Ismaila Samba Traore

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1992


This profile was prepared when Ismaila Samba Traore was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Ismaila Samba Traore's vision is to add a lettered tradition to Mali's strong oral tradition, building on the rich cultural history of the former Sahelian empire. Ismaila's enterprise, The Sahelian, combines publishing books by Malians, about Mali in local languages, and village-based literacy training, with an unrivaled distribution and marketing system that gets low cost books to rural readers. The Sahelian also encourages adolescents to travel through villages in Northern Mali, where they interview villagers, take writing workshops, and then publish books about the experience for use in Malian primary schools.
Through this combination of literary activities Ismaila demonstrates to rural Malians the value and richness of the knowledge they possess and provides access to a broader world through reading and writing. "We are a society of 8 million people with 8 million little ideas," Ismaila says, and creating a reading society will help unlock them. "We are not condemned to die of poverty and ignorance. We can change our lives during our lifetime, but we can't wait for that from the government or anyone else."
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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