Bright Star Mobile Library: Fostering Peace and Tolerance through Reading in Pakistan

By Cody Minnich, Give2Asia Programs Intern

When I was a kid, I spent the majority of my summers hidden away inside the local public library intent on conquering my school’s summer reading list. My time devoted to reading in the library exposed me to new concepts and cultures, expanded my vocabulary, and improved my ability to understand complex ideas. Most importantly, reading allowed me to absorb the knowledge and experiences of others, cultivating the ability to empathize in a deeper and more meaningful way. Reading is crucial to early childhood development, but access to a library full of books is a luxury not every community gets to enjoy.

In the Bhara Kahu and Nilore communities of Pakistan’s Islamabad Capital Territory, one organization is working tirelessly to remedy this lack of access to books. Every week since its inception in 2009, Bright Star Mobile Library has been delivering books to 20 schools in the rural outskirts of Islamabad, providing nearly 5,000 students the opportunity to read.

Bright Star Mobile Library needs your help to build their first brick-and-mortar library outside of Islamabad in order to give thousands of children access to books year-round. Click here to contribute!

Schools in this area do not offer library facilities and the majority of the students come from low-income families who have never had access to library books. Bright Star Mobile Library reaches students during the critical first five years of school by introducing them to the world of books and helping them develop a lifelong love of reading. The books selected for the young readers are specially chosen to entertain them, inform them, spark their interest, and capture their imagination. As the children learn about the diversity of cultures and beliefs around the world, they develop the capacity to empathize with people that are different from them.

Bright Star Mobile Library provides an invaluable service to these communities, but their operations are not without constraints. One of the challenges is that their services are interrupted during school holidays, which total almost five months out of the year. An even greater issue is that Bright Star is only able to serve primary schools, so when students move on to the 6th grade, they no longer have access to the mobile libraries. Although Bright Star would like to provide services to more schools, their operations are stretched to the limits of their capacity with available resources and requests from new schools for their services cannot be accommodated.

Bright Star Mobile Library has a plan to combat these constraints, which keep thousands of children without access to books for almost half of each year: build a permanent brick-and-mortar location. Building a permanent library would not only allow for consistent access for the students, it would open up Bright Star to all youth in the area, regardless of the school they attend. The permanent library would also be inclusive to those not currently attending school, bringing the world of reading to young people who would never have exposure otherwise. Increasing literacy amongst this vulnerable population and providing them a safe space to learn will open up a world of new opportunities. The impact of Bright Star would grow exponentially with the construction of a permanent location and their vision to foster peace and tolerance would be further realized.

A generous Give2Asia donor has committed to a $50,000 grant to Bright Star Mobile Library, contingent on the organization raising the remaining $35,000 needed to purchase the land to build the permanent library. Your contribution will nearly be tripled if this milestone can be reached!

If you wish to help Bright Star Mobile Library establish their first permanent library location, visit Give2Asia’s donation site here. Your contribution will support the gift of reading for generations of young people in Pakistan!

Meet the Team: Nic

Go behind the scenes and learn more about the people who ensure that Give2Asia's programs and services are running smoothly! This month, we get to know more about our Program Associate Nic Villegas.

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How did you get involved with Give2Asia? (And what do you do?)

Having worked in the nonprofit world in development positions, I realized I preferred helping deliver funding to worthy projects rather than searching for that funding. In the fall of 2016 I saw the opportunity to work for a Donor Advised Fund working in Asia and immediately jumped on the opportunity!

What has been your favorite Give2Asia project?

The best part about my job is being able to see a multitude of projects helping thousands of people every day, so my ‘favorite’ project changes rapidly. I currently love the work Sarvodaya Suwasetha Sewa Society is doing helping shelter and educate homeless youth in Sri Lanka.

What is one thing people should know about Give2Asia?

We have an extremely rigorous vetting process to ensure the programs we support are safe and effective.

How did you become a Program Associate?

I spent a few years after college jumping around a few industries as I tried to find my calling before settling on this career path. My background in database management, non-profit development, and an international focus were key to starting me in this position.

Three fun facts about yourself?

