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How an innovative project gives away free children’s books

February 3, 2020

Business Name

Book Dash

Business Sector

NGO and Publishing


Volume Plan

Joined xneelo


“Book Dash is a bold organisation that stays focused on achieving its vision: every child should own a hundred books by the age of five. In a world where giving away your product is seen as losing value, we are thriving and constantly in awe of the amazing amount of goodwill that exists in the world if people feel united behind a cause.” 

An idea that grew into a movement

What do you get when you combine creatives, publishing experts and a desire for change? Inspiring children’s books. “Book Dash sits at the intersection of the publishing and social-impact worlds,” explains Director Julia Norrish. “We create and publish new children’s picturebooks, and then we distribute those books for free (digitally and in print).”

In 2014, a group of friends started a vision project: to pool their collective skills in the publishing industry to flood the country with new, high-quality African storybooks. “We had a vision of every child owning an abundance of books before they even entered school, and to realise that vision, we knew we needed to change the way great books are made,” explains Julia. 

An innovative volunteer model

“We developed an innovative, 12-hour model for making children’s books, using the power of local, creative volunteers. The first test was in May 2014 and the books we made were amazing!” Since then, there have been 14 Book Dash events, with over 350 creative volunteers giving their time and talent. The result is 138 brand new local children’s books that anyone can read for free online, and that Book Dash also prints and distributes for free. 

Free books for children, worldwide

Book Dash exists to do three things: to create, translate, and print new, high quality, African picturebooks for children. All the books they create go on to their website for anyone to access free: to use, translate, adapt and even print. “We want to change the face of access to books for young children worldwide, with a focus on getting physical books into South African children’s homes,” says Julia.

“Our generous approach to open-licensing and sharing what we have with the world gains us a lot of respect and attention,” she explains. “Because we don’t rely on our readers to cover the costs involved in production, translations, printing and distributing, we’re in an incredible position to be able to offer our content for free. We don’t believe that access to great books should be reserved for those who can afford them. All our books are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license and we see incredible evidence of this being taken up all over the world. 

An online home for their books

Co-Founder and Chairperson Arthur Attwell is in charge of the Book Dash website. “We’ve recently invested a lot in our website because we know the value it offers to our community: it’s our flagship digital offering,” he says. 

“Not only can interested creatives find out how to get involved with Book Dash and volunteer at the next event, but donors can also get a great idea of exactly what we do and why, and organisations working with children can see if they qualify to become a partner to get our books to kids. All of our books live on the website for anyone to read for free, or download and print for their own home, so it really serves a multitude of purposes and is a valuable tool for us as we continue to grow.”

A web hosting partner

Book Dash found xneelo by chance, many years ago: “A friend was already hosting with xneelo in 2006, and I just copied him and have been very happy ever since,” says Arthur. “It was very lucky. I’ve probably changed every other supplier in my organisations more than once since then, except for my primary web host. The xneelo volume plan is the best value hosting package around for the sites we create, which are mostly WordPress and Jekyll sites with light traffic,” explains Arthur. 

“xneelo support is truly extraordinary, and support is the biggest differentiator among web hosts. The world of hosting has become extremely competitive in the last couple of years internationally, with amazing technical functionality like continuous deployment and lambda functions. Those are great features, but in the end, great support is the biggest deciding factor for me.”


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