of us is unique and special; there is no one quite like you in this entire world!

I write specifically for African readers. If youngsters in other parts of the world enjoy my stories or find meaning in them, that is well and good. But my priority is our own young people.

           

Please describe your writing process and how it has developed over time?

A novel starts with something I feel passionately about, something that really matters to me. Otherwise why bother to spend all that time and effort writing it? If I get bored writing the novel, then for sure the reader will get bored reading it.

I usually have a loose idea of my plot and then write the story in pencil in longhand over and over and over, from start to finish. After perhaps eight drafts, I finally feel as if I have some understanding of what my story is about. It is strange to see how much a story can change during these drafts. But the moment finally arrives when I know the story has become what it promised to be.

 

Who is your favorite author?

My favourite author is the late Ayn Rand. I admire her complex plots, her tireless work ethic, her passion for what she believed in even if I do not share her beliefs. I also am moved by the way in her own life that she fell so far short of her ideals. She lived – and died – in total denial of her faults and frailties. That makes her all the more meaningful to me.

 

Who is your biggest inspiration as a writer?

There is a saying in my family “Share the name, share the fame.” And my two sons have always been my strongest inspiration. Even now that they are adults, I still want to make them proud of me.

It is also all the children I have taught over the years here in Botswana, who have inspired me: with their honesty, their fresh joyous ways of looking at life, their lack of cynicism, their unique personalities.

 

Explain how you found out about the Golden Baobab Prize and why you decided to submit?

My good friend Lauri Kubuitsile, a well-known and award-winning Motswana writer, told me about the Golden Baobab prize. I am always keen to support organizations that promote stories for African children.

 

What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies? What issues interest you?

I spend my weekdays teaching music, which is a passion for me. Music can reach parts of the soul that nothing else can reach. And I count it a great privilege to be able to share my love of music with young people.

I spend my weekends writing. So there is no time or inclination for any hobbies. I have a few very close and very dear friends and for the rest I am a recluse and quite comfortable to be one.

 

What are your goals for the future regarding your career?

I hope to continue writing stories for young people set in Africa for as long as I can.  I hope to never run out of issues I feel passionately about.

 

What are your hopes for the future of children’s literature in Africa?

As a youngster, all the books I could lay my hands on were set either in the UK or in the USA. I grew up feeling that Africa was not really part of the world that counted and mattered.

And that is my greatest hope now: that our young people will have a wealth of literature that explores the wonder and intrigue of our own Motherland, that they will meet characters with whom they can identify.

At the same time, it would be great to see youngsters from other continents reading our stories, opening themselves up to them and being able to connect.

 

Thanks for sharing your author’s insights with us, Jenny! We look forward to seeing many more wonderful children’s stories for African youngsters from you in the future!

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I’ll admit, sometimes I struggle to define where Golden Baobab falls as an organization, a business, in the grand scheme of this vast literary and development landscape. With a pan-African mission and a list of constituents that includes children, writers, and literary professionals alike, sometimes throwing around words like ‘education’ or ‘arts and culture’ just don’t seem to fully encompass the vision. We’re about reading, we’re about stories, we’re about art and learning and childhoods that will yield adults who are destined to reach their full potential.

Every child has the right to food and health and an education, but Golden Baobab believes they deserve something more. We believe that children have a right to an imagination, and that we have a duty to inspire it in them. Because this irrational, surreal, untamable imagination, and only this, is what will see our world through to tomorrow. 

The goal is equality. The goal is education. The goal is empowerment.

The goal is this picture I have in my head. A picture of a little boy, trailing his mother through Kumasi market, or any of the thousands of similar markets in West and East and Southern Africa, his hand in hers. And in his free hand, he holds a colorful, animated book, so captivated, so enthralled, so inspired by the story it tells, that he simply cannot put it down.

This is an experience every child deserves to have. This is what we are fighting to achieve, and this is the image I hold on to as I move forward with Golden Baobab. Let’s make it happen!

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My name is Deborah Ahenkorah, co-founder and president of the Golden Baobab, and I would like to officially, and warmly, welcome you to our blog! The Golden Baobab is a not-for-profit social enterprise dedicated to ensuring that young people across Africa have access to a consistent supply of quality children’s stories that reflect their own experiences and inspire their imaginations.

As a child, I loved to read. On weekend afternoons I could be found buried with a book in a library built by a Canadian woman, Kathy Knowles, in Accra. When I went to University in the US, I founded a club to collect book donations and help stock libraries similar to the one in which I learned to read. Late one night, as I was boxing the donations, I found one book with a picture of a little black girl on the cover. It dawned on me that of the over 8,000 books I had boxed and shipped, this was the first I had seen with a protagonist that resembled the children these books were going to. It was in that moment that I decided that I wanted to take my work a step further. I wanted children across the vast African continent to be have books that reflected their realities and inspired their imaginations. I developed a Prize awarded for excellence in children’s writing. I hoped the Prize would impact the children’s literature industry in Africa, acting as an incentive for writers to focus their talent on young people. Little did I know that the Prize was just the beginning. 

In 2011, Golden Baobab helped me to achieve the honor of being named one of today’s boldest social change visionaries by Echoing Green. This honor dared me to think harder and dream bigger. Through the invaluable support of Echoing Green, and our other funders such as Reach for Change, the Global Fund for Children and the African Library Project, Golden Baobab has experienced a year of rapid expansion. What was once me in an Internet café in Ghana is now a strong-willed team, both in our office in Accra and around the world, dedicated to seeing our mission through to fruition.

In the past year, Golden Baobab has built a stellar team working out of our office in Accra. Submissions to the Prize nearly tripled. We have brought on board a staff member whose sole purpose is to see the winning and shortlisted manuscripts through to publication. This year, our goal is to get as many books as possible published in top-quality fashion and into the hands of children throughout Africa. I want to think creatively about how the children’s literature landscape differs in Africa from other regions and target methods for distribution that truly reflect the culture and values of the industry around them.

Monkey Bread is the name of the fruit that grows from the Baobab tree. I found the concept extremely appropriate to represent our blog, where we share the fruits of our labor and knowledge here at the Golden Baobab. We hope to engage you, our readers, at the heart of the discussion on children’s literature in Africa. Posts will be published regularly to address some of the most pressing issues facing Africa’s children’s book industry. We look forward to your readership and active participation as we engage in the critical conversation surrounding the state, and future, of children’s literature in Africa. Please don’t hesitate to reach out, whether as a commentator, a volunteer, or a supporter. There are so many ways to get involved!

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