BODO—Notebooks With a Heart

You may have seen them already — sleek spiral notebooks, with black and baby blue covers, monogrammed with the mysterious four-letter word “BODO.” 

In just two days at the beginning of the quarter, the Buy One, Donate One project at UCSD sold 150 of its BODO-emblazoned notebooks at four dollars apiece.  

“It was incredible,” recent UCSD graduate and one of the project’s chief architects, Snehal Desai, said about the student response. “We only have a hundred left.” 

The proceeds from each notebook sale will go toward buying a second notebook for an impoverished student in another country. Desai said she and her co-founders, Yousaf Husain and Nilay Shah, were inspired by their trip to the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative University Conference (CGI-U), a colloquium of American college students interested in starting philanthropic projects around the world. Students with particularly impressive ideas won funding for their projects at CGI-U 2011. 

For the few college students across the nation that are accepted, CGI-U is as much a networking opportunity as it is a chance to receive sponsorship, training and support for their ideas. Founded in 2005, CGI is a philanthropic powerhouse: It has made over 2,100 “commitments” — what the organization calls the charity projects that have already received their funding. Of these, those already in action are estimated by the Clinton Foundation to be “improving the lives of nearly 400 million people in more than 180 countries.” 

In order to attend the CGI-U meeting, all applicants have to propose an idea for their commitment, and they must agree to commit to their idea by the end of the conference if they hope to secure funding. As high pressure as the CGI-U meetings can be, it makes the process of securing money much simpler for young philanthropists. Luckily for Desai and the BODO team, CGI-U helped them develop their project and secure funding. 

“We wanted to come up with a sustainable project related to education — something that would last,” Desai said. “We realized that at UCSD, because we’re on a quarter system, a lot of notebooks go to waste.” 

Originally, the group’s idea had been to recycle spiral notebooks more efficiently by finding a way to use the remaining pages in the notebooks.

“We wanted to do a notebook drive, to reclaim old notebooks,” Desai said. “But we quickly realized that doing that on a large scale wasn’t feasible.” 

What they did find to be feasible, however, was the BODO project, which they pitched at CGI-U. 

Desai, Husain and Shah won $1040 from sponsors at the conference. They have not required any additional funding for their initial offering of notebooks. 

The BODO project’s primary aim is to help fund the education of impoverished children abroad. But its founders believe their project will also help make it hip to be sustainable here at UCSD. They believe there is more to their notebooks than the philanthropic story behind them. Sturdy, glossy and with a quirky design (the logos are made to look like they are cut-out pages of lined paper), the notebooks are appealing products in their own right.

The logos were designed by Angela Kim, a former UCSD student who was working through the A.S. Graphics Studio. 

Desai says cheap spiral notebooks are a tempting but unsuitable option for an action group like BODO, since child labor in impoverished countries frequently goes into making the paper. 

“If we used our profits to buy cheap notebooks, we could theoretically serve thousands of children,” she said. “But that would be such hypocrisy on our part.” 

Even if it means fewer spiral notebooks, the BODO team is unwilling to forsake its conscience. 

“We don’t want to be shady,” Desai said.

For the first batch of notebooks, BODO worked with the Pennsylvania-based Roaring Spring Paper Products. The company specializes in sustainable, green, ethical paper production. The cost of shipping the initial order was substantial, however. “We’re trying to find another green company that’s closer to us. We’re having trouble because most notebook companies aren’t environmentally friendly, and many use child labor.”  

The team’s refusal to use cheap notebooks illustrates an idealism that underpins BODO — a project grounded in the idea that children everywhere should be able to read, write and learn. 

Readers can contact Ayan Kusari at [email protected].

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