How Books For Africa is embracing nonprofit efficiency movement

Twenty-seven years ago, Tom Warth, a British expat and local book publisher, visited a small library in Jinja, Uganda. Its shelves were mostly empty. Students had little to read and what they had needed to be shared with several others. Warth had an idea: Let’s end the book famine in Africa. And let’s use best business practices to help make that happen.

That idea became the mission of St. Paul-based Books For Africa and has led to the shipment of more than 34 million books to 49 countries in Africa since Warth’s visit to Jinja. The book famine is not over, but we’ve made progress.

That simple mission became the guiding light of our nonprofit all these years. And while it is inspiring and durable, the mission alone is not sufficient. There are hundreds of nonprofits promoting worthy causes. But to survive and prosper in the 21st century, nonprofits have to adapt the best practices of both the nonprofit world and the business world and weld them together.