Meet John Wood, the World’s Biggest Literacy Hero

In an exclusive interview, the founder of Room to Read talks about his fascinating new book.
Today, Wood is a global ambassador dedicated to growing Room to Read and spreading the word about the organization. (Photo c/o Room to Read)
Feb 21, 2013
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

In just 13 years, Room to Read has given away 12 million books and opened 15,000 libraries in the developing world. This is a pretty remarkable feat, yet founder John Wood feels he and his team have just scratched the surface.

In a recent interview, Wood said when Room to Read reaches ten million kids in 2015, they "will probably celebrate for a night, then take a deep breath" and ask themselves how they can reach 20 million and then 30 million kids.

A comment such as this gives us a glimpse into the mind of John Wood—a tireless rainmaker who left his cushy job at Microsoft to make sure millions of children across the developing world learn to read.

Wood chronicled the beginning of his adventure in the book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and has just published his second book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy. This book, he said, "is about taking the organization to scale."

It is a blueprint for eager young minds who want to become agents of change and exposes what's gone right and what's gone wrong along the way.

The heart of the story, however, lies with the children touched by Room to Read. There are kids in Zambia, Nepal, Cambodia and several other countries who perhaps would have never learned to read if it wasn't for John Wood.

In the book, Wood quotes Mulenga, a little girl in Zambia who said she was forever grateful that she got to be "inside the school learning, not outside of it being jealous of those lucky enough to go."

In Zambia, Wood said, four out of five girls do not make it past seventh grade.

Wood feels that literacy is a "foundational" and "critical" issue when it comes to education. "A child who cannot read, a child who cannot write, and a child who cannot comprehend what they're reading is not going to be able to keep up in school," Wood said.

"Literacy is overlooked as an issue in the developed world," he said, "because 98 percent of the illiterate people in the world today are in developing countries."

This is why Room to Read is active in ten developing countries with plans to expand.

Wood spoke passionately about giving children a chance to succeed in our interview and when asked if he had one wish, without skipping a beat, he said:

"I wish we could create a world where no child will ever again be told you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you therefore did not get educated."

At Room to Read, he said, they believe this idea "belongs on the scrap heap of human history" and he and his team "intend to put it there."

Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee |

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