Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
Fellow Since 2008
Centre BAYA PRESSE
This profile was prepared when Dieudonné Paré was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
Dieudonné Paré has created a culture of reading in Burkina Faso through his community-led book program. By first rehabilitating discarded books and those no longer in circulation, he brings refurbished materials to rural areas through his “books-on-bikes/motorcycle” program. Providing books for rent to rural and urban youth who lack access to reading materials and libraries, Dieudonné encourages learning, reflection and an understanding of the importance of the written word as a tool for effective citizenry.
The New Idea
Dieudonné is building a society of engaged citizens in Burkina Faso through access to quality books, reading materials and libraries. Mindful that few Burkinabes have access to and gain knowledge through reading, he believes that books are the gateway to higher levels of learning, reflection and personal growth. Once communities are exposed to a wider range of information and ideas, they will be able to innovate and develop from within, moving towards a “new Africa” that is less dependent on external support. Dieudonné first focused on the most basic barrier to reading—the lack of quality books. Books sold in markets and used at school are often overused and discarded, providing little use to both children and adults that have an interest in reading. In the absence of a solution for the neglect and poor condition of books, he identified a market for their rehabilitation. Using low-cost, local materials such as glue and cardboard, Dieudonné devised a system for collecting and fixing these books, restoring them to working condition. After accumulating several hundred refurbished books, Dieudonné used his motorcycle to bring them to nearby communities and villages as a type of traveling library. Without access to working libraries either in town or in school, this latent market of potential readers rented books from Dieudonné’s business. Through face-to-face contact, he was able to build a customer base from which he could expand his business and encourage reading within the communities he reached. With an increasing number of customers, Dieudonné needed to diversity his products and services to meet client needs. So he designed internships in book binding and rehabilitation, established photocopy and print services, began selling notebooks and other writing materials, and opened a stationary resource center and local printing press. With affordable, high quality products that are both accessible and simple, people are increasingly turning to books as a leisure activity and to discover new knowledge. His business, due to its popularity and social impact, is fully sustainable. He is now expanding it to other small and medium-sized towns first in his region, and then across Burkina Faso.
The book market in Burkina Faso and throughout West Africa is weak due to a lack of market access and poor product quality. Widespread poverty makes book reading a luxury only for those able to afford it and those who live close to a functioning school—the only source of books in many communities. Books required for school are bought sparingly and shared among family members, while underfunded schools also share books among students. Extensive use reduces book quality significantly. Students and others usually have little more available than incomplete books with pages and often entire sections missing.Libraries theoretically offer access to books by providing the poor with a cheap alternative to purchasing them. But in most towns, public libraries have closed because they are not tailored to meet the needs of the low-income population. Staffed by government workers with neither a stake in nor a desire for library upkeep, libraries held irregular hours and were of poor quality. Without public support the government can easily close them without much political pushback. Considering the little education funding available, governments prioritize classrooms and school materials over libraries, making them scarce in public schools. Both within schools and communities, the absence of libraries creates an additional barrier to reading.With these conditions unfavorable to a majority of the population, the book market is left to elite, educated, wealthier citizens. Devoid of a culture that values reading, demand for functioning libraries and quality books remains low. Without a practical way of stimulating reading, people remain unable to take advantage of the mass of knowledge provided by books.
In order to truly bring reading to people, Dieudonné had to first accumulate a critical mass of books that were in usable condition. After obtaining the initial capital of 5000CFA (US$11), he purchased broken books on the market and launched his rehabilitation program. Using only glue and local materials such as cardboard and old calendars, he opened a workshop to restore documents, books and other reading materials as well as to train others in his techniques. Once the preliminary capital ran out, Dieudonné began to create other products to sell—various notebooks for educational and professional purposes—using the same book rehabilitation techniques and materials. With this income stream he continued to purchase and fix books and other documents.With a critical mass of several hundred books Dieudonné and his staff began to create mobile libraries—collections of books brought to location on a bike or motorcycle—for various neighborhoods and nearby villages. Worried that his service of providing cheap and good quality books for rent could elicit anger from local officials or book publishers, he began with little fanfare, building a customer base from the bottom up. As his popularity and visibility has grown he has established relationships and alliances with customers, officials and book outlets to continue to scale his business. Dieudonné’s personal, “doorstep” approach allows him to engage his customers in a relaxed way and learn more about the type of reading materials that are of interest to them. This person-to-person contact has been the key to rapidly increasing his customer base in a neighborhood. When he felt he had enough customer support he took the next step and created a Center of Information and Documentation for Development (CIDD) with 4,000 works and over thirty national periodicals available on a wide variety of topics—all created using his rehabilitation and binding techniques. The user-friendly Center makes it an attractive alternative to the ill-managed libraries scattered throughout the area. The Center also provides affordable and customer-appropriate subscription plans: daily subscriptions of 50CFA (1 cent) for students and monthly subscriptions of 1,000CFA (US$2) for professionals. The plans include book rental and the use of table space and other Center resources. To increase profits and expand his reach, Dieudonné created new products to sell: Themed books created out of cut newspaper articles that are popular with public service figures and sold to offices, libraries and universities, registries for government employees, and bags for carrying books. He has also created Baya Press, which encourages local individuals to capture and share their knowledge and experiences with others through writing. To date, Baya has published twenty-five titles of different genres, made possible through a printing subcontract. The Baya Press Center is self-managed by welcoming interns to master binding techniques.Through a variety of services and products, Dieudonné is able to appeal to a diverse group of individuals. He has created a community-based culture of reading that engages everyone at the different levels of the book industry: Creation, rehabilitation, preservation and innovation. His approach has awakened a passion in communities for knowledge which is creating the demand within schools and urban areas for affordable and better quality reading materials and services. In the next two years Dieudonné plans to expand into four new towns in his region and their surrounding villages. Once he has converted an entire region to his approach he believes he will be able to resist efforts by larger publishing companies to force him out of business.
Dieudonné believes he is a self-made man whose passion is the dissemination of books as a way of increasing knowledge and so allowing people to grow and reach their full potential. One of eight children in a farming family in western Burkina Faso, his family came up with their own innovative approach to get each child an education. They designed a process in which each child attended school to a certain level, and then quit their education temporarily to work and put the next child through school to the same level. Once it was the next child’s turn to quit, the former would return to further his education. The system proved successful, if lengthy, and all eight completed their studies; the eldest son is currently a specialized doctor. It was during this period that Dieudonné formed both an appreciation for and an obsession with books and intellectual endeavor.As Dieudonné grew older he became disappointed with the lack of access others had to reading, which he believed heightened one’s consciousness and opened a new world of possibilities. He wanted to promote reading and the importance of books among youth as a way of helping them reach their full potential, adopting the model “inform, train, transform for development.” To that end, he proposed a new project, Idées d’Afrique, which procured local knowledge from the collective memory in order to immortalize them in future publications. From the beginning, Dieudonné knew that dedication was not sufficient to implement his idea; he understood that even with good intentions, “It is not with the eyes that one kills the cobra.” In order to survive and assemble the means to accomplish his vision, he worked as a substitute French teacher and a librarian at the West African Center for Economic and Social Studies (CESAO). In 1997, he obtained the capital of 5,000CFA (US$11) to launch his venture which he has expanded to include a fully functioning resource center and printing press. His services have introduced reading into countless lives in southwest Burkina Faso, and he will continue to expand throughout the country and region in pursuit of his dream.