Kyle Zimmer

First Book
Year founded: 

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First Book provides millions of new books to children in low-income situations, addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy – access to books.

Focus: Children and Youth, Education
Geographic Area of Impact: US, Canada
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 10 million (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 65 million (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 15% (2011)
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum; SEOY, US, 2006

Kids need books. Research confirms that lack of access to books is a central obstacle to literacy development. However most children from low-income families grow up without books. One US-based study found that although middle-income neighbourhoods have an average of 13 age-appropriate books per child, low-income neighbourhoods average one book for every 300 children. Millions of children in need across North America spend hours every day in under-resourced classrooms and community programmes. To address the disparity, First Book created highly innovative, leveraged and efficient models to improve the quality of education these children receive. In addition, First Book is expanding content areas provided into the digital arena through several major partnerships and some innovative experiments.

Innovations and Activities
First Book provides new books and educational resource to children in preschools and after-school programmes, mentoring/tutoring programmes, shelters and day care centres. With access to high-quality books and other educational materials, teachers and school administrators can better teach, plan curriculum and impart a love of learning, elevating the quality of programmes and opportunities available to children in need. Its models are based on the best business principles and are built for efficiency and high impact.

First Book has engaged the corporate sector in award-winning marketing campaigns, which fund more than 80% of its operating budget annually. In 1992, First Book created a network of volunteer groups to fundraise and select eligible programmes locally, which now includes +180 markets in the US and Canada.

In 1999, First Book took advantage of the excess inventory of publishers. The First Book National Book Bank is the only centralized distribution system for large-scale donations of books to programmes serving needy children, distributing millions of new books annually and engaging the top 90 publishers in the US.

In 2004, the First Book Marketplace was launched as an online retail site offering low-cost, high-quality books only to programmes serving children in need. Though each programme has limited resources, the combined annual book buying power exceeds US$ 150 million. Additionally, added purchasing power comes from community service organizations and stakeholders supporting their communities. By aggregating the demand, the First Book Marketplace creates new customers for publishers, affordable prices for recipient programmes, and a self-sustaining margin to First Book. The Marketplace continues to post strong results and has nearly doubled revenue each year. In 2011, the First Book Marketplace launched an enhanced platform with capacities to offer an expansive array of new content areas, including digital options.

With a powerful business model in place, First Book is launching the first fully inclusive online community of programmes serving disadvantaged children and empowering them with affordable books and digital resources, access to expert guidance, ability to make inventory selections and to interact at the global level.

The Entrepreneur
A lawyer by training, Kyle Zimmer worked with then US Governor Richard Celeste from Ohio, and then as an adviser in Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign. While volunteering at a soup kitchen in Washington DC she discovered a complete lack of books and resources, and learned that most low-income families in the US have no age-appropriate books for their children. She then founded First Book in 1992 with two friends, distributing 12,000 books the first year. By the close of 2011, it will have distributed nearly 90 million brand new books.