I became a monthly donor over the past year and am very glad I did.
WHY I BECAME A MONTHLY DONOR
Last year I discovered a moving story about a Microsoft executive, John Wood, who came upon a school library in rural Nepal with no books in it – and no money to buy books for the children who attended the school.
John grew up loving books and it broke his heart to see a school and a library, but no books for the children.
So John came back the next year and hand-delivered over 3,000 donated books to village schools in Nepal. The excitement and gratitude from the the children, teachers and the community was overwhelming for him.
This profound experience inspired him to quit his job at Microsoft and start the international non-profit organization Room to Read. You can learn more about John’s story from his best-selling book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and his many videos and talks.
NOT TOTALLY SOLD YET
This is a great story about the start of Room to Read – a tremendous achievement by John Wood and his co-founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha.
But I was not totally sold – until I read about the next big step they took.
As they started to bring books to school libraries, and in many cases creating libraries where none existed, they found that there were almost no books written for young children in their own language.
In many cases, no books had ever even been published. Almost none existed.
I was shocked when I read about this. And so were the Room to Read founders. I wanted to learn why.
The founders discovered that for many of the parents, in the developing countries where Room to Read works, there is no money to buy books. What little money they have goes to food and basic necessities for survival. And because there are so few people to buy such books, almost none are written or published. There is no market for them.
To move past this big obstacle, the Room to Read founders decided to do the publishing themselves. No one else was doing this, so they jumped right in. This is what John Wood calls GSD or getting shit done.
They realized that local language books are necessary to help children develop the skills and habits of reading. As Erin Ganju said, “That’s how children learn to read – by starting with the language they hear spoken in their home environment.”
The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has emphasized local language learning as a top priority.
GO GO GO
To get this publishing started, the Room to Read founders knew they wanted to set up local people to create these books, which would help local economies.
First, they scouted for local talent and were surprised at the vigorous response. As John Wood wrote, “Once word got out that Room to Read was willing to pay local authors and artists, we had sixty-seventy manuscript submissions within the first month.”
The next step was to set up workshops to help budding authors and artists with training in writing, illustration and editing. Then the publishing program was off and running.
Co-founder Dinesh Shrestha described what happened: “We published fourteen books during the first two years: I was so so happy. In Nepal, we single-handedly created a market for children’s picture books. All those commercial publishers who didn’t agree with me are now producing similar books.”
John was just as excited. “Within three years, our teams in Cambodia, Laos, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam were producing more than a hundred new and original titles each year, using local authors and artists.” GSD can really make things happen.
This put me over the top.
I WAS ALL IN NOW
And there is more good news. Books developed in partnership with Room to Read are regularly recognized for their superior quality, winning several national book awards.
In 2011, the UN acknowledged Room to Read’s contribution to children’s book publishing with the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy.
In 2020, Room to Read was one of three Library of Congress Literacy Award winners.
Room to Read also supports the local publishing industry by producing those children’s books entirely in-country — purchasing materials locally and partnering with local printers.
By fostering local talents’ ability to create effective children’s books and by publishing them in-country, Room to Read is encouraging low-income regions to build their capacity to publish high-quality, local language children’s books on their own.
This is not just a win for children and teachers. This is a big win for the whole community.
Here is a video about how Room to Read worked with Dubai Cares, and local publishers to develop 20 new children’s titles that both Jordanians and refugees could connect with. 600,000 copies of these Arabic children’s books would later land in every primary school in Jordan, as well as in refugee camps and communities.
And there is even more, much more.
For example, Room to Read promotes gender equality through direct mentoring and support with their Girls Education Program.
Room to Read is well-known for its emphasis on using almost every dollar to help the children it serves. John Wood makes fun of his organization thriftyness in claiming they have no Range Rovers at Room to Read.
Room to Read is well-known for its business development skills. This is illustrated in Erin Ganju (co-founder) and Eric Heyman’s excellent book, Scaling social change: A social entrepreneurs guide to surviving the start-up phase and driving impact.
Scaling Global Change provides social entrepreneurs with the strong organizational foundation they need to change the world. Through the story of Room to Read, one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in the last 18 years, this book features clear, real-world lessons for growing a non-profit or social enterprise, with special insight into girls’ education and literacy programming in lower-income countries.
I could go on and on about why I became a fan and monthly donor – and I will. Please check out my ongoing blog, A Warm Heart for many details and warm inspiration to come.
Until next time.