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Social Capitalists: Room to Read

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
2007 Social Capitalist Winner

Room to Read

San Francisco, California
Founded: 2000
CEO: John Wood
www.roomtoread.org

Room to Read partners with local communities throughout the developing world to establish schools, libraries, and other educational infrastructure. We seek to intervene early in the lives of children in the belief that education is a lifelong gift that empowers people to ultimately improve socioeconomic conditions for their families, communities, countries, and future generations. Through the opportunities that only an education can provide, we strive to break the cycle of poverty, one child at a time. Organizational efforts are currently focused on Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam--all countries with a desperate lack of resources to adequately educate their children.

Room to Read is a dynamic, results-oriented organization. Since our inception in 2000, Room to Read has reached an estimated 990,000 children by building 197 schools, establishing over 2,900 libraries, and publishing 77 new local language children's titles representing over 700,000 books. Room to Read has also donated over 1.2 million English language children's books, established 92 computer and language labs and funded more than 2,000 long-term girls' scholarships.

John Wood, Room to Read's founder and CEO, quit his senior executive position with Microsoft to launch Room to Read after a trek through Nepal changed his life. John sought to weave proven corporate business practices with his inspiring vision to provide educational access to 10 million children in the developing world. His novel approach to non-profit management called for scalable, measured, sustainable results, low-overhead, challenge grants fostering community ownership and sustainability as well as strong local staff and partnerships.

Utilizing this business model, Room to Read has developed a holistic, multi-pronged approach to help children in the developing world gain the lifelong gift of education. With the School Room Program, Room to Read partners with villages to build schools utilizing active community challenge grants. The Reading Room Program establishes bi-lingual libraries and fills them with donated English books and local language books, creating a colorful space with posters, games, and child-friendly furniture. The Local Language Publishing Program employs local writers and illustrators, and publishes high-quality children's books. The Computer and Language Room Program provides labs to students with vocational skills and employment access, and the Room to Grow Girls' Scholarship Program funds long-term girls' scholarships.

To increase the likelihood for success and long-term sustainability, Room to Read enlists community involvement and co-investment through our Challenge Grant model. Villages often raise a significant portion of the overall expenditure and provide dedicated space (land or an existing room), labor, materials and/or small amounts of cash. These challenge grants act as catalysts for community building while also maximizing the local participation and expertise to ensure our programs are run efficiently and effectively.

A key aspect of our ability to achieve results is our local staff. We hire local people who are personally vested in their nation's educational progress and we empower them to make key programmatic decisions within their country. They are already familiar with the language, conditions, customs and governments and understand the specific needs of the educational system and work to ensure that we craft new solutions to existing problems.

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