Room to Read

World change starts with educated children.®


In 1998, John Wood, a hard-working Microsoft executive took a much needed trip to Nepal. While hiking in the Himalayas, John met an "Education photo424.jpgResource Officer" who invited him to visit a school in a neighbouring village. Upon reaching the school, John saw the harsh reality facing millions of Nepalese children. The school was old and decrepit and had a severe shortage of books- such a severe shortage that the few books it had were kept under lock and key to protect them from the children! As he left the village, the headmaster made a simple request: "Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books." John took action and contacted friends to help him collect books. After collecting over 3000 books, John and his father went to Nepal to deliver the books. Seeing the faces of the children with the books convinced John to leave the corporate world and so, in 1999 he quit his job at microsoft and devoted his time to charity, starting Room to Read. Beginning in Nepal, John and his Co-Founder, Dinesh Shrestha, started by working with rural communities to build schools and establish libraries.
John and Dinesh Shrestha quickly recognized the need to expand the scope of work beyond libraries and wanted to address the fact that many girls in the developing world are overlooked in the educational system due to cultural bias. For this reason, in 2000 Room to Read began the Girl's Education program which targets young girls and provides a long-term commitment to their education.
In 2001, Erin Ganju joined the team as Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer (now Chief Executive Officer) and was essential in Room to Read's expansion into Vietnam. It was at this point that the organization became officially "Room to Read." With growing demand for their programs, John and Erin worked together to further expanded their work to Cambodia in 2002, and then to India in 2003.
Because of the difficulty of finding children's books in local languages, Room to Read launched the Local Language Publishing program in 2003. With the success of this program, colourful books, written and illustrated by local authors and illustrators, together with donated English-language books, now fill the shelves of libraries and schools.
A year later Room to Read celebrated one of its first major milestones by opening its 1,000th library in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Later that year, just days after the December 24th Asian tsunami devastated thousands of villages, Room to Read made the bold decision to launch operations in Sri Lanka and help the community rebuild itself.
In 2005, Room to Read expanded into a sixth Asian country, Laos and, on September 2nd, it opened its 2,000th library, once again in Cambodia – less than 18 months after its 1,000th library ceremony. The end of 2005 was marked with another big milestone – the donation of Room to Read's millionth book!
Room to Read experienced another year of expansion in 2006 – both in awareness of the organization and geography of its work. John wrote a memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, which was published by Random House. This book was an important vehicle for sharing the Room to Read story and received extensive media coverage. It is now available in 18 languages through the world. Also in 2006, Room to Read finished a five-year strategic plan and expanded to a new continent – Africa. It expanded to South Africa in 2006, then to Zambia a year later.
Following major media exposure with John's appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007, Room to Read took another bold step at the Clinton Global Initiative by announcing a commitment to double its reach by building 10,000 bilingual libraries by the year 2010. Part of that commitment included launching the Room to Dream campaign to help reach that ambitious goal.
In 2008, Room to Read began laying plans for expansion into Bangladesh and successfully started operations there in 2009. Looking ahead to the next decade, in 2009 Room to Read conducted a strategic planning process to articulate its goals for the next decade and beyond. This plan, Envisioning Our Future: A Roadmp for Learning, was released in 2010 and presents Roo​m to Read's future vision and sharpens its focus on two objectives: Literacy and Gender Equality in Education.


These goals are taken directly from Room to Read's website (
Our Vision
Room to Read believes that World Change Starts with Educated Children. We envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education that enables them to reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world.
Our Mission
Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.
Strategic Statement
Our goal for the future is more ambitious than ever: to enable more than 10 million children in over a dozen developing world countries to maximize their educational experiences by 2015.
Attract and Retain Top-Caliber People: We seek to continue to attract and retain world-class talent to deliver our programs. Country teams will continue to be comprised of nationals from that country and will be supported and guided by our regional and global teams. Additionally, we will continue to build a movement by inspiring a vibrant, global volunteer chapter network and strengthening our high-caliber Board and Advisory Board.
Diversified and Engaged Funding Base: We seek to maximize our resources for the greatest impact in the communities where we work, and we aim for a donor base that is diverse in type and geographic location. We desire to have an energized and engaged donor base by creating a global movement around international education. We will continue to actively encourage a direct connection between our donors and our work and to portray a positive and optimistic view of the children and communities we serve.
Healthy and Efficient Organization: We are an action- and results-oriented international organization that is responsive to our wide network of global stakeholders. We work across country, regional and global levels in order to ensure mutual ownership of the end goal of educating more children. We maintain an efficient overhead ratio to ensure that at least 80 percent of our funding goes directly to our work, while at the same time investing in high-quality infrastructure that will support the long-term health and effectiveness of the organization. We strive to remain nimble so that we can make decisions in a timely manner to further our mission.

