Within NGOs, it may be difficult to choose a picture book if they want to convey specific agendas. As a social enterprise, Rolling Books doesn’t face this limitation.
James: I think the agendas that we work on, including poverty alleviation, minority groups, and marine pollution, came out of the time I was working at Oxfam. I learned some things from the bookstore, but not so much in detail because I was not working in an NGO [Non-Governmental Organization]. When I was working at Oxfam, I had a chance to learn these agendas. Issues on ethnic minorities or on human rights with domestic helper’s children, or on climate change is worth pushing for and bring to the children right now. In Hong Kong, many NGOs are very focused in delivering direct messages. Some NGOs may have a wide spectrum of work including advocacy and campaigning. While my work is to promote reading, in my events and in my programs I am able to bring these issues to the families with picture book stories to initiate discussions among them. Generally, for parents and for children, this has a positive impact.
NGOS have to be very formal in delivering their messages. Because they are facing many different types of donors, when they talk about their agenda, they may face limitations at the same time. For example, an NGO recommends a picture book for their public education program and the story within the picture book is very suitable. However, if the picture book contains some elements that may not be relevant to their core messages, then they may not use this picture book because don’t want the public to misunderstand their scope of work. Imagine a picture book about a controversial politician, about how he becomes who he is. The story has lots of reflection about personal growth and justice, it may be a great book, but do you think any NGO would endorse the picture book for the justice and courage story in the book? Probably not. When NGOs have to be accountable for a wider constituency, they need to be very focused on their specific agendas—because their communication department will have to tell you very clearly their agenda, and if there is anything that is not related they cannot produce it in their program. An NGO working on children protection can choose a picture book with a meaningful story, but if the picture book is also about children from same-sex parent families, then maybe the NGO wouldn’t choose to use this book, as to avoid confusion in the message it wants the public to receive.