Kyle Zimmer, First Book’s president, CEO and co-founder, was awarded EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Mid-Atlantic Award for social entrepreneurship last week, in recognition of First Book’s nonprofit, market-driven, disruptive innovation model that is creating equal access to quality education for kids in need.
Access to books is the single greatest barrier to literacy in North America. First Book re-engineered the system to build a sustainable solution with two distribution engines—the First Book Marketplace (fbmarketplace.org and fbmpcanada.org) and the First Book National Book Bank (fbbookbank.org)—that ensure affordable books and resources get to the schools and programs that need them the most. The First Book model also brings choice and voice to educators through a feedback loop of surveys and data analytics that help us continuously refine our approach and place investment where it is most needed.
The model has proven to be both sustainable—First Book is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year—and scalable. Since its founding in 1992, First Book has distributed more than 160 million books and, with a registered membership of more than 325,000 — and 1,000 more joining each week — has recruited the largest and fastest-growing network of educators exclusively working in the lives of children in need.
First Book is also continuing to innovate. Just two days prior to EY’s announcement of the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Mid-Atlantic Award, First Book launched the First Book Needs Index, a dynamic mapping tool developed in partnership with Palantir Technologies, a leading data integration platform, that integrates publicly available poverty statistics with First Book’s proprietary data set of programs and classrooms serving children in need. The fully searchable, interactive system allows stakeholders and investors to direct resources to underserved communities with new precision, as well as identify and understand “resource deserts”—areas where access to resources is especially scarce. The First Book Needs Index is one of multiple analytical assets that will comprise First Book Insights, the organization’s planned research hub that will leverage First Book’s expertise in providing low-income communities with access to high-quality, brand-new affordable books and educational resources. First Book is offering demonstrations of the tool by request: NeedsIndex@firstbook.org
Twenty-five years ago, what started as an effort to get books to kids in Zimmer’s community now distributes books to 3 million kids in need every year and supports one in four of the classrooms serving kids in need.