Over 300 million children around the world do not have access to education and most likely will never learn to read or write. Room to Read believes that all children, regardless of gender or background, have a right to education. By empowering children through this lifelong gift, we see a world in which people are able to realize their full potential.

Where in the Worldphoto946.jpg

Today, Room to Read operates in nine countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, South Africa and Zambia. However, in the future they plan to further expand into Asia and Africa, where there services are desperately needed. Room to Read currently provides services in these nine countries because they feel that these countries need the most help with their educational systems.

Success Stories

Room to read has helped over 4.1 million children to date by building 1129 schools, building 9196 libraries, distributing 7.4 million books and provided 8725 girls with scholarships. These numbers continue to rise even as you read this page. Room to Read is clearly very successful. Watch the video below in which John Wood, Room to Read's founder, speaks about its history and success, as well as his book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World
Currently Room to Read offers four main services to communities in need. They are:
- Reading Room Program - To establish libraries and stock them with local-language children’s books, original Room to Read titles, donated English-language books, games and furniture to create a child-friendly learning environment.
- Local Language Publishing Program - To source new content from local writers and illustrators and publish high-quality children's books in the local language to distribute throughout our networks.
- School Room Program - To partner with local communities to build schools so children can learn in a safe, child-friendly environment.
- Girls' Education Program - To provide long-term, holistic support enabling girls to pursue and complete their secondary education.

Project of Focus- School Room

School Room was one of Room to Read's first projects and still continues today it adresses the disturbing statistic that 75 million children do not attend primary school, let alone secondary school. In many third world countries, schools are run-down (even to the point that the buildings are unsafe) and over-crowded. Some children live hours away from the nearest school. Also found in these schools is a severe lack of educational resources. Unfortunately, none of this could be improved because the communities simply did not have enough money. The severity of this situation can be explained by the words of a Nepalese headmaster: "We are too poor to afford education. But untill we have education, we will always be poor."

Room to Read's School Room program works towards the rectification of this problem by: photo808.jpg
  • Constructing buildings or extra classrooms for primary and secondary schools which currently have unsafe structures or overcrowded classrooms.
  • Establishing a Room to Read library in most primary and secondary schools so students have access to enhanced educational materials.
  • Constructing preschools to build local capacity to prepare younger children for primary school.

School Room has been very successful so far and will continue giving third world citizens the education they need to be successful. So far, School Room has:
  • Partnered with local communities in five countries (Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam) to build 765 schools and 92 libraries as of July 2009. School Room has been launched in a sixth country, Zambia, this year.
  • Thousands of young students are now learning in safe, child-friendly environments that encourage their mental and physical development.
  • Through School Room, local communities are investing in their future by improving educational opportunities and access for their children.

School Room is a very important program because providing children with education is very important indeed. Without education, poverty is a vicious cycle, as explained by the Nepalese headmaster. Education is the only long-term solution to poverty. It provides children with hope and increases their chances of success by a huge amount. In the words of Nelson Mandela "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

Project Product

Fun Facts

Room to Read has made a difference by providing:
Books Published
Books Distributed
7.4 million
Girls' Scholarships
Children Benefited
4.1 million
Room to Read uses only 12.3% of their funding for administrative costs. The other 87.7% goes to charitable uses.

We chose Room to Read because it works to bring education to third-world contries. We feel education is the most important aspect in overcomeing poverty. Education is the only long-term solution to poverty (and a host of other problems) and the only thing capable of breaking the vicious circle of poverty. This vicious circle works as follows: no money means no education and no education means no money. We chose Room to Read becasue we wanted a charity that supported education and literacy because we feel education is the best long-term solution for many of the world's problems.