Business backs Buk bilong Pikinini


Papua New Guinea’s business community has rallied round Buk bilong Pikinini (BbP), a charity dedicated to bringing literacy to children through libraries.

UPNGboy_web While official literacy rates in Papua New Guinea stand at around 50%, Buk bilong Pikinini’s founder, Anne-Sophie Hermann, believes in some provinces that figure is closer to five per cent, translating to a significant challenge for PNG business.

The impetus for the BbP vision began when Hermann arrived in PNG with her husband, the then Australian High Commissioner Chris Moraitis and their young daughter.

Shocked to find little access to public libraries, and realising books were largely absent from PNG homes, she called on Australian publishers to donate. This was the first step in her plan to shape an organisation that could build libraries for the country’s most needy children.

Intensive networking followed and the corporate sector responded quickly.

‘You almost have to have a business model straight away to get support from the corporates, you have to be ready to take responsibility for the company’s name,’ says Hermann.

Within months, a nook at the Port Moresby General Hospital became the first library. The next was at a school for disabled children, and by 2009, the first public library—built out of a shipping container—became possible with the support of Steamships Trading Company Ltd.

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Last year, BbP recorded 130,000 child visits across its libraries.

Anne-Sophie Hermann with BSP's CEO Ian Clyne and BbP Patron Bart Philomen.

Anne-Sophie Hermann (centre) with BSP’s CEO Ian Clyne (left) and BbP Patron Bart Philomen

‘We now have 11 libraries, with another three  just about to open. We will be opening quite a few more in the next couple of years,’ Hermann says.


BbP’s annual budget is K1.5m (US$675,000), excluding ‘in kind’ donations. It receives support from AusAID and other charities, but couldn’t exist without corporate backing.

‘Donors say … they hope to one day be able to employ children who have come through a BbP library,’ says Hermann.

The Bank of South Pacific plans to fund seven libraries. Numerous other partners include Steamships Limited/Swire, Airways Hotel Ltd, Nawae Constructions, Monier, Hastings Deering, Seafast, Express Freight Management, PNG LNG, Ela Motors, Air Niugini and Theodist.

The Chief Executive Officer of Ela Motors, David Purcell, cites low literacy and numeracy rates as the business community’s greatest concerns. He says he’s proud of the Toyota-owned company’s planned contribution to BbP’s mobile library service:

‘It’s about creating a thirst for knowledge and the written word.’

‘It means giving tomorrow’s leaders a running start,’ says Julius Violaris, Chief Executive of Nawae Construction Ltd, who believes BbP allows conscientious businesses to provide a quality education program without the need to start from scratch.

Sushil Gordon, General Manager of the Airways Hotel, agrees: ‘BbP is a vital link in developing our nation’s future direction.’

The Next Chapter

Hermann hopes a trust being created (with the help of Gadens Lawyers) to fund recurrent costs will ensure security for the organisation in the decades to come.

‘It’s a collaborative effort between a lot of people and a lot of organisations, so I’m just very proud we’ve come this far,’ she says.

Sonja Heydeman is a freelance journalist with an interest in the Pacific.