The key to any good business initiative is choosing the right market, especially if you are planning on offering something that is new and exciting. Pick people that are willing to pay good money for your product or idea, and you have a lot of your work cut out for you. A stable market allows a company to focus on ideas, design, and streamlining products and services towards becoming indispensable.
Storykit is a unique, upcoming company that has chosen its target market well. The product itself helps children engage with books through interactive storytelling and games. This unique form of literature engages children of all ages in reading along with developing key skills such as communication and confidence. The Storykit uses folktales and various other stories in simple Urdu for the current young generation. The kit is accompanied by a picture book, game, and online audio link.
Clearly, it is a product the likes of which the average Pakistani school child will not see. It is part of the new curve of learning that educators in private schools across the country are trying to promote and implement. From experiential learning, which focuses on giving kids real life experiences to draw on to learn from their lessons, to digitizing education and teaching using the Swiss international baccalaureate – the big fancy schools are using big fancy methods. It is, to put it bluntly, bougie. And that is where Storykit has found their market.
Through the initiative, Kahani se Kitab Tak (From Story to Book), Storykit is currently subscribed in the private school sector by fourteen branches of the Roots Millennium and Lahore Grammar School systems in various cities across Pakistan. The fact is, the state of Urdu in these schools is dismal, and as a result the kids graduating from them leave with a confused language identity that does not quite scribe either to English or native Urdu. The token admittance of these schools that Urdu has been neglected by them means products like Storykit have an opportunity to step in and try to make Urdu cool again.
But that is also a problem for Storykit, image is important for a company, and any company with an eye on the future realises just how important it is to cultivate images from the very beginning. Luckily, the fact that they offer stories in Urdu means that they have a great opportunity for Corporate-Social Responsibility (CSR) outreach. And this is just the beginning, because Storykit wants to be more than just about telling stories to children.
Other than it’s commercial incentives, Storykit has ambitious CSR goals for a new and relatively small setup that is still trying to become corporate in nature. But through the ‘Give a Child the Gift of A Story’ program and the support of individual and institutional sponsors, they engage with Government Schools with Activity-Based Learning programs.
The Activity Based Learning component by UNESCO in government schools across Pakistan hopes to fix learning poverty and OOSC enrollment by increasing the effectiveness of its socio-emotional learning pedagogy in student retention and an increase in enrollment.
Profit decided to talk to the Founder and CEO of Storykit to understand their business model and their product better, and to see what their story was. At the center of it all is one man, Musharraf Ali Farooqi.
The Storykit story
First of all, for reasons of professional territorialism, let us begin by saying that Musharraf Ali Farooqi was a journalist before anything else. He started off as a sub-editor in a then vibrant English language press for the then fresh on the block, maverick newspaper The News International in Karachi.
Bu this first job was a simple hazard that many men of letters go through, and the sometimes drab world of news editing and combing through secretariat stories takes its toll before those with a creative bent either buckle down and try to have fun with journalism, or move on to sometimes better and sometimes worse things.
Today, Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, storyteller, and translator. He is working toward establishing an Urdu language publishing program that specializes in children’s literature and classics. Having founded the publishing house Kitab in 2012, an Urdu thesaurus in 2016, and the Storykit program in 2016, he is playing his role in the promotion of literature within the masses. He has also published multiple books, one novel geared towards adults titled “Sand and Clay” and other works for children. He is, without doubt, one of Karachi’s hidden literary gems, particularly for his prowess with translation and his comparative insight of Urdu and English literature.
“I wished to create a method to encourage children to engage with books” Farooqi tells us in an interview. “In my experience, interactive storytelling is a powerful method of doing that. Another method is games. With the Storykit we found a way to pack together a picture storybook, a game based on the story, and the audio narration of the story at a low cost.”
The problem that Storykit aims to solve is a global one. Children just are not reading anymore because there are so many more, and yes in the eyes of children, better distraction around for them. No child develops a reading habit out of some great intellectual thirst, it all begins as an antidote to boredom.
While this is a global phenomenon, the case in Pakistan with regard to reading is alarming. Based on a survey conducted in 2019 by Gallup and Gillani Foundation, a meager 9% of the 1178 men and women in rural and urban areas across all provinces in the country were avid readers. Three out of four students in Pakistani have never read a book other than their university course books.
This rampant absence of reading in a country that already suffers from a deplorable literacy rate, is alarming and can be attributed to a number of factors.
A prime reason behind the conditions with regards to reading in Pakistan can be attributed to the lack of early age emphasis on book reading. In order to cultivate a culture of reading, local entrepreneurs have taken a step in the right direction to tackle this problem head on.
The way StoryKit has managed to find a localized solution is quite interesting. It is a unique product that helps children engage with books through interactive storytelling and games. This different form of literature engages children of all ages in reading along with developing key skills such as communication and confidence. The Storykit uses folktales and various other stories in simple Urdu for the current young generation. The kit is accompanied by a picture book, game, and online audio link.
What makes the product different from?
But as with any good product, there has to be a catch, something that sets it apart from other options or makes it something unique that any possible competition cannot easily copy. For the Storykit team, it is a simple question of encouraging reading, and using their experience and expertise to model their product perfectly.