  1. I am an avid reader. My favorite book series is the Wheel of Time.
  2. I’ve broken 3 bones playing soccer, but I don’t ever plan to stop playing.
  3. I grew up on an island. Unsurprisingly I love spending time in water!  

Favorite place in San Francisco/the Bay Area?

I love Golden Gate Park. When I lived next to it, I would walk through it or lay down in front of the Conservatory of Flowers every week. To me it’s San Francisco’s best feature.

Current Obsession?

Board games! I’ve downsized my collection to about 50 games, but I still sit down to play board games at least once a week.

Supporting Capacity Building in Asia Leads to Stronger Communities

By Aqeela Jogee, Vice President of Programs, Give2Asia

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At Give2Asia, we have a network of over 2,000 nonprofit organizations across 25 countries in Asia that we have vetted and or partnered with. In the past decade, our experience has highlighted a notable growth of nonprofits. For example, in China, the number of nonprofits grew 10% in the past two years alone to over 600,000 organizations. In India, the number of registered nonprofits is even more staggering, with a total of 2 million organizations. A similar trend can also be observed in South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and other countries across the region. 

Observing this trend has been very exciting! Across Asia, we have witnessed local nonprofits working every day to strengthen communities, provide critical services to indigenous populations, and advance access to equal opportunity and services. However, as the number of nonprofits in Asia grow to meet increasing social needs, they face challenges that limit their ability to make sustainable impact.

Building strong resilient organizations with diverse funding streams.

While their grassroots mission may be better suited to serve local communities, those very factors limit their opportunity to compete for funding. A reoccurring concern voiced by local nonprofits across Give2Asia’s network is that it is challenging to build resilient organizations because they face barriers to securing diverse funding. In developing social sectors, communities may be more focused on their own sustenance. With limited funding opportunities in their local communities, nonprofits often seek to obtain funding from external funders. 

Smaller organizations also face a lack of trust and confidence from donors. Recently a study by FSG, the Global Philanthropy Forum and the Rockefeller, Gates and Ford Foundations found that philanthropists are eager to support local nonprofits, but they lack confidence that nonprofits can to deliver because they appear under-resourced. It is also challenging for local nonprofits to compete with the marketing strategies that larger organizations have, and ultimately local organizations fall into a communication trap where their limited English-language ability, technical capacity, and online media presence overwhelm their locally-driven and community-led solutions. 

Developing efficient staffing, systems and leadership to sustain successful programs.

Faced with limited and uncertain funding opportunities, lack of confidence from donors, and an inadvertent communication trap, nonprofits are left with very little time, capacity, or funding to develop efficient staffing, systems, and leadership to quell donors’ fears and sustain successful programs for local communities. 

Nonprofits who are successful in attracting donors feel obligated to expand their services due to pressures to maximize impact. Expansion inevitably leads to an over-stressed staff and inefficient operations, a phenomenon that is exacerbated by the fact that most donors support project-specific grants that designate between 10% to 20% of the total grant amount towards operational costs such as staff salaries, systems strengthening, or leadership training. 

Strengthening the infrastructure of nonprofits is vital to the sustainability of local nonprofits.

If the philanthropy community really is committed  to strengthening local communities across Asia, a commitment to strengthening the organizational infrastructure of nonprofits is necessary. Give2Asia provides two actionable methods for donors to support and strengthen nonprofit operations.

The first method is Give2Asia’s Fiscal Sponsorship program which offers donors an option to donate to over 250 vetted Asia-based charitable organizations. All donations are unrestricted gifts which nonprofits can designate as needed. The flexibility of this program allows nonprofits to utilize critical funds towards strengthening organizational infrastructure.

The second method is through Give2Asia’s Advisory Services program which leverages Give2Asia’s field network to provide customized technical training for local community organizations. With support from donors, Give2Asia provides training on proposal development, project implementation, evaluation and reporting best practices, and donor stewardship and diversification. The trainings are provided by experts in the local language with the local context.

By elevating the importance of supporting capacity building and sharing actionable ways to address capacity gaps in local organizations, Give2Asia hopes to help develop a stronger nonprofit sector in Asia, and ultimately healthy and vibrant societies throughout the region.