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Book Review

Creating Room to Read

This is the inspirational story of a former Microsoft executive’s quest to build libraries and promote education around the world. At the age of 35, John Wood left a lucrative career at Microsoft to found Room to Read, an award-winning nonprofit that promotes education, gender equality, and literacy worldwide. Wood strived to bring the lessons of the corporate world to the nonprofit sector—and he succeeded spectacularly. He told the story of the startup in his first book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. In his new book, he tackles the organization’s next steps—the challenges of managing expansion while maintaining integrity; raising money in a collapsing economy; promoting gender equality through scholarships for girls; and changing the mission to include not just building libraries but publishing books for children who literally have no books in their native languages.

Thanks to Room to Read, over six million children in Asia and Africa now have books and schools, and their stories are the heart of this book. Wood shares the stories of children in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos whose educational systems are still suffering the after effects of war; the Sri Lankan students whose schools and villages were swept away in the tsunami; the Nepali children who had no books in a language they could read until Room to Read became a publisher as well as builder.

For educated Westerners, it is inconceivable to imagine a life without books, or to imagine children not being able to read at a 1st-grade level. Yet, there are 793 million people on our planet who cannot read. Because a vast majority of those live in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, this issue is easy for the first world to ignore. Yet that neglect can lead to health crises, sexual exploitation, damaged self-worth, and even environmental degradation and collapsed economies. But there is hope.

People at the highest levels of finance, government, and philanthropy should embrace Wood’s inspiring business model and blueprint for how to do good the right way, in partnership with the people being served. Others will appreciate this book for its spellbinding story of one man’s mission to put books within every child’s reach.