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Bodour Al Qasimi


Bodour Al Qasimi

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(1st JANUARY 2021 - 31st DECEMBER 2022)

Tell us about your educational background and about how you got involved in publishing

I studied Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge for my first degree and then went on to complete an MSc in Medical Anthropology at University College London. In addition, I have completed publishing courses with Yale, Oxford Brookes, and Columbia University.

Oxford International Centre for Publishing

In a way, publishing was a natural path for me. I grew up in a household with a great appreciation for books and stories and an emirate that puts culture, arts, and reading front and center of its human development strategy. So, my surroundings certainly shaped my values and my career orientation. A few years into my professional career, I had a conversation with my youngest daughter about how she preferred English storybooks to traditional Arabic children's books, which gave me the idea to create modern children's books in Arabic.

I didn't have any issues with her enjoying English books. The issue for me was that she didn't like to read in Arabic because she found Arab books boring and old-fashioned, and in many ways, she was right. I believe that children, especially at a very early age, need to read and form their identities in their native languages first before engaging with the rest of the world. This way, they grow up deeply rooted and are then able to become healthy and balanced global citizens.

So this is why I made it my mission to publish children's stories from the Arab region with beautiful illustrations, high-quality production, and engaging formats, which led to the creation of the Kalimat Group.

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What was the publishing landscape in the UAE like before you founded Emirates Publishers Association in 2009?

Before I established the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA), the UAE publishing sector had been growing slowly, with a small number of publishers offering limited choices for Emirati readers. It was also less diverse in terms of its offering and selection of authors. It's important to note that Arab culture is steeped in storytelling. We love stories and books, so when I established EPA, it was welcomed by readers in the UAE. EPA propelled the UAE's publishing industry onto the regional and global stage. Through EPA, UAE publishers could now engage with professionals in the sector, which positively impacted the growth of our publishing sector in terms of quantity and quality.

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The Sharjah Book Authority led by Ahmed Al-Ameri has been blazing a trail in the global publishing landscape in recent years. I have for instance just learned about the Sharjah Rights Connection Award which you must tell us a little about. I am also aware that various SBA sponsored interventions such as the IPA Academy have enriched the scope of activity of the IPA which you have led since January 2021.

Talk to us about the mission of this dynamic organization.

Ahmed Al Ameri

The primary mission of SBA is to connect Sharjah with the world using books as a medium. This aligns with Sharjah's vision to create a nation of readers by making books and culture a central pillar of its citizens' development. To achieve this mission, we host one of the world's largest book fairs, organize reading festivals, initiate and encourage translation initiatives, and support the publishing community in many ways. For example, we recently launched the Sharjah Rights Connection Award.

Sharjah children book festival

We target two main categories: individual professionals selling translation rights at a publishing company, and independent professionals or those working with specialized agencies to sell rights to books to publishers and other licensors. Rights professionals play a vital role in safeguarding the intellectual capital of writers and creators. By awarding them, we highlight the importance of copyright protection for authors and publishers when disseminating their work, thereby ensuring the sustainability of the global publishing industry.

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Sharjah, UAE, was the UNESCO World Book Capital City for 2019. In 2023, Accra, Ghana will be the World Book Capital City. I have 3 questions for you.

What in your view are the unique selling propositions that distinguish the winning applications for this coveted and prestigious status?

The World Book Capital is awarded to those cities with a legacy of supporting and encouraging a culture of reading. Every applicant needs to showcase their efforts to strengthen their communities through the medium of books and reading. They also need to demonstrate how their cities are using books to tackle ongoing challenges such as climate change. Awarding this prestigious title is as much about the present as it is about the future. Hence, the selection committee looks for applicants with a rich program of reading activities and related events that will continue well into the foreseeable future.

You have since published a children's book, World Book Capital, based on Sharjah's experience as the 2019 World Book Capital City.

What aspects of the institution did you highlight for the children?

World Book Capital Book

I wanted to write about the World Book Capital concept, as many children worldwide may need to become more familiar with it. To engage their imaginations, the book centers on a city where people greet each other by asking, "what do you read?" rather than "how are you?" Children must know about this global initiative as it puts books and reading at the center of people's lives, which is exactly where they should be.

World Book Capital Book in Spanish

An annual summit for World Book Capital Cities has been instituted which holds on the side-lines of the Sharjah International Book Fair.

What is the vision behind this conference?

