Awesome Story FT. Commuting Book

Magdalena smiling at Awesome HQ. | Photo: Erica Austin, Peanut Productions

Magdalena Lorenzo has always loved reading and she is an avid user of public transport. It is through this passion that she was inspired to launch the project: The Commuting Book.

“Connecting commuters through words.”

Magda wanted to bring books and stories to public spaces with the distribution of books for free, from generous donations, whilst taking it a step further and utilising technology to reach a younger audience as well. She sees it as a complementary act to all other areas of literature that have an aspect of sharing in society such as libraries or share-books boxes. She would like to see more people using public transport and so proposed that commuting time did not have to be wasted time. Instead, thinking of it as a time to relax and perhaps read a book.

THE AIM: To promote an appreciation and love of reading as a source of knowledge and entertainment by bringing literature to public spaces and in people’s daily activities.

To carry out our goals we have devised the following plans:

a) Distribution of free books on public transport;

b) Promotion and development of community spaces/interventions in urban settings to connect people through words in books and stories;

c) Design of innovative platforms and creation of interactive installations using technology to support, publish and disseminate works of New Zealand authors of all ages and stages of development.

Taken from ‘The Commuting Book Project Presentation’.

“Create a platform that has a double purpose:

1) To promote New Zealand writers

2) Reach a wider audience”

Magdalena’s favourite books. | Photo: Erica Austin, Peanut Productions

Magda’s most recent and exciting achievement is that The Commuting Book has become a finalist in the New Zealand Network Business Awards 2017under the Charity/Non-for-Profit category! Voting open until 25th September, vote today!

I sat down with Magda to hear more about her story…

Q: What inspired you to start with this idea?

“A silent bus, it worried me! It doesn’t feel human to me.”

A: Suddenly I felt really bad and I thought this is not possible, because I’m from South America we are used to noise a little bit more. It if it feels dead, if an environment, a public space like that [bus] is silent…it feels weird to me. It’s difficult to explain but that was definitely the spark, not seeing people reading and sitting in silence, nobody talking to someone sitting next to them, even if you see that person every day because you take the same bus.”

“When you turn to people extraordinary things happen as well and if you feel isolated or lonely [talking to someone] could be an extraordinary experience, to be able to connect to someone else. That’s why this thing is important and why I keep pushing for this to happen. It might sound radical but it might save a life.”

“Creating a temptation to read, creating a habit.”

Q: What are you passionate about?

A: “Books, bicycles, sociology, history yeah… I like to know stuff, I’m not an expert on anything! But that’s why I’m always reading, I like to know stuff. If something catches my attention, even if it’s on the Internet or in an article I want to know more about it.”

That’s a good enough reason to start, just genuine curiosity!

Magdalena pitching at Coffee and Jam #175 | Photo: Erica Austin, Peanut Productions

Q: How did your idea start and how has it developed and how long has it been growing?

A: “Well, it all started with the weirdness about the silence on a bus and so I started to think about books, how can I get people into reading? Could I give books away?”

“So, I went to an event at Ministry of Awesome the Adventure Caffeine Activator the 20 minute session, I can tell you the exact date actually 12th May 2016 event #12 to be precise! So, I talked with 4 or 5 Ministry of Awesome people who were there so I told the story and they were very supportive and then I thought wow well, maybe it’s not so crazy, they gave me some suggestions and I started building on that.”

“At this point I didn’t have any books at all so I started posting ads on free websites, which is how I got my first book donation but again it wasn’t enough; so, I started asking for more books. When I had enough I just designed a very small sticker to put on the covers so with the first input from Ministry of Awesome I felt confident enough to go and talk to other people.”

“So, I went and spoke to Red Bus and they were super supportive so that gave me another little push as well so I started just casually leaving books around the city and I created a Facebook page to get some feedback from the public. Because I was asking people if they had found a book to let us know, kind of where the books were and what they thought about the project.”

“I wanted to generate excuses to connect with people I think it’s really important to get people out of cars and onto public transport. I’m a keen cyclist.”

“And then I got more books and people got more enthusiastic about it and I think the most important thing was talking to a lot of people about the idea. That was the most important thing, not only to get validation but more importantly to get feedback.”

“Comments, suggestions, new ideas and that’s how I got to a point last year when I thought okay, but this is not enough. It’s fun it’s good but I’m not making an impact.”

“Then later I read a report about New Zealand writers and how hard it is for them to get published, I thought oh okay, well not everybody wants to read a full book how can I reach more people?”

“We realised that public and common areas were the ideal environment to communicate our message and share our love for reading but quickly noticed that distributing books for free was not enough. We needed something else that we could easily place anywhere, that contains a story and that can be accessed by hundreds and thousands of people.”

