John Wood (activist)

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John Wood
Born 1964
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S
Organization Room To Read
Notable work Founder of Room To Read

John J. Wood (born January 1964) is the Founder of Room to Read, a global non-profit organization focused on literacy and gender equality in education. Room to Read works in ten countries in Asia and Africa, and has reached 10 million children. He is also the author of "Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy", Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children and the children's book Zak the Yak with Books on His Back.[1][2] He is a three-term member of the Clinton Global Initiative's Advisory Board and is a frequent lecturer at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and NYU's Stern School of Business.

Early life[edit]

John Wood was born in January 1964, in Hartford, Connecticut, where he spent his early childhood. His family later settled in Athens, Pennsylvania, where he attended high school.[3] He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado, and a master's degree in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.[4]

From 1991-1999, John Wood worked as an executive for Microsoft. His positions included Director of Marketing for Australia, Director of Marketing for the Asia-Pacific region and Director of Business Development for Greater China.[5]

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World[edit]

Cover of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

Wood took a vacation from his work at Microsoft in 1998 to trek through the Himalayas.[5] While trekking, he met a “resource director” for the schools in the Annapurna Circuit of Nepal, with whom he visited a primary school that contained 450 children and only a handful of books—none age-appropriate.[6] Upon seeing Wood's reaction to the lack of books, the school’s headmaster suggested, "Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books," which inspired Wood to solicit book donations from family and friends via email sent from an Internet cafe in Kathmandu.[7]

A year later, Wood returned to the school with 3,000 books—all donated in response to his email appeal to friends and family.[8][9] Soon thereafter, he left his job at Microsoft entirely to devote himself full-time to Books for Nepal, a side project that would eventually form the foundation for Room to Read.

Leaving Microsoft was published by Harper Collins in August 2006. It was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007, with "Oprah's Book Drive" for Room to Read raising over $3 million. Leaving Microsoft has been published in 21 languages. It was named one of the Top Ten non-fiction books of 2006 by Hudson's Booksellers and a Top Ten business narrative by The sequel was published by Penguin in February, 2013.

Room to Read[edit]

Wood officially co-founded Room to Read in 2001 with Dinesh Shrestha and Erin Ganju. Currently operating in ten countries throughout Asia and Africa (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia) the organization focuses on increasing literacy and gender equality in education in developing countries. Its programs develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.[10]

The organization celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2010, which included the opening of its 10,000th library, construction of its 1,000th school, and support of its 10,000th girl through the organization's Girls' Education program.[11][12]

As of Q4 2014, Room to Read has established over 1,850 schools and 16,800 libraries, distributed 14 million books, and published over 1,000 local-language children's books. In addition, there are over 28,000 girls who have benefitted from participation in the organization's long-term girls education program. [10]

Zak the Yak with Books on his Back[edit]

Wood authored his first children's book, Zak the Yak with Books on His Back, in 2010. The book, written in rhyme and illustrated by Nepali artist Abin Shrestha, tells the story of Room to Read in a manner accessible to school children. Wood has said that with the book he aims to inspire children to take action.[13] Self-published by Room to Read with costs underwritten by The Republic of Tea, all revenue from Zak the Yak goes directly to the organization's programs.[14]

Published Works[edit]

  • Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy (Viking Penguin, 2013)[15]
  • Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children. (Harper Collins, 2006)
  • "You Say You Want a Revolution?", GOOD Magazine. (January 26, 2009)[16]
  • "The Ultimate Second Act," Stanford Social Innovation Review. (Summer 2009)[17]
  • Zak the Yak with Books on His Back. (Publishing cost underwritten by The Republic of Tea, 2010)
  • "Memo to Billionaires--We're Ready for You." (with Matt Flannery of Kiva) (September 27, 2010)[18]

Awards and Distinctions[edit]

Wood has received the following honours:[19]

Personal life[edit]

John Wood currently lives in Hong Kong, traveling roughly 200 days per year on behalf of Room to Read.[21] His hobbies include skiing, running, hiking, reading, and wine. In June, 2014, he married Amy Powell, a wine entrepreneur and food writer who is currently employed as the Director of Public Relations for the Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong.

In 2012 Wood was featured, along with two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, in the documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide'. The series introduces women and girls living under very difficult circumstances and bravely fighting to challenge them. The Half the Sky PBS TV series is produced by Show of Force along with Fugitive Films. Wood was later features in "A Path Appears", the most recent book by Kristof and his Pulitzer Prize-winning wife, Sheryl Wu Dunn.


  1. ^ Wood, John, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World June 2008, Harper, ISBN 978-0-00-723703-6
  2. ^ John J. Wood
  3. ^ Thompson, Bob, "His Bottom Line: Educating the World's Kids", The Washington Post, September 9, 2006. Retrieved October 28, 2014. "[...]as he did seven years ago at age 35[...]"
  4. ^ "Room to Read - Board of Directors"
  5. ^ a b Wood, John, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World June 2008, Harper, page 261.
  6. ^ Wood, John, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World June 2008, Harper, pages 2-9.
  7. ^ Van Slambrouck, Paul, "Once a high-tech exec, he now shares his passion for reading in Asia and Africa", Christian Science Monitor, September 7, 2010
  8. ^ Connolly, Norma, "Bricks and Books", South China Morning Post, January 23, 2006
  9. ^ Perrin, Andrew, "The Bold and the Young" John Wood, Read all about it", Time Asia, October 11, 2004
  10. ^ a b Room to Read - About Us
  11. ^ Whiting, Sam, "Room to read Sends Books Worldwide", San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2010
  12. ^ Room to Read Celebrates "Year of Tens"
  13. ^ John Wood on Charlie Rose (VIDEO)"
  14. ^ Whiting, Sam, "John Wood (Room to Read) Interview", Australian Literature Review, February 26, 2011
  15. ^ "Creating Room to Read"
  16. ^ "You Say You Want a Revolution?"
  17. ^ "The Ultimate Second Act"
  18. ^ "Memo to Billionaires"
  19. ^ "Bio of John J. Wood"
  20. ^ "Malala Yousafzai, Indira Ram Nagar, John Wood nominated for Children's Nobel Prize 2014". IANS. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  21. ^ Whiting, Sam, "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World", Second Act, October 28, 2010

External links[edit]