When Sharjah was bidding for the World Book Capital (WBC) title, we faced various challenges, the most important being the need for documented legacy and references. We had so many unanswered questions, which meant we had to reinvent the wheel continually. Previous World Book Capital cities also faced this challenge, so in 2021 and on the sidelines of the Sharjah International Book Fair, UNESCO brought together former WBC cities to launch the World Book Capital Network (WBCN).

World Book Capital Opening Ceremony

WBCN aims to document the experiences of every WBC city. It also aims to support prospective World Book Capitals in their efforts to bid for and host their events. There are many lessons previous host cities learned during the preparation and execution of the WBC program. Through WBCN, future bidding cities can now capitalize on these lessons to promote literature and reading in their communities worldwide.

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The last in the Africa Seminar Series hosted by the International Publishers Association was stated to take place in Marrakech, North Africa, in 2022. The plan was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I remember that an Africa Action Plan was published and circulated at the 2019 Nairobi Seminar entitled 'Africa Rising' which was the 2nd in the series of Africa seminars planned.

What has happened to the Africa Action Plan since the cancellation of the Marrakech conference?

The African Action Plan is a robust roadmap that has reinvigorated the African publishing industry as it focuses on actionable and measurable solutions. We encouraged African publishers to suggest solutions because they know their environment and challenges better than anyone. One of the key outcomes of the African Action Plan is the African Publishing Innovation Fund. African publishers still use this plan as a framework for their continuous conversations and efforts to advance the publishing industry in their countries and across the continent. There are many opportunities in African publishing right now, and this plan is helping our colleagues focus on their actions and goals. At IPA, we continually engage with our African colleagues during international events and offer them our support and guidance.

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As an intervention to spur the growth of African publishing and with its $800,000.00 endowment, the APIF - a partnership between the IPA and Dubai Cares - has been extremely well -received. Let me quote a post on your Facebook page:

“I feel privileged and honoured to have worked with such amazing people from the African publishing community. I am particularly inspired by the ingenuity and grit of all the applicants; their dedication and devotion to promoting African literacy reading and creating African content for their audiences is truly uplifting”

There is a convivial group photograph of you and the beneficiaries- members of the African book industry and others connected to the African Publishing Innovation Fund (APIF) taken at the 2022 Frankfurt Book Fair. In the photo, you are holding a portrait of you painted against a backdrop of a map of Africa.

What in your view are the obstacles to the growth of the African publishing industry and what is in your view the way forward?

The main obstacle for African publishing has been its concentration on educational publishing. It's a narrow business model, so when COVID-19 hit, it exposed many African publishers and put their businesses in a very tight spot. In addition, African publishers have been slow to adopt digitization into their companies due to a lack of skills and national digital infrastructure. However, the global pandemic was a wake-up call for African publishers, as it was for many of us worldwide, so African publishers are now more aware of the gaps and are working hard to bridge them.

The African Publishing Innovation Fund is an initiative designed to support African publishers to overcome some of the obstacles they are facing and to strengthen Africa's reading culture. I am delighted by the range of projects awarded financing; I know they have and will result in positive outcomes.

For example, funding was given this year to 'Reading with the Stars', a pan-African project with the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). The idea is to enlist celebrities and sports stars to help catalyze a reading culture in African schools and homes through read-aloud and publicity campaigns in major African cities.

In 2021 we awarded a grant to Save the Children Rwanda to train 270 librarians in eight community libraries on their use of technology to help strengthen reading in remote and rural communities.

APIF Beneficiaries

Prior to this, funding went to the Cassava Republic in Nigeria to produce and translate ten children's books into three Nigerian languages.

The aim was to provide children with beautifully illustrated books in their mother tongue to act as a gateway to reading.

This is an initiative I am so proud of. All the chosen projects will go a long way to helping make books and reading a central pillar in communities across the continent.

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You are the founder of PublisHer which will live on when your presidency ends on 31st December 2022.

Why was it important to you to establish an association under the auspices of the IPA for women in publishing?

I established PublisHer in 2019 in response to the lack of opportunities for women in senior positions in the industry, so in fact, before I became President of the IPA. I continued to support it throughout my IPA tenure and will continue leading our community of women going forward.

