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Room to Read: Winner's Statement

Social Capitalists

Room to Read

Room to Read's mission is to provide underprivileged children with an opportunity to gain the lifelong gift of education. The cornerstone of this organization is the fundamental belief that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and taking control of one's own life.

The organization was founded by former Microsoft executive, John Wood. During a trek to Nepal, he was introduced to a nation with a 70% illiteracy rate, numerous dilapidated schools, and barren libraries across the country. Immediately, he made a commitment to return to Nepal with enough books to stock his host village's library. Wood's initial promise in 1998 laid the foundation for the organization that became Room to Read.

Room to Read's efforts are currently focused in Cambodia, India, Nepal, and Vietnam: countries with a desperate lack of resources to educate their children. A clear focus on results drives this organization. In the past four years, over 1,200 libraries, 109 schools, and 45 computer and language labs have been established. Room to Read has also facilitated over 400,000 book donations, most recently publishing 23 local language children's books in the Khmer, Hindi, and Nepali languages. This publishing venture not only fills an extreme void in local children's literature, but supports the publishing industries in Nepal, Cambodia, and India. In addition, Room to Read targets the overwhelming number of girls who are left out of the education system in these countries due to the lack of family resources. The Room to Grow Scholarship Program now provides over 900 long-term scholarships to girls who would otherwise not have the opportunity to attend school.

Room to Read's challenge grant model is essential to the effectiveness of their programs. The participating villages must first initiate a request for a Room to Read school, library, computer lab, or scholarship program. Once considered, the villages must commit to provide a portion of the resources for the project. Often times this comes in the form of donated land, labor, or materials. As a direct result of this community investment, Room to Read ensures the long term sustainability of each endeavor. The students witness their elders' involvement in the process and, in turn, do not view Room to Read's support as a gift solely from foreigners. Ultimately, this organization empowers villages in these developing countries to help themselves, securing longevity and local control over their education system.

Room to Read seeks to avoid a "one size fits all" model. A key factor in their successful international development is the employment of effective local teams. Room to Read relies on program officers native to each country who are personally invested in their nation's educational progress and are familiar with local customs, governments, and methods of achieving success. Through these talented people, the organization tailors its development approach to meet the needs of the local communities. Some villages lack schools, others need libraries or computer labs, and some require help sending young girls to school.

Room to Read operates in a no-frill, low-overhead environment. Their contributors know that when they adopt a project, 94% of their invested dollars go directly into program rather than a wasted bureaucracy. Just as he was in the corporate world, John Wood is an efficient, results-oriented leader. His vision for the future is simple: to continue to bring the opportunity of education to as many children as possible with an ultimate goal of reaching ten million children by the year 2020. As Andrew Carnegie created a library infrastructure here in the United States, John Wood is on a mission to create a similar foundation in developing nations that will pay dividends for generations to come.

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The above information was provided by the profiled organization.