Readers may know Naomi House as the founder and manager of INALJ.com (I Need a Library Job). I follow what Naomi is doing, and recently noticed that she is behind a new venture called T160K, which appears to be focused on preserving the famous library of historical treasures in Timbuktu. Naomi agreed to be interviewed here to tell people about this group and how they can get involved.
Naomi, thanks for being interviewed. I went to the website for your organization, t160k.org, and find that it gives tantalizing bits of information, but doesn’t answer the questions that one usually goes to an NGO website to find. It has the feel of an internet startup. Could you tell us what, and who, T160K is?
To start T160k isn’t an NGO. It’s a social impact startup–one of the latest breed of Internet startups who are applying technology to solving social problems. Crowdfunding has been a boon to socially-conscious project all around the world. That’s why we’re launching a crowdfunding platform specifically to focus on cultural preservation and development in Africa.
T160K, which was focused on preserving the famous library of historical treasures in Timbuktu previously, is now going beyond Timbuktu and creating a crowdforming platform helping to further the work of cultural preservation and artistic creativity in Africa. Many librarians and archivists are familiar with the Indiegogo campaign Libraries in Exile, that my co-founders Stephanie Diakité and Tony Dowler worked on in partnership to raise funds for the preservation of the rescued manuscripts in Timbuktu. I met Stephanie in Cape Town, South Africa when we spoke on the same Breakout session panel at a conference. She was also the keynote speaker. We discussed the need to have the manuscripts cataloged, which will be one of the first of the new T160K campaigns. I was drawn to the aspect that we would be helping fund raise in support of people as well as projects. I have spent the past four years volunteering my time at INALJ helping others find jobs. A few months later we began discussions about forming a social purpose corporation and creating a crowdforming platform helping to further the work of cultural preservation and artistic creativity in Africa, which will launch on October 27th.
Wow, that sounds very exciting, and it sounds like important work. I recall reading about the situation with the library in Timbuktu, but I don’t remember the details. I had not had any idea that you were involved with that effort. But I wonder if you could clarify a little bit what is going on with cultural preservation work in this context. I understand that your group raises money, but are you working with other organizations who work on the ground there, or are you doing that part as well? How does it work, and how do the funds get used?
I am a relative newcomer to T106K.org. We were formed as a social purpose corporation / crowdfunding platform this past summer so I wasn’t around for the fundraising efforts last year for the preservation of the rescued Timbuktu manuscripts. In its previous life T160K was formed to help raise funds to preserve rescued manuscripts. T160K wasn’t doing the actual preservation work; archivists and librarians on the ground in Mali were, but we were running the Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for materials and partnered with the actual preservationists in Mali to do so. Shortly after the manuscripts were rescued the rainy season started. T160K raised funds on Indiegogo which were used to purchase moisture traps, archival boxes, and the additional footlockers required to safely store these manuscripts, as well as to cover the significant labor effort required to un-box and re-pack the manuscripts for preservation.
Now looking forward we will be running a new campaign with those on the ground who rescued the manuscripts and preserved them to catalog them. Our role is as a fundraising platform. One thing we do that is special to T160K is that we partner with organizations that have oversight on the projects on the ground. We select projects that have made incredible contributions to preserving various African cultural traditions and who will work with us to get the message out.
T160K.org is expanding its scope beyond its original Timbuktu manuscript project to include a wide variety of partnerships and projects with a focus on African patrimony (culture/ heritage/ arts). We have already lined up the Timbuktu manuscript cataloging project, Circus Debre Berhan in Ethiopia, i4africa.org West African musical tradition teachers and more as partners for our crowdfunding platform launch on October 27th!
That sounds good. Thanks for clarifying. So when you launch the new crowdfunding platform, will there be more detail about what the funds will be used for? I know that I would be more interested in donating if I had a clear picture of what would be happening as a result, who the preservationists and catalogers are. I think their stories would be inspiring. Or are the plans for the money that specific at this point?
Definitely! We will provide clear descriptions of what the funds will be used for. I’d consider that a best practice for any crowdfunding campaign, ours included. Every project is submitting a budget as part of the concept note. We may not provide a line-item breakdown on the page, but in most cases we have that level of detail from the beginning. One of the reasons I believe strongly in what we are doing is that we help raise funds for the people on the ground who are doing the work as well as the materials, etc.
We have already begun sharing images on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest with the permission of our partners and we will be blogging about the projects as well so you can get a better sense of the mission of each one. I am making individual boards on Pinterest for each project, for example, and many of our partners have a web presence already. In addition to the Timbuktu manuscript cataloging project we are also partnering with Circus Debre Berhan, in Ethiopia, a troupe and training program that focuses on marginalized individuals, and instruments4africa, which was formed to teach traditional music and the arts in West Africa, specifically Mali. This is just the beginning, but each project/partnership is vetted by T160K.org staff.
Also the crowdfunding projects that we will be sharing are often in established organizations with a specific desired fundraising project. I know my co-founder, Stephanie Diakité, has met with many of these partners in Mali, Ethiopia and beyond. Stephanie has a wealth of gender and transformational development capacity building experience in Sub-Saharan Africa. And now we are launching T160K.org as a global crowdsourcing mechanism in support of African cultural patrimony and heritage preservation, promotion and development. Our partners are doing amazing work and we hope through T160K to further the work of cultural preservation and artistic creativity in Africa.
I am sold! That is sounding really great. It’s not tax-deductible though, is it? Have you thought about organizing as a non-profit?
We did – but the social purpose corporation is a better fit what we are trying to do as a business. 🙂
Do you plan to be listed on Charity Navigator?
Unfortunately, Charity Navigator only evaluates US-based 501.c(3) charities. As a Social Purpose Corporation, T160k doesn’t meet their criteria for evaluation. I think as Social Purpose Corporations grow in popularity, we’ll see more public interest in sharing their missions. B Lab is a great resource for learning about socially-conscious businesses and what they are doing.
One of the big plusses of Charity Navigator is information about a charity’s transparency and ratio of revenues that go into administrative costs. Do you think you’ll share that kind of info?
We are dedicated to being transparent. Currently we are collecting a 15% crowdfunding fee on the funds collected. Everything else goes to the organizations we’re supporting. We’ll always make sure that the fees we collect are clearly shown on our web site.
Excellent. I think that will give people confidence in donating. Is there anything else you’d like people to know about T160K before we close?
One of the reasons we decided we wanted to create a new crowdfunding platform as opposed to running campaigns on existing platforms is we wanted the flexibility for both short term projects as well as long term patronage fund raising efforts. We wanted the flexibility to create the campaigns our partners need, and not be limited by but inspired by that. Each partnership will be unique and we will be involved at every stage. We know our partners and believe in the work they are doing, something larger platforms simply cannot be.
That makes sense. Thanks for telling us about T160K. It sounds like it’s very well-thought out and something that will be very helpful to African cultural patrimony.
Thanks 🙂 I am thankful to be a part of it, truly.