Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Room to Read

Another story of small beginnings and social innovation
(specially, if one thinks of the millions of books that people sell off or throw away, just because they don't need them any more... because they have read them over and over again, becauase kids have grown up, because exams are over...)

The Room to Read story begins in 1998 with Founder & CEO John Wood. In 1998, John was an overworked Microsoft executive looking for the quiet solitude of a trekking vacation. While backpacking in the Himalayas, John met a middle-aged Nepalese man who invited him to visit a school in a neighboring village. Hoping for a chance to see the real Nepal, rather than his tourist's trek, John agreed. Little did he know this short detour would change his life forever.

The man John met was a Nepalese "Education Resource Officer." However, John soon discovered that despite his huge heart and tremendous work-ethic (traveling mountain passes on foot to visit his schools), this man had very little resources to offer the schools in his charge. At the school John came face to face with the harsh reality confronting millions of Nepalese children - there were almost no books. John was stunned to discover that the few books they 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 that day, the school headmaster made a simple request: "Perhaps, Sir, you will some day come back with books." His request would not go unheard. After returning from his trek, John emailed friends to ask for their help in collecting children's books, and was overwhelmed with the response - over 3,000 books arrived within the next two months. The following year, John returned to Nepal, rented a yak, and returned to the village to deliver the books.

On that trip, John made a decision. He would leave the corporate world in order to devote himself to starting a new non-profit. In his memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, John explains, "Did it really matter how many copies of Windows we sold in Taiwan this month when there were millions of children without access to books?" In late 1999, John quit his executive position with Microsoft and started Room to Read.

With Room to Read, John sought to marry the corporate business practices he learned at Microsoft with an inspiring vision - to provide the lifelong gift of education to millions of children in the developing world. He contended that with 750 million illiterate adults worldwide and 100 million children without access to school, a non-profit "with the scalability of Starbucks and the compassion of Mother Theresa" was required.

To date, Room to Read operates in Nepal, Combodia, India, Laos, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and South Africa, has impacted lives of close to 1.5mn kids, has created over 4,100 schools and libraries, awards 3,400 scholarships to girls, has published 150 children's books in local languages...


insane scribbler said...

i wanted to email you, but could not locate your email address on the blog.
blogsjam is a new web-based blog reader, organized by channels.
your blog is included in blogsjam.

pl. check it out, and contact me at, if you have any questions.
we also have a cool widget, that will not only help get more
distribution for your blog,
but it can also be used to feature fresh and contextual posts on your blog.


mire said...

Thought your readers may like to know that the philanthropic/shopping site: is featuring Room to Read this month. People can raise money for this amazing group just by doing their regular shopping through the site. A percent of every sale will go to Room to Read.


william said...

Have we all forgot a few years ago this same cop's job was to do this at the middle school and he had to leave from there because he got caught messing around with a teacher. I was a student there around that time and he was always in that women's classroom.
Search Engine Optimization

james said...

i had checked all of your web site but couldnt find ur contact no. or ur address in would be gratefull if u could send me the address or the number of ur branch in nepal/katmandu.
my e-mail id is
thank-you n the work u are doing is great.May god alys be wit u.
thank-you again.

vik_di said...

This is very inspiring and probably a cue to follow your dreams.