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Textbooks for Change supplies East African universities with much-needed library donations

The donor: Chris Janssen

The gift: Creating Textbooks for Change

The cause: To supply textbooks to universities in East Africa

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When Chris Janssen graduated from the University of Western Ontario’s business program in 2013, he didn’t want to join the corporate world.

Instead, Mr. Janssen headed to Africa where he taught at a university in Rwanda and did research on small businesses in Kenya. During his work, he got a first-hand look at the miserable conditions at university libraries in both countries. “There was old and tattered material and dozens of students shared the same book,” he recalled. “The experience really frustrated me.”

He returned to Canada where he’d already started a small textbook donation program. In 2014, he turned that into Textbooks for Change with the help of his friend, Tom Hartford. The organization is run as a social enterprise, which means it generates revenue but isn’t driven by the bottom line and plows most of the money raised back into acquiring textbooks. It has been certified as a top “B corporation,” or beneficial company, by B Lab, a U.S.-based non-profit group that manages global certification.

Textbooks for Change gathers donated textbooks from across Canada and ships about half to universities in East Africa. Roughly 20 per cent are sold online to students across North America and 30 per cent are usually unusable and recycled. The enterprise has provided 250,000 books to several African universities and it donated $250,000 to student clubs.

“When I started this as a small project, I thought it would end with that project,” said Mr. Janssen, 28, who is from Windsor, Ont., and lives in Kenya where he’s working on another social enterprise. “It has been awesome.”

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