AllWithBooks, a social enterprise that creates children’s books for and about communities in need, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to build a library in Katab, Mexico. The campaign, which began on May 31, will run through June 30. To date, the organization has raised more than $21,000, exceeding its $20,000 fundraising goal.
Mexico City-based co-founder and CEO Enrique Uribe first formed the idea for the project in 2016, when he began writing short stories for his baby daughter. “When my wife and I found out we were going to become parents of a little girl, I decided it would be a fun idea to write about the places I’ve been—and my daughter could be the hero,” he said. Uribe wrote three stories starring his daughter, imagining her as a photographer in Ngorongoro, Tanzania; a backpacker en route to Machu Picchu in Peru; and as a coffee entrepreneur in Chiapas, Mexico.
But Uribe was wary of appropriating others’ stories without giving back. “It didn’t feel fair or right to take their stories for my hobby or my benefit,” he said. Reading Toms Shoes and One for One founder Blake Mycoskie’s memoir, Start Something That Matters, inspired Uribe to think bigger. “I thought I could write a kids’ book about these communities, and give them books in return for every sale,” he said.
Uribe founded AllWithBooks with the goal of “making books available to every child,” specifically by creating books in partnership with an underserved community to raise funds for a new library. If the plan comes to fruition, he believes the impact will be felt in all areas of local life. “Libraries are not only for reading; they will benefit the entire community in other aspects, including health and other issues,” he said.
Closeup on Katab
For his first venture, Uribe chose to focus on Katab, a Mayan community in southern Mexico, after he was introduced to the region by a friend who works for an NGO in Mexico. “When I got to Katab, I was overwhelmed by their reception. I could see the richness of the culture. And I said, ‘I have to do something. I can’t leave without giving them something,’ ” Uribe explained. When he asked how he could give back, the community expressed the need for a library.
During his first visit, Uribe gathered the children of Katab to test his model for a book exchange program. Together, the kids brainstormed the characters and plot for a story. Uribe began by selling their book to friends and family. The book went on to sell in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, and Germany. For every purchase, Uribe bought a book; within a month, he returned to Katab with hundreds of books and the confidence to expand the program.
With help from Sean Ansett, co-founder and impact director of AllWithBooks, and Phox Santillan, co-founder and art director, Uribe developed the concept for All You Need to Make Mayan Honey, a collection of 10 children’s books co-created by the people of Katab. Each of the books features stories inspired by their lives, traditions, and culture. For every book sold, 50% of the proceeds will go toward building a local library, and one book—selected by the customer—will be donated to the library.
Having previously worked with Uribe at a digital design agency, Santillan was excited to join the project. “I wanted to practice art and illustration by doing something that can have some impact on society. [Enrique’s] idea for me was incredible,” he said. Through his work on the design of the books, Santillan said, “We’re trying to make these characters have some personality that kids can enjoy and understand. Every decision we make is for the people in Katab; we also consider the kids and parents who are going to read the books.”
Santillan gained a new perspective on his work when he visited Katab roughly three months ago. “The kids were so happy to know they can have access to books,” he said. He also spoke of the importance of a library for the community. “They really know how important education and a library are. They need a place where they can study, away from the sun and heat.” Santillan added that, currently, “if the people want access to a book, they have to travel two hours to the closest city.”
Ansett first met Uribe while teaching a sustainability leadership course at the University of Cambridge, where he is an adjunct professor. When Uribe contacted Ansett about starting AllWithBooks last fall, Ansett said, “I became very excited about the model and potential for impact.” He explained that “the reason we set it up as a social enterprise was to not have to continually seek funding, and to really focus on impact over time.” Ansett also spoke of the “secondary benefit of cultural exchange” that the program fosters.
Ansett recently had the opportunity to visit Katab with the rest of the team. By his count, “29 communities in the area have heard about and are interested [in the program]. We’d like to be able to do more work in the region.” Uribe echoed the desire to expand AllWithBooks’ reach: “We want to create more books about more communities around the world, not only Mexico—and build libraries in those communities.” Meanwhile, with one week left in the Kickstarter campaign, the team plans to build a second library in the region.