Wood’s organization focuses on improving literacy and gender equality in education in the developing world. Since 2000, they have established over 13,500 libraries, 1,600 schools and distributed over 10 million books, impacting over 6 million children in the developing world.
It all started with a case of job burnout. As an overworked Microsoft executive, John Wood escaped to Nepal for a much-needed backpacking getaway. While hiking in the Himalayas, John met a Nepalese “Education Resource Officer” who invited him to visit a school in a neighboring village. Little did John know that this short detour would change his life forever. At the school, John saw the harsh reality confronting not only this village, but millions of Nepalese children–a dilapidated schoolroom and a severe shortage of books. John was stunned to discover that the few books this school had had–a Danielle Steele romance, the Lonely Planet Guide to Mongolia, and a few other backpacker castoffs–were so precious that they were kept under lock and key…to protect them from the children! As John left the village, the headmaster made a simple request: “Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books.” His request would not go unheard. John emailed friends asking for help collecting children’s books, and within two months had collected over 3,000 books. The following year, John and his father, accompanied by a train of eight book-bearing donkeys, returned to the village in Nepal. Seeing the faces of the children with the books convinced John to leave the corporate world and devote himself to becoming the Andrew Carnegie of the developing world. In late 1999, John quit his executive position with Microsoft and started Room to Read. Room to Read had its humble origins in Nepal in 2000, where they began bringing donated books to rural communities. Today, they are a global organization dedicated to promoting and enabling education through programs focused on literacy and gender equality in education. They achieve this goal by establishing school libraries, building schools, publishing local-language children’s books, training teachers on literacy education and supporting girls to complete secondary school with the life skills necessary to succeed in school and beyond. They currently work in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia.