Emily Moberly is the founder of Traveling Stories, a 501c3 working to outsmart poverty one book at a time.
Emily was featured on Forbes as one of the 10 Female Entrepreneurs in San Diego to Watch.
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[The text below has been transcribed from audio]
Arman: All right, Emily! Please tell us about Traveling Stories.
Emily: Traveling Stories is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that exists to outsmart poverty one book at a time. We provide books to kids who do not have access to them. We also try to inspire a love for reading so that they will read more and use the books that they gain access to.
Arman: Great! Where did this idea come from and how did it all get started?
Emily: All right. The idea started after college—I moved to Honduras to teach. It was basically a year I wanted to take off and I didn’t want to dive into a career after college. I really wanted to travel and not go into debt. When I got to Honduras, I was shocked because the students there had no access to books. There was no library, no bookstore; and I saw how it impacted their attitude in my class and their attitude towards learning, as I was an avid reader myself.
I saw how it affected me living there for a whole year without books, and so at Christmas time I went home, filled a suitcase full of classics, and I brought them back to my students. I made them read everyday and slowly they started to like it—most of them even fell in love with it.
So seeing these children—actually teenagers—fall in love with reading for the very first time was inspiring. It changed my life. It made me remember when I first fell in love with reading as a kid. After I left Honduras, they [the students] kept in contact. They would send me Facebook messages and emails like, “Miss Emily, can you send us like this book?” or “Can you look for this book and send it to us?” or “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you made us read because now in college I have to read and it’s so much easier because I enjoy it now.”
And so realizing that the books I gave them not only impacted them in my class but for years later was also huge for me and I thought, “Why not do this for more kids?”
There are kids all over the world who are in that same situation who don’t have books and don’t have that opportunity; and so that’s where the idea for Traveling Stories came from.
Arman: So did you ever think that this would become an actual nonprofit organization? What made you want to create one?
Emily: Yeah, I thought that. At first I wanted it to be something I did on my own. I would take a trip every year and just deliver books. Eventually, I shared my story with people and told them about my experience. Everyone I spoke to was drawn to it and wanted to be a part of it. They wanted to help and they wanted to experience it for themselves.
Every time I tried to do it on my own they wanted to be a part of it, so we decided to make something official that lots of people could be a part of, which is so much bigger than what I originally imagined.That’s why we decided to file the paper work and become a legal nonprofit organization.
Arman: Awesome! How long has Traveling Stories been running?
Emily: Over two years. We got our nonprofit status in May 2010.
Arman: So in these two years what have been the biggest hurdles or obstacles that you have faced? Or even just some of the learnings you’ve had that you would like to pass on to other future entrepreneurs and founders of organizations.
Emily: One of the main things I think for me has been letting go of wanting to be a perfectionist, because in starting this we had an idea, we had a passion. But we didn’t know exactly how to do it. If I let myself get bummed out every time we messed up or every time something didn’t work out perfectly, then I would have given up a long time ago.
So giving myself grace and giving our team grace and realizing that the process is just as important as reaching the goal itself sometimes.
Arman: Sure, agreed…
Emily: I would say that’s a huge part, and also because sometimes what you think you want to accomplish changes. You start out and you don’t know a lot about the issue and you say, “We’re going to do this. We’re going to have 10 libraries in 10 years.” And then you realize, “That’s not actually good at all.” And you have a better idea.
Arman: So not having this attachment to an initial goal and having flexibility …
Emily: Yeah, having flexibility.
Arman: So you have a full-time job, right?
Yeah. [Update: Emily now runs Traveling Stories full-time as the Director and has a growing team and staff.]
And you handle Traveling Stories on the side, outside of your normal working hours?
Emily: That’s right, yeah.
Arman: What would you say to a lot of people that have ideas from time to time and are inspired to do something but are just too afraid of the unknowns or afraid of whether it will be successful or not? I think a lot people struggle with this.
Emily: I think having a commitment to your idea and being willing to keep trying and trying and trying, even if things don’t work exactly how you want. That is how you’re going to be successful and that’s how you’re going to reach your dream…
Arman: Absolutely. Very cool. Is there anything else you want to add?
Emily: Sometimes this is very challenging, but Traveling Stories has been the most rewarding undertaking in my life the past two years. Most of the amazing things in my life right now are the result of Traveling Stories.
I think that when you start something you need your own inspiring stories so you can consciously remind yourself why you do what you do when things are difficult, or when you lose sight of why you originally started. You can quickly remember and be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s why I’m doing this. I’m creating a huge impact.”
For more info…
Check out Traveling Stories. You can also buy a Reading is Sexy T-shirt at the Traveling Stories Shop.
Disclosure: I currently serve as Board of Directors President for Traveling Stories. I also volunteered on a trip to El Salvador in 2011 to build two libraries.