Room to Read founder John Wood to speak at SMU
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 00:02
John Wood took a trip to Nepal in 1998 that would not only change his life but also the lives of millions.
Wood, a former executive at Microsoft, was inspired by a Nepalese headmaster to raise money for an impoverished rural school.
From this inspiration, he started an organization called Books for Nepal, which delivered books to poor schools in the region.
“[The] schools are hopeful but rather pathetic — dirt floors and crowded classrooms,” Wood said. “Until we can get education for every kid, they are going to remain poor.”
Books for Nepal eventually expanded into Room for Read, an international non-profit that builds libraries and schools in a number of countries, including India, South Africa, Vietnam, Tanzania and Bangladesh.
Wood will tell his story and the story of Room to Read on Feb. 6 in Hughes-Trigg Auditorium. The event will kick off his book tour for his second book, “Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy.”
Room to Read has built 1,566 schools and 14,627 libraries. The organization estimates that it has benefitted 7.8 million children and distributed 12.1 million books.
Wood believes that literacy and gender equality in education are key to solving poverty.
“If you look at the supply chain of poverty, it stems back to the fact that 800 million people cannot read or write,” Wood said.
International organizations have tried many strategies to try to solve the development gap — a divide between developed countries and less developed countries in income, health and education.
Wood thinks that the solution is simpler than many make it out to be.
“I’m incredulous that people think poverty is hard to solve,” he said.
After guaranteeing healthcare access, proper vaccination and access to clean water, Wood said there is just one hurdle in his way to greatly alleviating poverty: education.
“Educated people can solve their own problems,” Wood said.
Room to Read uses a holistic approach when building new schools and libraries.
“We want our libraries and schools to be part of the existing system,” Wood said.
Room to Read requires government support and community involvement whenever it starts a new project.
“It could be sweat equity from parents or teacher’s salaries from the government,” Wood said.
Perhaps most importantly, Wood said, Room to Read believes in localized decision-making — a trait not common among development organizations.
“Every key decision is made by our local staff,” Wood said. “We don’t have a bunch of expats driving around in Land Rovers.”
For Wood, no experience is better than watching the opening of a school or library.
“Being in a village somewhere in the back of beyond and seeing the hope, watching the kids dive into a new world is the best part,” Wood said. “It’s what hope looks like when you get to see a schoolhouse or library opening.”
He hopes SMU students will share his thirst for action.
“I love speaking on college campuses. Students want to be part of the solution. They don’t want to read about the problems.”