At age 35, John Wood left an executive career track at Microsoft Corporation to form Room to Read, a nonprofit organization that “combines the heart of Mother Theresa with the scalability of Starbucks” to help children across the developing world break the cycle of poverty through the power of education. Razor-sharp business acumen honed at Microsoft, combined with a passion to change the world, makes Wood a unique, inspiring and popular speaker with universal appeal.
Wood founded Room to Read out of deep concern that nearly one billion people lack basic literacy and that over 200 million children in the developing world are not enrolled in school. “I was blessed with a solid education, which was a wonderful foundation for my future. As a result, I had a great career at a company that encourages people to dream big dreams. I started Room to Read as a way to give that same opportunity to children in the world’s poorest places. Education is a hand up, not a hand out. It is within our power to be the generation that ends poverty, so we need to think big and execute flawlessly.”
Since its start in 2000, Room to Read has sponsored the opening of more than 1,100 schools and 9200 multi-lingual libraries across the developing world. The organization has distributed over 7.4 million children’s books in multiple languages and supports nearly 8,800 girls with long-term scholarships. Wood describes these results as “total tip of the iceberg” as Room to Read plans to increase this literacy network to 20,000 libraries and schools serving at least 10 million children by the year 2015. The organization currently operates in nine countries in Asia and Africa, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, South Africa and Zambia.
In his award-winning memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, Wood tells the story of how he raised over $80 million of financial commitments from a “standing start” to develop one of the fastest-growing non-profits in history. The book was described by Publishers’ Weekly in a starred review as “an infectiously inspiring read.” Now in its 14th printing and translated into 20 languages, it is popular with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, educators, and internationalists alike, and was selected by Amazon.com as one of the “Top Ten Business Narratives of 2006” and voted by Hudson Booksellers as a “Top Ten Nonfiction title of 2006.” The book was also featured during Wood’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the resulting “Oprah’s Book Drive” with Room to Read raised over $1 million from viewers. Because of the positive response from viewers, the show has re-aired on numerous occasions.
During his career at Microsoft, Wood ran significant parts of the company’s international business divisions, including positions as: Director of Marketing for the Asia-Pacific Division; Director of Marketing for Microsoft Australia; and Director of Business Development for the Greater China region.
Wood holds a master’s in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, a BS in finance from the University of Colorado, and honorary doctorates in humane letters from the University of San Francisco and Westminster University.