Open Hearts Big Dreams – Five Years into the Organizational Journey

In 2016, I started the process of taking Open Hearts Big Dreams from the fundraising event we started in 2011 to a full-fledged not-for-profit. I was inspired by our amazing daughter and the opportunities we saw to contribute after funding and expanding a library in her birth-town of Bahir Dar (pictured here). That year was spent recruiting board members, filing state and federal paperwork, and planning the future of our organization. In 2017, we received our official status, had our first fundraising event, and by the end of the year we were publishing our first Ready Set Go Books. I wanted to share some amazing highlights from our five-year journey so far:

1. Global Impact: Created and published 331 bilingual books in 4 languages internationally (Amharic, Tigrinya, Afaan Oromo and now Somali) and 7 languages locally in Ethiopia (ones listed plus Dizin, Tembarsa, and Sidama), in digital, paperback and now hardcover formats. We are now one of the leading publishers of African language bilingual children’s books in the world! Our books are found in libraries in the US, EU, and Ethiopia, and are purchased and enjoyed by readers in Australia, India, Brazil, Japan, Germany, Mexico, and around the world.

2. Local Literacy: Printed and distributed over 130K copies of our Ready Set Go books in Ethiopia with support from Ethiopia Reads (heading to the Somali Region of the first time), WEEMA and others and are hoping to make that over 200K by the end of 2021! We launched our own local printing efforts in 2021 and have 20 titles in Amharic available in Addis with 20 more planned by year’s end. Our books have reached many regions within Ethiopia, and we continue to find ways to get our books into eager hands from cities to countrysides.

3. Collaboration: Funded a number of Model Programs including Ethiopia Reads local printing, Project Ethiopia’s transition to college scholarships, Lewabi’s first girls coding school, and the Read to Mom multi-generational literacy program with MDC.

4. Innovation: Built a Model Community library in Gondar with Link Ethiopia and a Model science building in Dangla with Project Ethiopia. We are finalizing our first teaching manuals in biology, physics, and chemistry based on the work of an award-winning local teacher and other scholars, with illustrations by OHBD staff.

5. Leadership: Taught Intro to HTML, Train-the-Trainer Computer Science in Bahir Dar and Jimma, and recently received a US Embassy small grant to pilot a Future Technical and Entrepreneurship Leadership training in Jimma, Dire Dawa, Bahir Dar (Addis and Mekelle when possible) through the American Corners.

6. Inclusion: Launched an Inclusion legacy project focused on creating more opportunities for kids with disabilities. We have published two books so far with more in progress and continue to gather research that will guide future Model Program grants.

Through it all we experimented and learned:

1. Collaboration Is Challenging But Worth It: Hundreds of volunteers and supporters of all kinds around the globe made those results possible as well as dozens of organizations including not-for-profits, tech companies, universities, community organizations, and more.

2. Setting Bold Goals and Working Backwards Works: We were anxious when we held our first board retreat and agreed on our ambitious plans without the earned experience to fully achieve them. But working backwards allowed us to develop skills and capacity beyond what we had even imagined then.

3. Inclusion Requires Focus to Increase Impact: Making sure all voices are heard at all levels of the organization and in all projects and content is so important. Yet, without constant focus it is not so easy to do consistently. Our new inclusion project allowed us to see and address a gap we had previously missed for kids with disabilities and to honor an amazing human. Feedback we receive allows us to continue to do better

4. Inventing Is Critical for Long Term Success: We have continually needed to rethink and restart through huge obstacles like a pandemic, where in-person events and travel was not possible, smaller dead-ends like projects that don’t progress as planned or support that didn’t come through.

We are beyond thrilled and grateful to see how so many Open Hearts have enabled BIG DREAMS in our first five years. With your support, we will do even more and dream bigger in the next five. Thank you!