“We strongly believe that without interesting content children will not be drawn towards reading. If you look around, quality storybooks for children are not available in the market. A lot of substandard books are available that do not engage children and put them off reading forever. Storykit provides beautifully illustrated, fun stories for the children in a very attractive package.”
The book also gives each user the opportunity to engage with it in a different way. Dr. Tiffany Munzer, a fellow in developmental behavioral pediatrics at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital says that the print book is the gold standard in eliciting positive interactions between parents and their children.
“The print book is a really beautiful object in that each parent and child interacts differently over a print book,” said Dr. Munzer. “Parents know their children well and have to make it come alive for their child to create that magic.”
The question for such a product is always what the ethos is, and for Musharraf Ali Farooqi, it is a matter of principle to make sure that it be a love for reading. And it is a love for reading that he thinks will sustain his business.
“It is not the delivery platform but the content that builds engagement with reading and literacy. It is for this reason that interactive storytelling and the book are still two of the most powerful platforms to build engagement with books. This has been proven time and again with our field tests and school programs,” Musharraf explains to us.
“Another issue is the infrastructure and cost involved with technological interventions in public education. We feel that there is a huge disconnect between what we can affordably incorporate in our public education system and what is available in the market. Our no-tech and lo-tech solutions provide an ideal combination with a tried and tested delivery platform.”
Untraditional books accompanied with programs
As things stand, the company is mainly afloat through one of its many initiatives, The Kahani Se Kitab Tak (From Story to Book) program is currently subscribed in the private school sector by fourteen branches of the Roots Millennium and Lahore Grammar School systems in Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Sialkot, Jhelum, and Gujranwala. The program is available for primary and middle schools at present.
Storykit, however, does not restrict itself to just writing, publishing and distributing these interactive books. The company actually works on various programs to ensure the business grows. In addition to Kahani se Kitab tak, the StoryKit team is working on the Activity Based Learning (ABL) program, and The Give a Child the Gift of a Story program.
“The Storykit Activity Based Learning (ABL) program has proven itself in reducing Learning Poverty, improving enrollment of out of school children, and the effectiveness of its socio-Emotional Learning pedagogy in student retention and increase in enrollment. The Give a Child the Gift of a Story program that brings the joy of storytelling, books, and games to children across Pakistan with the help of Individual and institutional sponsors.”
The test against technology
Farooqi, however, believes that books if used right can stand resilient against technology and the threat they pose to reading books. “It is not the delivery platform but the content that builds engagement with reading and literacy. It is for this reason that interactive storytelling and the book are still two of the most powerful platforms to build engagement with books,” he says.
“This has been proven time and again with our field tests and school programs. Another issue is the infrastructure and cost involved with technological interventions in public education.”
Speaking about how the minimal incorporation of technology helps the books act as competition to electronic devices, he said, “We feel that there is a huge disconnect between what we can affordably incorporate in our public education system and what is available in the market. Our no-tech and lo-tech solutions provide an ideal combination with a tried and tested delivery platform.”
As per studies, parents and storytellers had the most engagement with their young readers in storytelling whilst using print books.Non verbal signs of bonding are also easily established in comparison to e-books. This is due to the fact that while using an electronic device to read, more statements about how to use the technology were made, such as how to swipe next, or where to push as opposed to the content of the book.
Keeping that in mind, interactive books, use both concepts to engage and act as an aid to bonding.
Is storytelling enough to prop up readership?
Another reason why the book culture lacks within Pakistan is due to the absence of it being a community activity Professor Khadim Hussain says that in addition to the many barriers promoting the book reading culture in Pakistan. There is a lack of arranging of book reading sessions by government run organizations like National Book Foundation. He feels that such sessions prove to be quite helpful in promoting the culture of reading books.
Picking up on this need, StoryKit engages with young minds through interactive storytelling sessions. The organization does not stop there. This could be seen as an under the belt form of promotion for the business, along with serving society. In addition to storytelling sessions, the organization has launched a storyteller certification program due to the strong demand for storytellers remarked Farooqi.
“We have over twenty storytellers working with us at this time and we are looking to recruit and train more.”
Urdu, a dying language?
The books, however, are in Urdu. It is often believed the urdu readership has declined over the years. However, at Storykit, they believe, “The readership of Urdu has increased in recent years but on account of a broken distribution system we do not see books easily accessible in the cities.”
But this is not just a feel good project for Musharraf Ali Farooqi, and he very much realises that his business has to be goal oriented and looking towards growth, growth and more growth. The venture is looking to tap into the readership of more mature segments. “We have plans to launch high-quality fiction books for adult readers as well” he tells us.
As for organizational partnerships and integrations, Storykit has successfully been tested as an Activity-Based Learning (ABL) product in a UNESCO project for government girls primary schools in Punjab. The Activity Based Learning component by UNESCO in government schools across Pakistan hopes to fix learning poverty and OOSC enrollment by increasing the effectiveness of its socio-emotional learning pedagogy in student retention and an increase in enrollment.
“Our “Give A Child the Gift of a Story” program is drawing a lot of attention from individual and corporate sponsors for whom underprivileged children’s literacy and school enrollment is a priority.” Through this program, Storykit is able to work towards its Corporate Social Responsibility other than its commercial incentives.
As for commercial success only time will tell whether Storykit can thrive in the market. It’s success will act as an indicator to other players in the market on whether traditional books need to evolve to meet modern needs.