Community Stories: Mandy Kelso, Turning Paper Pages into Wings
Opening the TDBank branch at 37th & Broadway came with many surprises and delights, but few as inspiring as receiving the opportunity to serve on the Board of a local nonprofit, Library For All.
Midtown Manhattan has become the home of a buzzing tech sector, with eBay's offices in the 20s, reaching all the way up to Bloomberg near Bryant Park. Amidst the fashionistas and garment visionaries, sit developers, sprinkled throughout the cafes, sipping Wi-Fi along Broadway's pedestrian path, or in one of the many co-op work spaces that have sprouted up throughout Midtown. Among them sits a unique tech non-profit who envisions "a world with opportunities for all individuals to learn, dream, and aspire to lift themselves out of poverty." Library For All's mission is nothing less than to make knowledge accessible to all, equally. And from the moment I met the founders, Tanyella Evans and Rebecca McDonald, in the Echoing Green Fellowship office on the corner of 37th & 7th, I knew that this was a nonprofit, this was a tech company—errr, this was a game-changer, like no other.
Library For All gives to the developing world what others have failed to deliver: books that encourage and motivate children to read. It brings together quality, locally relevant books and educational materials from various sources into one simple, searchable platform. Other nonprofits have donated computers, tablets, smartphones, and other tools to deliver education to impoverished areas, but without the books written in local languages, all of these have failed to deliver the basic seed of literacy: the children's book. It is a virtual library full of children's books, with illustrations, all written in the local language. These books can be read from any device the school has it its disposal, often shared tablets donated by other nonprofits to the struggling areas where books are scarce or even nonexistent. It does this by partnering with the many Manhattan-based nonprofits to help them deliver on their missions. For example, through its recent partnership with Books For Asia, which collaboratively launched the digital library in its schools in Cambodia and Mongolia.
This is where I believe I am particularly fortunate—my store is situated right in the heart of a city teeming with techies, large international nonprofits, and home to one of the most literate populations in the United States. New York has long been known as a thinker's hive—a place where arts and altruism forge new possibilities, and the world follows. Library For All is an endeavor that in many ways could only be born right here. I have served on the boards of the International YMCA, Chaired the United Nations Association Asian Affairs Committee, and worked with the Partnership for the Eradication of Human Trafficking, but serving Library For All has been an eye-opening experience because it is the first time I have worked with an organization that is scalable and systemically tackling the root cause of the social inequities that previous organizations have endeavored to treat, almost symptomatically. Inherently, I have always worked through grass-roots organizations—hosting a fundraiser or even many, across this wild and opulent city takes a skill set that I think many business developers have. However, working on a larger project—always considering scalability, feasibility, distribution models, competitive technology, and the market impact of a single partnering organization on the fruitfulness of the program, are all larger-scope skills that serving LFA has helped me to develop.
As one of three girls raised on welfare by our disabled mother, I can honestly say that books were my door to opportunity, a full scholarship to an amazing university, and a colorful and creative life. But Wil Rose once said "success is not counted by how high you have climbed but by how many people you brought with you." In my heart, I have always held a picture of my own younger self, greedily pushing through the pages of The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Anderson, a newfound love of reading burgeoning there.
Through Library For All, I have learned how to take that vision and translate it into a larger-scale endeavor to give all such children that singular moment when pages turn into wings.