This post is part of a series of interviews with international educators, policy makers, and leaders titled “One Good Question.” These interviews provide answers to my One Good Question (outlined in About) and uncover new questions about education’s impact on the future.
In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation’s role in the world?
Room to Read was founded 15 years ago as a little unknown startup. We boil our belief down to six simple words : World change starts with educated children. We truly believe that if you want to change the future, the biggest no brainer in the world, you start with educating your children. Traditionally, for parents, that means your own children. Those who have been given the gift of education then have an obligation to give back to kids in low-income countries. We have a duty to give back and an opportunity to change things forever. We all have an ancestor who was the one to break the cycle of poverty for our family. Once that cycle is broken, the benefit pays forward for generations. To me, you look at the world today with over 100,000,000 children not in schools, and 2/3 are girls and women. If you want to change the world, then education is the smartest place to start.
Literacy and primary education have dramatic positive impact on life expectancy, overall health, and ending cycle of extreme poverty in developing nations. Beyond making books and reading accessible, the Room to Read model has created complex local education ecosystems that are highly responsive to local needs. What else does the ecosystem need to be sustainable for all children?
One of the most important things is that the communities we work with are fully invested in each and every project that we do. It’s not plunking something down for them to use, but co-building something the community is co-invested in. We also need the government to be co-invested in the projects and have some skin in the game as well. Our model is one of local employees, it’s not Americans flying over to do durable projects and telling local people what to do. It’s local community buy-in as employees, volunteers, parents in the planning committee, and then the government providing the teachers and the librarians and paying their salaries. As a result of that ecosystem, and we have the data to prove it, the model is more sustainable over time.
How are you getting government engagement ? What strategies could other international education NGOs adopt ? For us, we had to prove that we had a scalable model. Government doesn’t want to work with an NGO unless they have a big vision, a scalable model, resources, and can impact serious scale. That’s what we’ve been able to deliver with the governments. Too many folks want to do one-off projects. What we’re saying is that we can invest impact change at the town, region, even national level.
John’s One Good Question: My question is simple. If we know that education is the best way to change the future, and to impact subsequent generations, then why is the world not doing more about the fact that over 750 million people lack basic literacy?
John Wood is the founder of Room to Read. He started Room to Read after a fast-paced and distinguished career with Microsoft from 1991 to 1999. He was in charge of marketing and business development teams throughout Asia, including serving as director of business development for the Greater China region and as director of marketing for the Asia-Pacific region. John continues to bring Room to Read a vision for a scalable solution to developing global educational problems with an intense focus on results and an ability to attract a world-class group of employees, volunteers, and funders. Today, John focuses full-time on long-term strategy, capital acquisition, public speaking, and media opportunities for the organization. John also teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and New York University’s Stern School of Business and serves on the Advisory Board of the Clinton Global Initiative. John holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree from the Kellogg School of Northwestern University. Follow John on Twitter @JohnWoodRtR.