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Ellenore's Note: Think Big. Then Work Backward, Step by Step

We reached an amazing milestone this month. One hundred unique titles published (nearly all in 3 different languages – which means almost 300 books total) in less than 3 years. This milestone represents the halfway mark of the ambitious goal we set for ourselves of 200 unique books in 6 years, the size of a small library. I reflected on what made this milestone possible and what took us from pie-in-the-sky, seemingly crazy goal and made it fully achievable. Here are a few things that stood out for me:

Thinking back to when I founded Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund in 2016 while still working full-time at Amazon, I wanted to take the best of everything I had learned in my professional, educational, personal, and volunteer efforts to increase the impact and speed of accomplishment in my not for profit efforts. And I wanted to build a team that would combine the best of their previous experiences, too, and apply them to the complex challenges that require nimble responses and better solutions as quickly as possible.

My 13-plus years at Amazon have had a powerful influence on my approach to most things in my life. From this experience, I drew heavily on their leadership principles and key strategies to create a similar backbone for how we do our work at OHBD. When we set the original goal of 200 books in 5-6 years, I kept two specific Amazon leadership principles at the forefront of my mind, with slight modifications for our model:

1. Think Big: Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners.

2. Bias for Action: Speed matters...Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk-taking.

These principles guided development of our original goal. It needed to be big enough to have the impact we sought. I asked Jane how many books would have the capacity to impact the literacy rate of Ethiopia. She suggested perhaps enough to complete a small library for practice reading, which would be around 200 books. So, we choose that number when we only had 10 sample versions. Because we agree “speed matters”, we gave ourselves 5-6 years to complete, even though producing these 10 had taken a year.

The important take away here was we didn’t know HOW we would achieve the goal at this point. We hadn’t set up a publishing process yet. Illustration was a key constraint.  "Thinking big" means thinking without constraints. "Thinking small is self-fulfilling," and adding constraints like budget, current team, experience, and capabilities at the beginning of planning almost inevitably leads to small thinking. To help people I mentored at Amazon develop this Think Big skill, I would often ask them, “What would you do if you had the team and resources to do anything?” In other words, start your thinking as if anything is possible.

Once we had our Think Big goal defined and we'd made the commitment to achieve it, we needed to create a “working backwards” (another key Amazon concept) plan to make it a reality (the applicable Amazon’s leadership principle here is Deliver Results). A working backwards approach starts with the end goal and then works backwards to determine the steps needed to achieve it. We found this approach very helpful here. I also drew on a simple concept for this phase of the work I heard often from Jane, with whom I had worked since 2010 on projects in Ethiopia, “step by step”. She learned the power of this approach from her experience as an NGO founder as well as an award-winning author.

The definition of step-by-step is "marked by successive, finite degrees." It is taking the idiom “put one foot in front of the other” to other kinds of progress. We had already successfully used this approach to build and expand a library in Bahir Dar together, as well as strategic fundraising. Most often the path to success is not clear or defined. We continue to work toward our goals a bit at a time until we have more information or the path opens up.

In 2017, Jane and the team experimented (another key Amazon strategy) with a number of approaches for creating the books and by the end of the year, we had a creative process we thought could scale to support our goal.

Then we needed to move into actually producing the books, but we lacked expertise and knowledge about the process. Production demands required different skill sets and a new team. I reached out to my community for recommendations. Steff Stephens jumped in to help us build the processes and team, drawing on her experience as a Microsoft Program Manager to guide her. Steff recruited Kate, another resourceful and process- oriented leader, who now heads up our production. Step by step, we added more books to the Amazon platform, then added Kindle format, and then translations in new languages (Steff's current focus).

Illustrators were recruited or stepped forward. Some were students working with art teachers, some were art students, and others were amateur or professional artists. This month and below, we celebrate the key groups and people who helped us, step by step, to build the capacity to reach this first Think Big milestone and make us confident that the original goal will not only be reached, but exceeded. Thank you all for being part of the enormous effort to make this possible. This achievement is worthy of taking a moment to savor and celebrate. We look forward to celebrating again when we reach our complete, BIG 200 book goal.

Artist Spotlight: Daniel Getahun
Ethiopian-born artist Daniel Getahun has been such a gift to collaborate with that we wanted to recognize his work again, this time for illustrating Letter To A Plow Nation, our 100th bilingual early reader and give you a glimpse of some of the amazing artwork of Andromeda, the story of how a beautiful Ethiopian woman fell in love with a Greek demigod and wound up in the stars.
Daniel previously brought the enlightenment of St. Yared to vibrant life in The Boy Who Never Gave Up, and helped us tell the incredible saga of Malik Ambar in stunning detail in A Story Of Hope. His richly hued digital paintings also filled the pages of Thirteen Months Of Sunshine, our look at the unique beauty of the Ethiopian calendar, and we're just putting the finishing touches on Andromeda, which we plan to release soon. Follow him on Facebook to see more of his amazing work.
The Creative Lead of Ready Set Go Books on Reaching 100
Jane Kurtz was already a successful, established children's author when she and her sister Caroline, who both learned to read in Ethiopia, developed the idea to start publishing the kind of accessible picture books that kids in developed countries learn to love reading. Literacy is low in Ethiopia, a problem exacerbated by the scarcity of children's books printed in the many different languages of this diverse region of East Africa.

