Where the books are people: PwC Malaysia hosts Human Library™ event

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Caught up in our day-to-day lives, it can be hard to look beyond established circles of friends, family and work colleagues. Safe assumptions take root and it’s often easier to stereotype people we don’t know than to take time to listen to their stories and understand their lives.

We recognise the impact of experiential programmes where our people are immersed in an experience and are able to reflect, discuss differences and address biases. All new diversity programmes at PwC Malaysia now focus on giving its staff the opportunity to have an open dialogue with diverse people from a whole range of backgrounds.

To provide a safe environment for its people to meet diverse individuals, hear about their experiences and learn from them, the firm held its first Human Library™ event in late 2016. 

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Human Library™

The project has been extremely enlightening. Most of the time we read about many of these issues in newspapers and magazines. But actually hearing about them first hand from people who’ve experienced them really does change how we see the world.”

Aurobindo Ponniah, Tax executive director, PwC Malaysia

Developed in Copenhagen in 2000, the Human Library has grown into a global initiative that puts real people on loan to readers. Events have now been held in over 70 countries, with the human ‘books’ volunteering to share their personal experiences of being stereotyped and discriminated against.

The Human Library’s website says: “Don’t judge a book by its cover…[this] is a place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered”. Readers at PwC Malaysia’s one-day event took every advantage of the opportunity.

More than 150 people attended, with over a quarter of them reading five books or more during the day. In all, 10 books volunteered to take part: bipolar, homeless, caregiver, person living with HIV, gangster artist, former alcoholic, former drug user, rare degenerative disease and body modifier.

Ten people from PwC Malaysia volunteered to facilitate the programme, with a further three volunteering from Human Library Malaysia. Their roles included time-keeping (to make sure people kept to their 15-minute reading time-slot), logging readers’ interest (notifying in advance which books they wanted to read) and acting as ‘peace-keepers’ if books felt in any way threatened or under pressure.

The event was an enormously positive experience. More than 95% of readers said they’d be able to use what they’d learned in their relationships at home and work. Almost three-quarters said their preconceptions had been changed after reading.

The team received excellent feedback and has plans to make Human Library an annual event as part of its Diversity programme.