Interview with Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi
For podcast release Monday, October 3, 2016
KENNEALLY: The future of reading lies in many hands – in the small hands of children who read today on printed books and digital tablets alike, and it lies in the professional hands of publishers, who must anticipate changes in business models and technology even as they adapt to them.
Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book. Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi is a strong advocate of literacy among individuals of all ages, and she has to her credit a number of publishing initiatives. She is both founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, based in the Emirate of Sharjah, one of the states of the United Arab Emirates.
In 2007, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi founded the group’s original imprint, Kalimat, the first publishing house dedicated to the production of Arabic titles for children, which has published over 170 children’s books to date. In 2013, Kalimat expanded into Kalimat Publishing Group to include a second groundbreaking imprint, Horouf Educational Publishing, a first-of-its-kind initiative that offered a modern and integrated educational system in Arabic. In 2015, the publishing group launched yet a third imprint, Rewayat, specializing in chapter books targeting adults and the YA market.
Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi is also the founder and patron of the Emirates Publishers Association, which was established in 2009 to help develop the publishing industry in the UAE. In 2014, she became the first Arab woman to be elected to serve on the executive committee of the International Publishers Association, whose membership comprises more than 60 organizations from more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Welcome to Beyond the Book, Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi.
QASIMI: Thank you, Chris. I’m honored to be with you today, and I’m looking forward to sharing some information with your listeners about the United Arab Emirates and about publishing in our part of the world.
KENNEALLY: Well, it’s certainly an area that we read a good deal about, but it’s our first opportunity to speak with someone so directly involved. I guess the place to start is with a brief review of the last decade or so. You’ve been quite busy yourself with Kalimat and the founding of Kalimat in 2007 and through with the establishment of the Emirates Publishers Association. Tell us about that and the steps that were necessary to bring all of that together.
QASIMI: Well, in 2009, I was fortunate enough to work alongside a number of very passionate publishers in the United Arab Emirates. And we decided to put our heads together and establish our national publishing association, the Emirates Publishing Association, or the EPA for short. It took some time and effort, but in 2009 we did it. Since then, we have had 100 members to date, and they range from publishing all sorts of books from fiction to history to children’s books – you name it.
KENNEALLY: While I’m sure your immediate market is the UAE, you clearly have a global perspective. All those publishers do, I imagine.
QASIMI: Yes, we do. So we also were fortunate enough to join the International Publishers Association. In 2012, we were engaged effectively with the international community, and EPA was awarded full membership of the IPA. And in 2014, I also became the first Arab woman to serve on the IPA executive committee, which really opened up a lot of doors not just for myself but also for the Arab countries to engage with publishers from all over the world and learn from them and exchange information.
KENNEALLY: I was going to ask you to tell us what that really means to you and to the colleagues you have in the UAE who are trying to establish a really ongoing and strong publishing community. What does it mean to have that contact with the rest of the world?
QASIMI: If we put it in a historical context, in the late 2000s, there were very few initiatives in the Arab world concerned with publishing or reading. We really didn’t have that culture or that industry. And to see us now – a very small country, the United Arab Emirates – leading the way in the region and supporting content creation, supporting publishers – it’s really remarkable to see how much has changed in the past 15 years. It’s actually wonderful. And it’s done with a collective mindset of working together and promoting it from the grassroots level, working with writers, with publishers, and getting passionate about it as well.
KENNEALLY: Right. Well, I was going to ask you about that passion for literacy and publishing. How did you come by that? Is it something you just enjoyed reading as a young child and it kind of became more than just a hobby but really a life’s work? And what continues to drive you today?
QASIMI: That’s an interesting question. I grew up with a love of books. My parents read to me constantly, and my grandmother told me stories about her childhood and fairy tales. And I really cherish those moments, and I wanted the same for my own children. When my oldest daughter was four years old, I really struggled to find great books in Arabic to read to her. I thought that was really frustrating as a mother. I thought I really want to share stories with her, but I can’t find things that interest me and interest her as well.
So I decided to set up my own publishing house, which is Kalimat. It really came into being out of synergy of passion and need. I thought, if I’m feeling these sentiments, I’m sure there are other parents who feel the same way. Now we have over 100 titles to date. And we publish children’s books, but we’ve also expanded, as you mentioned in the introduction, to publish adult fiction in our imprint Rewayat. We’ve also gone into the educational publishing industry, where we publish digital versions of our books on tablets in an educational format with the imprint Horouf.
KENNEALLY: Right. That is described as a first-of-its-kind initiative. For our listeners who wouldn’t be familiar, what kinds of work have you undertaken there with Horouf, and how is it moving the educational approach to teaching and learning Arabic forward?
QASIMI: We’ve decided in Kalimat to embrace technology. We felt that it was something that we had to do as a small company, and we felt that it’s something that we needed in order to move forward. So we’ve embraced it completely. And we’ve decided to work on making Arabic language teaching fun and interactive for kids. It’s something that we see every day with children holding devices and playing iPads where they enjoy it and they’re actually learning something from it. And we thought, why not take that and use it and put it into the educational schools and put it into practice where we could see results with it? It’s been a real learning experience for us. It’s something very new, very dynamic.
We’ve worked closely with our ministry of education, and it’s being rolled out into schools as we speak. So about, I’d say, a quarter of the schools in the UAE are currently using them for our first graders. And the results are fantastic. We’ve been getting great feedback from teachers and from students and librarians. As I said, it’s a learning curve, and we’re really trying to find out what’s the best way forward.
KENNEALLY: I was thinking about the kinds of things that unite publishers everywhere, and certainly you’ve already mentioned a couple of them – passion for story, a passion for education. For authors and publishers today in 2016, they also share a real concern about copyright. Can you talk about copyright as it applies to the UAE and to the EPA members? Is there a position that the EPA has on the role of collective management?
QASIMI: Yes. Well, the UAE has done a lot to protect intellectual property rights. But we still face a lot of challenges, particularly when we think about regulation and enforcement. We’re also facing challenges in terms of awareness, and we need to talk about it more. In the EPA, we’re doing that. We’re actually working closely with universities and with publishers and with all the stakeholders to make them aware of copyright and what are the different ways that we can actually go about this.
It’s difficult to generalize regionally. Arab countries have sufficient legal frameworks governing copyright and intellectual property, but enforcement, as I said, is really where we and most Arab countries are lacking, especially when we think about digital content. But EPA has been a leading voice for collective rights management in the UAE, and we’ve been advocating for appropriate legal foundations. We’ve been working very closely with the ministry of economy to establish a reproduction rights organization. And we’ve also been working closely with the Copyright Clearance Center to ensure that we learn from international best practice.
KENNEALLY: Well, we certainly enjoy sharing our perspective with you and with everyone there at EPA. You told Publishing Perspectives not too long ago that as publishers, we have to be a step ahead when it comes to the digital revolution. And you asked a question, which was what kind of readers are we going to have in 2030 or 2040? You asked that question of all of us. So I’m going to ask you, what kind of readers do you expect lie ahead for you at Kalimat, for the UAE, and for the world?
QASIMI: Chris, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the UAE now has declared 2016 a national year of reading. So the whole country has been focused on working together and putting in together a reading promotion strategy. And we’ve been also comparing global best practices. So we’ve been working on that, and we’ve developed programs alongside many other stakeholders for this national year of reading.
So we wanted to focus on the creators – the people who are really the content creators, the authors. How can we develop their skills and give them enough opportunities to develop their artistic talents? So there have been many workshops in place this past year, and we hope to continue that in the future.
We’ve also focused on publishers and on booksellers, not just to bring works with strong historical demand but also to find out what are the consumer tastes and how can we cater to that. And we’ve worked closely with parents and teachers and librarians and governments. So it is a collective effort, I would say.
KENNEALLY: Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, we really enjoyed speaking with you today on Beyond the Book. Shukran.
QASIMI: Shukran. And I would also like to extend a personal invitation to come and speak with us at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where UAE is featured as a market focus country. I’d also like to extend an invitation to the listeners, if they can, to visit the Sharjah International Book Fair in November 2016.
KENNEALLY: Well, we will put links to both those activities on our own Website, and we certainly look forward to seeing you and your colleagues at the Frankfurt Book Fair as well.
Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center. With its subsidiaries RightsDirect in the Netherlands and Ixxus in the United Kingdom, CCC is a global leader in content workflow, document delivery, text and data mining and rights licensing technology. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at our website, beyondthebook.com.
Our engineer and co-producer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. I’m Christopher Kenneally. Join us again soon on Beyond the Book.