The dream of sparking a love of reading among Ethiopian children set in motion a series of events that has just resulted in the 100th unique bilingual title, which is available in three different Ethiopian languages (Amharic, Tigrinya or Afaan Oromo) and English, with more languages planned.

Read about Jane's inspiring journey to make the world a better place on the OHBD blog.

Jane and Caroline made a beautiful video describing their journey in their own words for the OHBD YouTube channel. Watch it here.
Meet the Teams Behind The Books
Our books are written by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about books, and their commitment to literacy benefits us all. From young student-authors like Noh Goering, Lizzie Iwicki and Leyla Angelidis to professional authors like the Kurtz sisters and Fasika Adefris and even respected scholars like Dr Worku Mulat, we are fortunate to feature many brilliant wordsmiths.
Our incredible volunteer artists and illustrators give our books color, depth, and form. From professional artists to student amateurs, we're honored to include such gifted talent among our contributors. From award-winning Ethiopian artists like Daniel Getahun (featured above), Eyayu Genet, Beth Molla, and Alex Regassa to artists inspired by the beauty of Ethiopia like Katie Bradley and Stephanie Schlatter, we are honored to feature such gorgeous artwork in our books. We're also grateful to benefit from the talents and expertise of teachers like Lee Baughman, who shares his passion and knowledge with student artists, many of whom wind up contributing images for us as well!
Meet our creative team, the powerhouse and braintrust of our operation. These four, lead by the prodigious Jane Kurtz and supported by a small army of volunteers, are the folks who turn story ideas into bilingual printed books. They planted the first seeds of our operation and have been steady stewards of our growing body of work ever since. They write, or work with other writers, to create stories that are engaging, compelling, and well-written. They work with Amharic translators and illustrators to ensure the books are culturally appropriate and accurate. They're the ones who magic those words and artwork into publishable titles that both educate and entertain. And we quite literally couldn't do what we do without them.
The incredible professionals who are responsible for organizing the art and text of each book into a publishable format: meet Kate Bare, Steff Stephens, and Nina Manning. They engineer words and images, provide quality control, and give structure to sprawling ideas. They are experts at organization, troubleshooting, problem-solving, and editing. They are the wizards who take the assembled ingredients provided by our creative talent and produce a beautiful, physical book in a variety of sizes and languages. They are also the midwives who help deliver our newborn books to the big world of international online book sales, and ensure they are published with the metadata they need to thrive. They're responsible for the nuts and bolts of the operation, and without them, it would all fall apart!
The brilliant multi-lingual professionals who help us translate our text into East African languages like Amharic, Tigrinya and Afaan Oromo (with others on the way) help us reach audiences in underrepresented Ethiopian languages. We rely on these scholars for their vast knowledge and cultural understandings. Our translators are passionate about literacy and hold training as diverse as education (Metti Mulugeta) and cardiology (Dr. Woubeshet Ayenew). Many of our translators are esteemed professors and respected authors, like Dr. Worku Mulat, Alem Eshetu Beyene, Amlaku Bikss Eshetie, Ahmed Dedo Gemeda, and Aklilu Dessalegn.
The team of multi-talented professionals who create our promotional content, organize our fundraisers and connect our books with their audiences wear many hats. They amplify our voice and communicate our mission to increase literacy, inspire a love of reading and provide access to books around the world. They are responsible for our operational needs, fundraising, logistics, marketing, and social media. They help us organize and hold entertaining events, connect us with like-minded groups and communities, and support our work in many different ways. They help us connect with others who are passionate about Ethiopia, literacy, preserving African culture and languages, books, or all of the above!
Our operation is guided by the experienced, skillful, and compassionate leadership of Executive Director, Ellenore Angelidis. Her experience at Amazon, her passion for Ethiopia and her open-hearted dedication have inspired dozens of volunteers to devote their time, resources and energy to help turn the dreams of a few into a reality for many. She has inspired many of us to accomplish things we didn't know we were capable of, and her patient, flexible, and wise guidance is a pleasure to work with. We're grateful for her leadership.
If you're on Facebook, you can start a fundraiser in honor of your birthday to benefit the cause of your choice! Our immense gratitude to operations lead Shannon Britton-Jones, board member Jennifer Mazukelli and Computer Science Boot Camp volunteer Eskedar Birhan for starting birthday fundraisers for OHBD in October. Combined donations from these three drives have already raised over $1300, all of which will go to producing and creating more books. Thank you SO MUCH for your generous support!

Visit Facebook for more information on how to activate your network for good, and please consider supporting Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund.

Thanks again Shannon, Jennifer, and Eskedar!

You Can Help Us Publish The Next 100 Books! You can:

  1. Give to our next 100 books fundraiser on Facebook!
  2. Ask libraries with curbside check out to add our titles to their collections.  Seattle Public library will have our books available that way soon!
  3. Create videos reading our books and share them on our YouTube channel. We'll even send you one to read!
  4. Provide reviews of our books on Amazon to help others discover them, or designate Open Hearts Big Dreams as your charity organization on Amazon Smile.


Copyright © 2020 Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund, All rights reserved.
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Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund · Editor - Anna Graham · 3518 241st Ave SE · Issaquah, WA 98029 · USA

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