Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Difference Maker

Once a high-tech exec, he now shares his passion for reading in Asia and Africa.

John Wood has turned his love of books, reading, and education into more than 10,000 libraries through 'Room to Read.'

(Page 2 of 2)

Wood's technology background and entrepreneurial bent has made his work particularly appealing to the philanthropists who emerged from the dotcom boom of the 1990s. Earlier this year Tim Koogle, Yahoo's founding CEO and now president of his own foundation, joined Wood on a trek in Nepal to celebrate Room to Read's 10-year anniversary.

Skip to next paragraph

What Mr. Koogle noticed was how Wood and Room to Read had earned "great credibility" thanks to a track record of delivering on promises. "John so fundamentally believes in what he's doing that his story and the model he has developed are very clear and attractive," says Koogle, whose foundation has supported Room to Read.

The Skoll Foundation, founded by former eBay president Jeff Skoll, is also a big supporter of Room to Read. The foundation made a major pledge of more than $1 million in 2006. The three-years of funding were followed by a thorough assessment of the organization last year by Skoll's staff.

"We found it to be one of the top-­performing programs in our entire portfolio," says Skoll program officer Ana Zacapa. She applauds Room to Read's willingness to innovate, its use of local staff to run its programs, and its imaginative funding programs, which include volunteer-run chapters in 45 cities around the world.

"Tight fisted" might also belong on that list of attributes donors like. Wood makes a habit at fund-raising speeches to ask audience members to donate their frequent-flyer miles, with the result that he almost never pays for his travel. He asks for, and receives, donated office space and lodgings. He likes to tell hotel executives that donating a room for one night saves Room to Read enough money to fund a school scholarship for a girl in Asia for one year.

Wood's Nepalese founding partner, Dinesh Shrestha, was instrumental in pushing the idea of incorporating more girls into the group's educational programs.

To date, Room to Read has built more than 1,000 schools and funded nearly 9,000 scholarships for young girls. Literacy for girls has become a focal point, as has publishing in local languages.

Wood sees education as the path out of poverty, but he understands that it isn't a quick fix. "Education is such a long-term arc. It has a 20-year horizon," he says.

"Part of the problem with the aid world is that it's so focused on the short term. No one gets out of poverty on foreign aid. It's always education."

• For more stories about people making a difference, go here.

 Related story: Babar Ali, just a teenager himself, has started a free school in his parents' backyard for the poorest children in his village in India's West Bengal region.