Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy by John Wood, Viking Books, 320 pages, $27.95, Hardcover, February 2013, ISBN 9780670025985
Some of us have a hard time turning our desire to “do good” into real action, which is why the option to donate to foundations active in doing good is so beneficial. This same desire to do good is what makes reading John Wood’s new book, Creating Room to Read, energizing. The former Microsoft executive has created a nonprofit with true impact, which at the same time provides a model for other do-gooders who want to do more than simply donate money.
Wood introduces Creating Room to Read with a summary of the circumstances—a “perfect storm” of sorts—that enabled and motivated him to launch Room to Read: supportive parents, an impressive career as an executive in one of the world’s largest software companies, and an epiphany after witnessing an almost total lack of fundamental literary tools at a Nepalese school. With Room to Read, Wood’s audacious goal is to give children worldwide access to literacy.
There is no single factor that Wood points to in accounting for the incredible growth and success of Room to Read, but there’s a recurring theme throughout his book, and it extends to the people that he’s hired: “ … most of them have been what I call GSD people. I lifted one of Room to Read’s early directives from my old boss Steve Ballmer: ‘Get sh** [sic] done!’” This modus operandi has proven so effective that Room to Read doubled their staff size in twelve months.
Wood also introduces a companion concept to GSD when he shares one of his ten laws of fund-raising: “No Money = No Mission.” Maybe the story of Room to Read is so exciting because it marries the benevolent nature of a non-profit with the intensely ambitious goal of the organization. For example, Wood’s chapter titled “The War on Overhead” reveals his organization to have the same scrappy countenance that you’d expect to find in well-organized and super-lean startups. Room to Read is run like a business, not like a charity—a word banished from organizational language.
The non-profit path is not for all, and the pool shallows dramatically when you introduce globe trekking to low-traffic regions in which the odds are poor of finding well-run schools. But when an organization can so completely break the mold of the traditional non-profit and see such quick and undeniable success, there are universal insights to be learned. Because of that, Creating Room to Read for do-gooders and profiteers alike.