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.'
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In order not to crimp his voracious reading habit, the library boosted his limit to 12 and John went on his merry way, gobbling up books the way most children do candy.
It's little wonder that today this successful social entrepreneur likes nothing more than a globe-wrapping airplane flight. It offers the ideal cocoon for a good read.
Mr. Wood gets lots of airborne reading time these days as founder of Room to Read, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has spent the past decade building children's libraries and promoting literacy and education in some of the world's poorest regions. He averages five long-distance trips per year to visit the program's operations in Asia and southern Africa.
Under his tutelage, Room to Read has grown into a $30 million per year venture.
Despite his love for books, there is nothing bookish about Wood. A distance runner with a fondness for the outdoors, Wood was on a self-guided trek across Nepal in 1998 when his future veered from the more conventional path he had forged as a Microsoft marketing executive.
On Day 1 of a 21-day trek, Wood had a chance meeting with a local education official. As they chatted at a teahouse, the official extended an invitation to visit a local school. Off they went the next morning.
While Wood was touched by the meagerness of the school's resources, he was positively heartbroken by what passed for its library: The ragged collection of castoff books was kept under lock and key, so precious to the school were its contents.
As recounted in Wood's 2006 book "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World," the headmaster looked at Wood and wondered out loud, "Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books."
Come back he did. First with his father, Woody, and a donkey train of nearly 1,000 pounds of books. And then as founder of an ambitious nonprofit program to provide books, schools, and libraries in Nepal. The program has since expanded into Southeast Asia, India, and southern Africa. South America may be next.
"The hardest thing is that there are 50 more countries that need Room to Read," says Wood, who works in a corner office in one of San Francisco's most elegant old downtown office buildings.
Comfortably dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, Wood makes clear he has little time for a "small is beautiful" approach to his mission. "I want an organization with the heart of Mother Teresa and the scalability of Starbucks," he says.
Room to Read, which opened its 10,000th library earlier this year, raises all of its funds from private donors and foundations. It has no endowment.