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One-on-one with Entrepreneur Yohanis Riek, founder and CEO of Yo’ Book Limited, Award Winner of Most Innovative Youth Empowering Initiative – National NGO EXPO2017

Brisker Magazine: Thank you for making time for this interview with Brisker Magazine. First start by telling us about yourself and what you do at Yo Books Ltd?

Yohanis: My name is Yohanis Riek, and currently the CEO of YO’ Books Limited.

Brisker Magazine: What’s the inspiration behind the founding of Yo Books Ltd?

Yohanis: We founded YO’ Books, because we believe that education is the great equalizer in the world, and books are at the foundation of a strong educational system. Poor literacy rates are a major threat to national development, peace and security

In order to learn to read or improve reading skills, people need access to quality affordable books. Additionally, South Sudanese people rarely practice the art of reading for pleasure, yet books are where ideas are to be found and further developed. Where there is a lack of diversity of ideas, there is a lack of democracy and development. It is crucial that South Sudan develops democratically and becomes a place where people are able to think critically, both for their own personal development but also in the interests of national development.

By making books accessible and available at affordable prices to children, youth and adults digitally and in print format, we hope to play a part in the development of this new nation and to provide opportunities for its people so they can move towards a more positive future.

Brisker Magazine: What kind (scholars, historical, children, lifestyle, Novels, science, management etc.) of books do you have and who are your targeted readers?

Yohanis: We provide products and services that support institutions, lecturers, other professionals and students at different levels of education. Our Books selection include every conceivable category from; Fictions/novels, Business and self-help, Africa & International Politics/history, Sudan & South Sudan collections (politics, history, fictions and others), NGOs/AID and humanitarian, Academics and schools books in all major categories, Children’s books, Memoirs, Biographies, Hobbies, and other types of books, Magazines/newspapers, etc.

Brisker Magazine: Referring to the type of books you have;do you acquire these books from within or who supplies you with these collections of different books?

Yohanis: Yo’ Books has established trade linked with major publishers in the UK, USA, India and Australia as well as publishers from East Africa. UK alone account for 70% of our global sourcing.

Largely, our used books are obtained and recycled through our buy-back program.

Brisker Magazine What medium do you use to reach out to your readers or for your readers to know about your new collections?

Yohanis: So far we have been using social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn to update our readers about new titles and arrivals and to reach new audience.

Offsite Events & Conferences: We work with conference or event planners and speakers to bring just the right assortment and quantity of books to the site of event. YO’ Books participated in most of the exhibitions such as the World Refugee Day, National NGO Expo in 2017, Hagana Festival by #AnaTaban in May 2018, and so many other.

Brisker Magazine: How would you comment on your sales or overturn in a year?

Yohanis: Although the economy and the lack of access to hard currency has hindered our stocking capability, overall sales have been increasing by some margins.

Brisker Magazine: What means did you put in place to promote reading culture in the country in case one is not able to buy your books?

Yohanis: Well, we currently have several  schemes to promote a culture of reading;

  1. Our trade discount: Students and anyone unable to pay for the new books are encouraged to use our trade discounts on used and bargain books.
  2. We have a flexible browsing and reading room, and we encourage students to utilize our free up to 30 minutes reading allowance for no charge.

Brisker Magazine: How is the reading habit of South Sudanese from your observation and experience?

Yohanis: The reading habits has greatly improved compare to few years back. From 2015, there is been a great shift in our readership. Majority of our readers and buyers are now South Sudanese compare to the period 2012 – 2014 when a lot were foreigners.

Brisker Magazine: Who is your favorite writer in South Sudan and what are have done or been doing in promoting local literacy?

Yohanis: I don’t have a particular favorite writer but from a sale prospective, South Sudanese authors whose books have been on top of our best selling’s include Francis Mading, Peter A. Nyaba, KuyokAboland Bona Malwal.

Brisker Magazine: Do you believe promoting literacy can change mindset of South Sudanese?

Yes – I personally as well as at YO’ Books, believe that books have power to change us – “for good”. I belief that South Sudan as a new Country need long term, sustainable good changes  and books have a role to play due to their good, supportive and positive influence.

Brisker Magazine: What are some of the specific challenges Yo Books is facing and what are you doing or think should be done to overcome these challenges?

Yohanis:

  • High operating costs
  • Global sourcing of books remain a challenge as access to foreign currencies needed for these transactions is very very limited in South Sudan.

Brisker Magazine: Where do you see your company Yo Books Ltd 5 years from now?

Yohanis: In five years, we see YO’ Books establishing itself – scaling up with at least 2-3 branch chain and expanding our sourcing and stocking capability.

Brisker Magazine: What message would like to send to your readers and people of South Sudan in general?

Yohanis: My message to the youth and the active reading adults is that learning to read and write is your fundamental right. Literacy increases your earning potential, decreases inequality, improves health outcomes and breaks the cycle of poverty. If you’re not reading or literate, then you or your childrenare more likely to be poor, lack ideas, unemployed, suffer from poor health, or die from treatable diseases, etc.

Books are necessary for the development of your skills, access to an education is one of the only opportunities young people have to end the cycle of poverty and attain a better quality of life than previous generations.

Furthermore, a poorly informed population cannot effectively hold its Government to account to deliver quality services.

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