Even though there has been some progress, we must continue to do everything we can to ensure the global publishing industry is fair and reflects the population we serve: our readers. Diversity and inclusion are not just about fairness but also about business. We can't advance into the future with the same old perspectives, we must have fresh thinking, ideas, and experiences, and we need to support these voices by giving them a seat at the decision-making table. Through PublisHer, we are slowly pushing the needle toward the center and will continue our efforts until we achieve our objective.


What has PublisHer accomplished so far and what are some of PublisHer's future plans in the gender diversity and inclusion space

PublisHer has given much greater visibility to the issues around the lack of fair representation in our industry at a senior level. However, one of our key aims was to bring about demonstrable change rather than simply visibility. This aim was an essential driver behind creating the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Toolkit, which has been translated into multiple languages and can be downloaded from our website,

The D&I Toolkit aims to remove bias at the recruitment and promotion level and is designed to be used within the publishing industry for those making HR decisions. Sometimes we can make prejudiced decisions unconsciously, so the Toolkit helps us remove that bias.

We also began a mentoring program. It's a global program, so I love that you can be matched with someone from the other side. It also works as a reverse mentoring program, so it could be a young woman helping a more senior and experienced female publisher to navigate technological trends, for example.

We have a few plans in the pipeline, which we will announce once finalized, and we will keep the conversation going throughout the year to raise awareness and attract more support.

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Tell us about the recently established IPA Academy and its uptake so far.

When the global pandemic hit, we held listening sessions with many members. Those consultations led to the launch of the InSPIRe initiative and the IPA Academy. The pandemic exposed the inequalities within our industry, together with an urgent need to upskill to adapt to a rapidly changing world. The IPA Academy offers master classes taught by world-class leaders in the industry, and the courses are free of charge for IPA members.

What sort of courses are on offer?

It includes everything, from social media, creating audio books, rights issues, marketing, to making your businesses international, and much more.

Who are the resource people?

We have partnered with universities such as NYU and Oxford Brookes, senior figures from the world of publishing, together with IPA board members who head up committees on critical issues for our industry. It's a fantastic initiative and so heartening to see people give their time and expertise so generously.

The target audiences? Just publishers? Or the people in the wider ecosystem of the book industry able to benefit?

It is free for IPA members.

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Let me quote Elsevier's Rachel Martin in her blog dated 27th October 2022 on the IPA website:

“The term green or sustainable is being increasingly applied to everything from running shoes to toothpaste”

The IPA hosted a Sustainability Summit at the 2022 Frankfurt Book Fair.

What were the elements of the program and how significant a part can the publishing industry really play in addressing sustainability beyond publishing content about the issues?

The publishing industry takes sustainability very seriously. We understand that our role goes beyond simply disseminating knowledge about the climate issue, so discussions about sustainability are now central to all international publishing events. The recent IPA Sustainability Summit in Frankfurt was the second of its kind. It was great to see many publishers and publishing organizations helping drive our sustainability initiatives.

The discussions centred around issues such as carbon benchmarking, which enables companies to compare themselves with their competitors; the results of a survey of SDG Publishers Compact; the presentation of a prototype for carbon labelling for books; and discussions on many other initiatives launched by various publishing associations. My message to the summit was the importance of not leaving any publishers behind and the need to move forward as one by working together as a unified industry to face this challenge.

Publishers have a significant role to play in decarbonizing the industry. It starts from taking small steps in our day-to-day businesses to considering the whole journey of book creation, starting with book printing and everything in between, before reaching its final destination in the hands of its reader.

In this regard, tell us about #Publishing 2030 Accelerator and the significance of the SDG Publishers Compact.

The Publishing 2030 Accelerator is a pledge to be more accountable for sustainability. A group of publishers launched it with the support of IPA and the Federation of European Publishers to drive systematic change within the publishing sector. It is a one-year project that aims to support and test early-stage ideas that will positively contribute to the broader publishing sector's sustainability.

The UN and the IPA developed the SDG Publishers Compact, which features ten action points for publishers and publishing associations. It encourages the publishing community to commit to accelerating progress by developing sustainable practices and acting as champions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Both initiatives are significant because publishers are now moving from discussions to action by taking actionable and measurable steps to decarbonize the industry and be part of a global solution.

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Let's take a look at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global publishing industry. Please give us some data about the overall impact and the areas of publishing most affected by the lockdown.

What are the lessons learned that can ensure not only a full recovery of our industry but a strengthened book industry?