“Actually it was an intern before you, Nicole she suggested to have short stories something you can quickly read in a trip. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so from feedback from people, plus my observations I started to join everything.”

“We decided to go for a simple concept, that uses technology already available and can be applied to different interfaces. The Scan & Read concept is replicable, versatile, low cost, multi-functional and an innovative platform with the double function of supporting the work of New Zealand authors and reaching those who have not the time to read and those who do not read in the hope that they will find the experience exciting.”

“[QR Codes] on each seat will have a different story.”

“Give space to younger writers, perhaps those who are still unpublished”

The objectives of this project are varied:

  • To promote reading in general and New Zealand literature in particular
  • To engage non-readers with reading by offering short stories that can be read in approximately 20 minutes
  • To help regular readers to engage with New Zealand literature
  • To help authors to reach large numbers of readers, outside bookshops and libraries
  • To showcase stories from authors of all ages and stages of development: from the well known to the young and unpublished and also, for example, competition winners and runners up
  • To bring authors and readers closer
  • To engage local businesses and organisations in the promotion of New Zealand literature by giving the opportunity to sponsor a story or writer

“How does it work? The Commuting Book will source short stories, essays and poems from New Zealand writers, who in turn are paid by funding available to the project. Each story is uploaded onto our website (designed to function as a repository)”

“I guess the fact is that we’re in the final that’s good validation because people who don’t know me or the project. That’s a big validation I told them about the project and what I was planning to do when I got funding and they [NZNBA] obviously liked it!”

Q: Tell us more about your newest exciting achievement?

So, congratulations! You’re a finalist in the NZNBA 2017? How did you apply for that?

A: “Thank you! Somebody who knew me contacted me and suggested that I applied ‘I said no, I thought it was too big for me!’ But she was insistent! I thought it would be a good exercise for me, the questions were very interesting, it forced me to think about what I was doing in a different way! I thought that was enough good experience to just apply. I never imagined I would be in the Finals. But this Guardian Angel thought I was good enough!”

You’re a finalist in the charity/NFP category?

“Yes, all the finalists for each category automatically are through for the People’s Choice Award. 50% public vote and 50% from judges. I mean I’d be so happy with the People’s Choice award, just being a finalist, I wasn’t expecting I’m so happy with it! But obviously it’s a great opportunity to get the project known further, that’s why I want to encourage people to vote!”

This is extremely exciting such a momentous achievement for such a young initiative. If you are interested go and Vote for The Commuting Book at the New Zealand Network Business Awards 2017. TCB has been nominated in the Excellence in Non-for-Profit or Charity category. Voting open now and runs to the 25th. Go to the website here and vote now!

Magdalena sharing Commuting Book at CHCH Soup event | Photo: Erica Austin, Peanut Productions

Q: How has Ministry of Awesome helped you with your journey?

“Well, where to start? Because Ministry of Awesome has done a lot for me.”

A: “First, the moral support, constant encouragement when they always introduced me to new people they always say such wonderful things about the project, which is amazing PR. That’s free PR!”

“Then there’s the fact that they let me work here [Co-work at the Awesome HQ at 192 St. Asaph Street] which means that I can connect to other people. Have a place where I can meet people, work and network. Also, here we have a drop-off point for book donations, there’s a basket in the communal space so if someone wants to drop books off here they can.”

“Also through them I got my first newspaper interview, so that’s pretty big.” (Interview with Star.Kiwi.)

Q: In terms of events or programmes hosted by Ministry of Awesome?

A: “Initially I went to one of Ministry of Awesome’s Activator Caffeine Adventure events in May of last year as well as participating in CHCH Soup which was sponsored by Gap Filler and Ministry of Awesome. Then I did my first Coffee and Jam #175 presentation on 16th August 2016 and my second one was the 20th June this year.”

It sounds like Ministry of Awesome has been instrumental in creating events where you’ve been able to get the word out! The opportunities to meet new people and get to know some important contacts, mentors even, who have been pivotal in getting TCB project going? That’s awesome!

“We can’t be in a society and live in our own bubbles. We have to connect to others and be able to feel comfortable with others around.”

“It builds community these kinds of projects and many others.”

Thank you so much Magda for being the 1st story in our Awesome Stories Series! Thanks for sharing your amazing journey of social enterprise with us, it’s been really inspiring hearing about how The Commuting Book a single idea has become such a success in a short amount of time. We wish you the best of luck from the Ministry of Awesome team at the New Zealand Network Business Awards 2017. Go vote for the People’s Choice Award now!

Interviewed by: Imogen Loakman, Awesome Intern at Ministry of Awesome