Interview with Tanya Manoj of Breaking Book Barriers

This past week, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Manoj, the founder of youth-owned nonprofit Breaking Book Barriers. She gives us insight on how she began and developed her organization, along with the importance behind building a community.

Bold - Daysia (Interviewer)

Normal - Tanya (Interviewee)

Hi Tanya, I'm really excited to have the opportunity to work with you! The goal of your organization is inspiring, and I can tell that it has helped several students. From what I understand, Breaking Book Barriers is exchanging old test prep books for new ones. However, there is a point system and an organizational aspect involved. Can you go into more depth about your nonprofit, and how it works?

"Hi Daysia, super excited to work with you as well! Our mission is to educate people on test prep/educational inequality as well as give students the tools they need to succeed on standardized tests. We educate students and provide testing tips through our social media and blog posts. We also run an online book exchange where students can ship their used SAT, ACT, and AP books to students who need them. We essentially facilitate those exchanges. The point system is to help us keep track of how many books you have donated/received. We want it to be a two way street, so we ask students to pass books along once they are done using them."

That sounds awesome! Your platform is so multifaceted. Where did you get the inspiration for your nonprofit - what's your origin story?

"Honestly, I decided to start Breaking Book Barriers once I realized how much test prep books cost. I took two AP tests my sophomore year, and ended up spending around $50 dollars on books because my library didn't have updated versions available. With this in mind, I wanted to try to find a solution that would allow students to get test prep books for a low price/free. I came up with the idea of an online library or book exchange, and immediately started to build a website and think through the process. After a few months, I started to put together a team to run Breaking Book Barriers and went from there!

I also got a lot of inspiration from prominent teenage entrepreneurs and nonprofit founders. Some of people that have super interesting organizations are Nadya Okamoto and Ziad Ahmed. I think that hearing other people's stories is one of the best sources of inspiration and motivation!"

Your ambition is really inspiring. This is a real representation of how you can take a small, relatively average issue and make a great impact. Can you describe the process of developing your organization? How did you go from a website to an NPO-status with a team? And how did you connect with these prominent teen founders in the process?

"So Breaking Book Barriers doesn't actually have legal status because of the time and monetary investment that would require. We call ourselves a student-run organization or initiative instead. I think that speaks to the fact that you don't need to be a registered nonprofit or a huge organization to make an impact.

Once I decided to expand the team, I put posts up on instagram, reddit, and similar platforms to invite people to apply. There was a lot of interest, and I was able to recruit a social media, website development, content creation, and networking team. An interesting thing about our team is that we are scattered around the country and world. Timezones and schedules can be an issue, so we rely on our slack channel and the occasional call to keep in contact. Now that pretty much everything is remote, I think that we (and many other student run organizations) were well prepared as we were used to being completely remote.

In terms of connecting with teen founders, I usually just dm them via instagram. People are pretty responsive if you have specific questions. I also listen to instagram lives or any sort of interactive interviews that they do and ask questions and hear more about their stories on there."

Thanks for the information, and you're 100% correct. I love that stories like yours prove the strength that a seed idea and and a strong team can have on a community. Now, about your team, how many people have you recruited so far, and are you seeking any more? Do relationships with other organizations play a role in your organization's progression?

"So we have around 40 team members, all with different levels of involvement. Some people are super involved and do work for the organization every week. Others contribute to our social media or blog once a month or are involved with a specific project on a short term basis. I really appreciate all of our team members and the time that they give!

We are always looking for more people to get involved. If they shoot me an email, I'd love to set up a call with them to see where they may fit in the organization.

Actually, relationships with other organizations play a huge role in what we do. From social media collaborations to working together on donating books, almost everything that we do involves another organization in some way. A lot of our time is spent researching organizations that may be a good fit to work with and then reaching out. I personally think that collaborating is one of the most effective ways to get stuff done, and other organizations often have insights that we may not. One of our upcoming projects is to reach out to nonprofits who may be able to donate prep books and see if we can organize donations through them. It's something that we've never tried before, but we are excited to work with more established organizations!"

Wow, that sounds like an amazing community. Now, with the mention of upcoming projects, what do you envision for the future of your organization? This can be short term or long term, and as elaborate or simple as you want it to be. What are your goals for Breaking Book Barriers?

"We have a ton of goals/ new projects that we are thinking about! Short term, we are currently working on making our website more user friendly. We are also hoping to work with more organizations to donate books and spread awareness of education inequity this summer.

A long term goal of ours is to expand the online book exchange and make it accessible to students around the country. We had to pause that due to the public health crisis, and we are just starting to accept donations and book requests again. Broadly, I'm hoping that in the future, we are able to reach many more students and help them with their standardized testing needs, whether that is free books, tutoring, or information. There is definitely a long way to go, but I am super excited to work towards that eventual goal."

With the passion you already exude, there's no doubt that your organization will reach its goals. And as a final question: what advice would you give to other youth organization founders, or those who want to start an organization but are reluctant to do so?

"Thank you, that’s so nice :)

I would tell them to just start! Many (if not most) organizations evolve from their original activities and goals. It takes a lot of trial and error to figure things out, and the sooner you start your org, the sooner you can figure out what works and doesn’t. As a side note, make sure you tell the people in your life about your organization! Your family, friends, and mentors all want to hear what you are up to, and they may end up giving great advice about starting your organization!"

Connect with Breaking Book Barriers:


Instagram: @breakingbookbarriers

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