The main lesson learned from this pandemic is that we must remain vigilant and not slip back into the same mindset of 20 or 30 years ago. Change is fast. Change is significant and is catching up with every industry. Still, not all publishers recognized the significance of the shift instigated by technology until we were all in lockdown and our supply chain came to an abrupt halt. It was a tough wake-up call but a much-needed one. Now, publishers are much more aware of the challenges and are taking the necessary steps to future-proof their businesses and our industry.

The second most important lesson from this pandemic is the importance of sticking together as an industry. Before the pandemic, we were disjointed. We didn't communicate effectively with all the links in our industry and amongst ourselves. When the pandemic hit, I witnessed a much-welcomed desire to collaborate actively and creatively to face these difficulties together. This is a valuable lesson because collaboration should be part of our DNA. After all, no challenge can beat an industry that works closely together.

The third lesson we learned is the importance of upskilling. This is an interesting challenge because upskilling not only means that publishing teams need to learn and update their skills to match the massive and rapid changes taking place, but it also means that we need to be open minded about hiring new skills to fill the gaps. This is when it becomes interesting because by hiring new talent, not necessarily with a publishing background, we are inviting fresh perspectives and new ideas needed now to create future growth.

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The world travel itinerary waiting for an IPA president is a daunting if exciting prospect.

Let us hear about some of the highlights of this globetrotting (it really is globetrotting) during your two years at the helm of global publishing.

Not only did you make history as the first Arab and second woman president of the International Publishers Association, you have left an impressive legacy of accomplishments. Take a few moments to look back at your journey leading to where you are now - at the pinnacle of global publishing.

Pinpoint a couple of the main challenges you faced along the way

At the last IPA Executive Committee meeting, my colleagues offered me a nice T-shirt with all the cities I had visited during my presidency printed on it. It was a nice gesture and reminder of my enormous effort to pull our industry together by meeting and listening to our members at one of the most critical phases of our history in recent memory.

I am proud to say those meetings paid off, as members felt supported by the IPA and knew they wouldn't be alone in facing the pandemic's consequences. All this was at a time when my journey into the ranks of IPA was fraught with a set of different challenges, but I was lucky to be blessed with a combination of stubbornness and determination.

As you mentioned in your question, I am the first Arab Muslim woman and only the second woman in the history of IPA to be elected President. That was the main challenge I faced. People have many preconceptions about Arab culture and the Middle East in general. I had to spend a lot of time and effort educating people, which was frustrating. We are in the third decade of the 21st century, and everyone has access to information at their fingertips. So, people can easily learn about Arab and Muslim women if they want to. If they did, they would have discovered the fantastic progress women have achieved in our region, which would have helped them change their perceptions and be more cooperative. But that wasn't the case, so I had to invest time and effort in awareness and education, which could have been otherwise spent advancing the interests of our industry.

Likewise, being only the second woman at the helm of IPA didn't help because the publishing industry still has a diversity and inclusion challenge. It's slowly progressing, but we still see the industry's top positions dominated by the same category of men. So I had to ask some uncomfortable questions about diversity and inclusion, and I will continue asking those questions until the industry addresses the root causes.

Overall, it's been an incredible journey despite the challenges. I learned a lot, made new friends, and am proud that we laid the foundation for the continuous transformation of the IPA and the publishing industry.

What words do you have for your four children - to inspire and guide them as they embark on their own life adventures?

It's funny you should ask this question, because it's precisely those moments when I've considered giving up, that I continue to try and set a good example to my children. So, I would always say, never give up, never listen to nay-sayers, ask uncomfortable questions, be inclusive and never judge a book by its cover!

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Karine Pansa of Brazil and Gvantsa Jobava of Georgia will take over as IPA President and Vice-President respectively on January 1st 2023. This is a first in IPA history - 2 women at the helm of affairs.

What words do you have for both of them to inspire and guide them?


I am so delighted that these two wonderful women will be heading up the IPA, I think it is an important turning point and a good message for other women working in the industry. My message would be to continue to collaborate with the wider industry and encourage our members to do the same, and to strive to make our industry more diverse and inclusive. These are two women I have worked very closely with over the past few years, so I know they will do a fantastic job and they know they can always call on me if I can assist them in any way.

Olatoun Gabi-Williams
Interview host, Olatoun Gabi-Williams
1 Comment(s)
Posted by J.A.Adeleke | 19.December.2022 22:17:21 Very interesting and informative. Congratulations

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