Like most of my publishing industry colleagues, I’m packing for a road trip next week. But instead of suits and heels, business cards and laptop in my hard-sided carry-on, I’m filling a collapsible duffle with running gear, mosquito-repelling clothing, malaria pills, sheets, towels, baby blankets, and children’s clothes. Instead of my annual pilgrimage to Digital Book World or CAMEX, I’m headed to Haiti.
Digital Book World is the yearly gathering of publishing professionals to discuss developments, trends, and innovations that are, by turns, exciting or terrifying the book industry. At last year’s DBW I introduced the concept of a Blue Sky bookstore and how we could reinvent trade book retailing in an age of online shopping and digital reading. Following on soon after was CAMEX, the trade show for the higher education retail industry, where I presented new opportunities in the distribution of course materials and ways to reinvent the campus store to better serve students in a radically changing environment. As always, the conferences provided the chance for energetic exchanges with some of the brightest people in the business as we contemplate becoming something other than what we have been, the risks to moving forward, and the equal or greater risks of staying still.
I had every intention of attending both shows this year, but in January those well laid plans, like our industry, were disrupted. I received an invitation to travel to Haiti with Every Mother Counts, a global nonprofit that works to ensure access to quality health care for pregnant women. I’ve been to Haiti before and had hoped to return, but this particular trip presented several challenges. In addition to the travel dates conflicting with DBW and CAMEX, I would be responsible for raising $5000 for the cause, condensing three months of training into eight weeks for a 20K the team will run while in the country (I’ve never run a race in my life), plus the added complications of political unrest during an election season and possible exposure to the Zika virus.
Those were the risks to moving forward and embracing the challenges. But I learned there were greater risks to standing still. If we do nothing, more than 300,000 mothers will die every year. And the problem is greater than just children growing up without a mother. When mothers are present, infants are healthier, children stay in school longer, and families are more economically secure, so whole communities are stronger. The loss of these mothers means hundreds of thousands of families are without their primary caregiver, and communities without critical contributors. Then there’s this. Nearly all, fully 98% of these deaths, are preventable. Mothers aren’t dying because the care doesn’t exist; they are dying because they live in places too far away from medical facilities to receive it. Even here in the US we rank 45th in the world in maternal deaths because low-income women can’t get to the medical treatment they need, despite our wealth and progress. It’s dramatically worse in places like Haiti.
Every Mother Counts sponsors running trips like this one to Haiti to raise funds, raise awareness, and to “go the distance” so these mothers won’t have to. Donations are granted directly to the organizations on the ground that care for the mothers and to the orphanages that care for the children left behind. This trip to Haiti includes a visit to EMC partner hospitals, midwife training facilities, and an orphanage, providing the opportunity to meet personally the inspirational people giving their lives to save others. Once I understood how critical is the work of Every Mother Counts and what the reward would be, despite the daunting requirements, I couldn’t say no.
So like those of you heading to DBW and CAMEX, next week I will be faced with the risks associated with an uncertain environment and challenging conditions. I will be plotting my course to reinvent my role in in a disrupted world and how I can contribute to improving and strengthening it. But instead of debating the risks to publishers and retailers of not embracing digital or moving online too slowly, and rather than spreading the message of how the book business can reinvent itself through a strong digital strategy and social enterprise, I will be rewarded by participating in the power of personal connection to change our world, and reinventing myself as a runner of races, a two-time beneficiary of the Haitian experience, and a small part of the effort to make every mother and her child count, no matter who they are or where they live. I'd love for you to join me.
Safe travels, good show, and see you at BEA.