Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 September 2020

Textbook Tree: Dubai students start sustainable business selling used textbooks

The two students realised many brand-new books were going to waste after schools closed in March

Mehul Advani and Paavnee Misra began Textbook Tree in March, right after the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Courtesy Mehul Advani 
Mehul Advani and Paavnee Misra began Textbook Tree in March, right after the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Courtesy Mehul Advani 

When schools closed earlier this year as the pandemic took hold, Mehul Advani and Paavnee Misra found they had a number of textbooks they no longer needed.

The books were expensive, with some costing in the realms of three figures, and many were still in pristine condition. The two – both pupils at the Dubai International Academy – realised others could put them to better use.

That’s when they decided to start Textbook Tree, a website selling the books for a nominal fee, with a share of the proceeds being donated to charity.

“We were off school around March and our exams had been cancelled,” Advani says. “We were looking for something new to do, because we had so much spare time. And then we realised that everyone in our class and grade had so many books that they didn't need any more.

"We realised a lot of families were going through financial stress because of the effects of Covid-19 and they were going to need a cheaper alternative when buying these books.”

Word about Textbook Tree soon began to spread around the school. Classmates also started listing their books on Advani and Misra’s website. But it was still operating on a relatively small scale and the duo wanted to take it to the next level.

“We figured why not try to add a positive impact to all of this,” Advani says. “So we decided to add a sustainability aspect to it. We started taking part of the money we made through the service and donating it to the Emirates Nature World Wide Fund.”

While all the money a textbook makes from a sale goes back to the original owner, 5 per cent of Textbook Tree’s service charge is donated to the charity. Part of the worldwide WWF network, Emirates Nature WWF has been playing an active role in environmental conservation in the region for almost two decades.

Most of the textbooks are stored in Mehul Advani's home and are in brand new condition. Courtesy: Mehul Advani 
Most of the textbooks are stored in Mehul Advani's home and are in mint condition. Courtesy Mehul Advani

It didn’t take long for Textbook Tree to start gaining more recognition. “It was really crazy for a while. We were driving around the city, picking up books and delivering them,” Advani, who recently got his driving licence, says.

“We would go to different locations on different days. One day, we’d drive around the Springs and Meadows, picking up books and dropping them to customers in the same location. Another day, we’d do the Arabian Ranches and so on.”

Advani says it was word of mouth that helped the service pick up. Parents contacted Advani and Misra through their Instagram page or via WhatsApp, asking them about the book’s condition and ISBN.

“We’d take a number of pictures of each book, to show that they were the correct editions and in good quality. The most popular ones are the International Baccalaureate books. They’re the most in demand because they are super-expensive elsewhere.

“We have a lot of books,” Advani says, and these are all currently being stored at his home. “Some are from people who are selling their textbooks and others were donated to us. People seem eager to donate the books. They don’t want to throw them away.”

However, a few of the donated books may never get sold. These are mostly older editions that may be too outdated to be used in classrooms. Still, instead of throwing them away, Advani says they are looking for a way to donate them.

“The curriculum usually changes every two to three years,” Advani says. “So some of these books are not needed. We’re looking for places to donate them. We can only find libraries right now, but we want somewhere where people will use these books later.”

Advani says he and Misra have decided they will close the website next month. However, the service will remain operational on the Textbook Tree's Instagram and Facebook pages.

“It’s a pretty large cost to keep the website going,” Advani says. “And we realised that the way we're operating, we could easily transfer it to social media for free and not have these large costs. So while we are closing down the website, the business will still be up and running.”

Updated: August 30, 2020 03:41 PM

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