After a trek in the Himalayas brought him face-to-face with extreme poverty and illiteracy, John Wood left his position as a director of business development at Microsoft to found Room to Read, an award-winning international education organization. Under his leadership, more than 1.7 million children in the developing world now have access to enhanced educational opportunities. Room to Read to date has opened 725 schools and 7,000 bilingual libraries, and funded more than 7,000 scholarships for girls. Wood talked with Knowledge@Wharton about the launch of Room to Read, the book he wrote called Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and his personal definition of success.
Knowledge@Wharton: Our guest today is John Wood, founder of Room to Read. John, thank you so much for joining us.
John Wood: Thank you.
Knowledge@Wharton: I read your book back in 2006. You began it with the epiphany you had during your trip to Nepal which inspired you to do what you’re doing now and led to the creation of Room to Read. Can you tell us a little bit about that story?
Wood: Certainly. The book is called Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. The nice thing is I got that title before Bill Gates could get that title for his book, because, of course, Bill has now left Microsoft and is going to do amazing things to change the world through the Gates Foundation. My own personal journey to devoting my life to education was undertaken because, in so many places where I’ve traveled, whether it be post-Apartheid South Africa or post-Khymer Rouge Cambodia or the mountains of Nepal, you just find so many kids who have so little opportunity to gain the gift of education. To me, it just seemed like a very cruel Catch-22, that you would meet people who say, “We are too poor to afford education, but until we have education, how will we ever not be poor.” Throughout places I traveled, be it India, Nepal, Cambodia or Vietnam, I kept meeting kids who wanted to go to school but they couldn’t afford it. I would have kids ask me for a pencil. I thought, “How could something so basic be missing?”