“Over 200 million kids woke up this morning and didn’t go to school.” – John Wood, USA

Room to Read is one of the top organizations supported by the Microsoft employee giving campaign, which just ended its 30th anniversary year with an ambitious goal to reach $1 billion in fundraising, and to log two million volunteer hours from the program’s inception. As founder and board co-chair of Room to Read, John Wood knows just how important that support is to the success of the students and communities it benefits.

Wood is something of a hero of mine – a former Microsoft colleague who had an epiphany during a 1998 trip to Nepal after seeing the effects of illiteracy first-hand, and then took action. He left his role in business development and formed Room to Read, a global organization dedicated to literacy and gender equality in education. (The life-changing transition spawned Wood’s inspiring 2006 book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children.)

I recently caught up with Wood at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting in New York. Wood, a past speaker at the event and a CGI advisory board member, updated me on the growth of Room to Read. The organization with humble beginnings now has offices in 57 cities and opens a new library every four hours – a rate that surpasses even Starbucks new store openings. They have helped a staggering six million-plus children since they were founded.

While we often talk about digital literacy here at Daily Edventures, we don’t often address basic literacy, the most fundamental building block to students’ success. Wood acknowledges that network access in many parts of the developing world doesn’t always accommodate the latest technology or devices, but adds, “I think the child who is literate… is going to become a voracious consumer of information.”

Equally important to Wood and Room to Read is the advancement of gender equality in education. Wood notes that two-thirds of students who aren’t in school are girls. But he’s encouraged by some key successes. “We have girls who are studying for their exams in medical school, and students finishing secondary school who are literally the first in their family to reach that target.”  Over 17,000 girls are now enrolled in Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program, which provides material support as well as vital life skills coaching.

Wood also noted that, as students from different backgrounds connect through Room to Read, everyone wins. “Connecting students from the developed world with students in the developing world is obviously good for students in the developing world,” Wood told me, “but it also makes the students from the developed world realize, ‘Wow, I should never take my education for granted.’”

What’s next for Room to Read? Watch today’s Daily Edventure to learn more about how they plan to reach 10 million kids by 2015 and why their work is so critical.

About John Wood

John Wood is the founder and board chair of Room to Read. He started Room to Read after a fast-paced and distinguished career with Microsoft from 1991 to 1999. He was in charge of marketing and business development teams throughout Asia, including serving as director of business development for the Greater China region and as director of marketing for the Asia-Pacific region. Wood continues to bring Room to Read a vision for a scalable solution to developing global educational problems with an intense focus on results and an ability to attract a world-class group of employees, volunteers, and funders. Today, John focuses full-time on long-term strategy, capital acquisition, public speaking, and media opportunities for the organization. John also teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and New York University’s Stern School of Business and serves on the Advisory Board of the Clinton Global Initiative.

  • Birthplace: Hartford, Connecticut
  • Current residence:  New York, New York
  • Education:  B.S., Finance, University of Colorado; MBA, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
  • Website I check every day: I’m obsessed with the New York Times, so it’s www.nytimes.com for me first thing every day.
  • Person who inspires me most: Andrew Carnegie, for having the foresight to open over 2,500 libraries. These have paid dividends for millions of people, generation after generation, and remind us that being poor should never be a barrier to gaining an education.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Riding my bicycle to our community library in small-town Pennsylvania every week. Best day was when I convinced the librarian that the upper limit of eight books checked out should not apply to me.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure):  I will attend and speak at our annual wine galas in London and Zurich in early November.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why?  Last night, Daily Show, political satire.
  • Favorite book: Too many to name – not sure it’s possible to have one favorite.  Best read so far this year would be Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending.
  • Favorite music: I’m a classical music nerd. I love listening to Radio Swiss Classic over the Internet as it is all music, and little talk.  And when they do talk, I get to practice my German.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: Voltaire’s “nobody ever erected a statue in honor of a critic.”  A lot of people told me my idea for Room to Read would never work.  I’m so glad I did not listen.

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