From Microsoft to Word(s)

A girl celebrating International Literacy Day in Zambia, photo by Room to Read.

I’m a passionate, addictive reader – and if I ever stop writing this blog and get a life again, I’m going to read for three solid months, nonstop. But until that day, I’m living vicariously by supporting all the book-related causes I can find … and today’s is a doozy!

Cambodian boy reading, photo by Becky Gray.

Room to Read was started 10 years ago by John Wood, of Microsoft fame and fortune, who had an epiphany on a mountaintop in Nepal that the most important legacy he could leave behind was a better-educated world. Charmed by the Nepalese children he met and shocked by the appalling lack of resources in their schools, he vowed to try to make a difference, came back to America, quit his senior executive position at Microsoft, and threw himself into the cause.

Nepal Girls' Education Program, photo by Nabidita Shrestha

And boy, when guys like Wood get motivated, look out below!  In 10 years, Room to Read has opened more than 10,000 libraries, through a worldwide network of more than 1,000 schools and reached over four million children – including 10,000 girls who are now attending school on scholarship. That’s a lot of perfect 10’s in my book!

Nepalese boy reading, photo by Room to Read.

If it sounds like Wood borrowed a lot of his world-domination Microsoft strategy to use in his quest to improve the lives of the 759 million illiterate people living in emerging countries (2/3 of them female) – you are exactly correct. His novel approach to non-profit management calls for measured, sustainable results; low overhead to allow for maximum investment in educational infrastructure; challenge grants to foster authentic community ownership and responsibility; and strong, local staff and partnerships to create culturally relevant programs. Changing the world is serious business, and that’s exactly how this get-it-done organization works, expanding into a new country almost every year and putting a book in the hands of a child every three minutes.

Room to Read library in Kampon Chhang, Cambodia, photo by Room to Read.

Room to Read started with the delivery of 3,000 donated books on a convoy of donkeys and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the site of RTR’s 10,000th library, packed with brand-new local language children’s books that the company has published. Six new Reading Rooms are opening every single day in the nine countries where the company operates: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia. And the plan is to scale up even faster and more efficiently in the next ten years, using potent social networking and powerful networked fundraising.

Hard at study in South Africa. Photo by Room to Read.

I learned about Room to Read from my friends at Better World Books (see post on June 2), who donate part of their proceeds to this incredibly effective global literacy organization. Personally, I can’t think of any better way to impact the world than to educate the children who are the future. And kudos to John Wood and his team for bringing all their business acumen, skill and determination to such a worthy goal.

Story-telling in Laos, photo by Room to Read.

To join me in donating to Room to Read– or to volunteer to be a Chapter Network leader (they raise 1/3 of RTR’s $30 million operating budget every year), click here.