A Time to Reflect: APNET Team Review
Gillian Nyambura is Executive Secretary of APNET, the African Publishers Network, Harare, Zimbabwe. APNET, PO Box 3773, Harare, Zimbabwe
APNET held a four-day Reflection Meeting 3-6 March 1997 in Nyeri, Kenya. A total of 15 Board members, representatives of APNET's membership, the Secretariat staff and resource persons participated in the review. It was the first such meeting convened with the objectives of analysing the environments and contexts within which APNET operates, as a step towards clear and strategic reflection on the performance of the network since 1992 and the priorities and targets for the next five or so years. The first self-examination exercise was based on a case-study of an organisation dealing with and juggling several priorities. It proved to be an effective way of identifying APNET's strengths and weaknesses and of distinguishing the immediate from the long-term priorities. The training, information and trade promotion programmes were repeatedly mentioned as APNET's source of success. While the need to strengthen African publishers is still APNET's first priority, several new and renewed strategies were proposed for adoption.
A government official, Deputy Minister Mrs S Nyoni from Zimbabwe took the lead in analysing the political, economic and social challenges currently facing the African continent. Her presentation tackled issues such as the devaluation of human life in Africa, the heightened marginalisation brought about by globalisation and rising poverty, the leadership crisis and the possible options and solutions available to African peoples in this situation. Participants acknowledged that the wider contexts of poverty and the economic crisis adversely affect publishers' incomes and their ability to support their collective organs such as National Publishers Associations (NPAs) and APNET. The meeting proposed that APNET commit itself to a programme of education for its members to enable them to identify the opportunities and threats created by structural adjustment programmes and globalised markets. Several measures were also proposed on how APNET could address the need to maintain a high quality of leadership within the indigenous publishing industry.
This analysis was followed by a perspective given by Arvind Kumar of the National Book Trust of India which took the participants further into the realm of identifying viable and practical solutions to the very real challenges facing publishers. He spoke of the importance of human resource development through literacy and education and the production of suitable reading material, and cited examples of the innovative way publishers in India were addressing the need to strike a `judicious balance between social commitment and business operation'. The lesson drawn from the Indian experience was translated into a commitment that APNET explore strategies to facilitate the production of more affordable books, to aggressively pursue trade between African countries and to adopt a marketing strategy to ensure the availability of African books globally.
The APNET Executive Secretary's presentation proposed the initiation of a programme to focus on strengthening APNET's key constituency, the NPAs. There was consensus on the critical role NPAs play in APNET and the dialectical relationship that exists between them and the umbrella, APNET. A programme to build their capacity and potential therefore could enable them to become the most important vehicles for realising APNET's vision and mission. Recognition that strong NPAs are the key to ensuring APNET's growth, sustenance and success was constant and clear. In light of this it was agreed that APNET commit itself to developing and raising funds for a comprehensive capacity-building programme focusing on the quantitative and qualitative growth and development of NPAs in the next cycle, 1997-2000.
Lengthy and rich discussions arising from these and other presentations allowed the meeting to reach consensus on issues relating to APNET's vision, structure, strategy, relationships and sustainability. The main outcome of the meeting is a clearer sense of direction, which is summarised in the following mission statement adopted at the meeting:
APNET's vision is the transformation of African peoples through access to books.
Our mission is to strengthen African publishers and national publishers associations through networking, training and trade promotion to fully meet Africa's need for quality books relevant to African social, political, economic and cultural reality. [end] [BPN, no 20, 1997, p. 2]
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