John Wood (activist)

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John Wood
OrganizationRoom To Read
Notable work
Founder of Room To Read

John J. Wood (born January 29, 1964) is the Founder of Room to Read, a global non-profit organization focused on literacy and gender equality in education. He is 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 four-term member of the Clinton Global Initiative's Advisory Board and a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute.[3] Wood was selected for the inaugural class of Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum[4] and was awarded Microsoft's first "Alumni of the Year" award by Bill and Melinda Gates.[5] Wood has served on the Board of Directors for Net Impact and One Acre Fund, and is currently an Advisory Board member of Global Citizen Year,[6] New Story[7] and Possible Health.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] He has received honorary PhD's from McGill University,[11] the University of San Francisco, Westminster University,[12] and Wofford College.{{[13] cn}}

From 1991-1999, 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.[14]

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World[edit]

Wood took a vacation from his work at Microsoft in 1998 to trek through the Himalayas.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

A year later, Wood returned to the school with 3,000 books—all donated in response to his email appeal to friends and family.[17][18] 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 initially published in North America by Harper Collins in August 2006, and was subsequently published in 21 languages. It was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007, with "Oprah's Book Drive" for Room to Read raising over $3 million. The memoir was selected by the American Booksellers Association for its BookSense Notable Books List.[19] It was also named one of the Top Ten non-fiction books of 2006 by Hudson's Booksellers and a Top Ten business narrative of 2006 by The sequel—titled Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy was published by Penguin in February, 2013.

Room to Read[edit]

Wood co-founded Room to Read in 2001 with Dinesh Shrestha and Erin Ganju. 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.[20]

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.[21][22]

As of Q1 2016, Room to Read has led over 2,400 school infrastructure projects, opened over 18,000 libraries filled with 16 million books, and published over 1,200 original new local-language children's book titles with local authors and artists. There are over 37,000 girls who have benefited from participation in the organization's long-term girls education program.[20]

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.[23] 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.[24]

Television and Radio[edit]

Wood appears frequently on television and radio, with multiple appearances on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC's Squawk Box, Channel News Asia, CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, PBS and Tavis Smiley. He has also been profiled or interviewed on Charlie Rose, CBS Evening News, CTV (Canada), France24, Globo (Brazil), the Katie Couric Show, KQED, the Oprah Winfrey Show, Radio France International, WAMU (Kojo Nnamdi) WNYC (Leonard Lopate Show) and numerous others.

Published works[edit]

  • 'Hong Kong Helps Nepal - A Report from the Quake Zone" - South China Morning Post, July 2015, series of four daily posts from the field.[25]
  • Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy (Viking Penguin, 2013)[26]
  • It Began with Books—Newsweek, 2008 [27]
  • Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children. (Harper Collins, 2006)* 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)[28]
  • "The Ultimate Second Act," Stanford Social Innovation Review. (Summer 2009)[29]
  • 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)[30]


Wood has received the following honours:[31]

  • Northwestern University Alumni Association Service to Society Award, 2015[32]
  • World Children's Prize, for a "15 year fight for children's right to education", awarded by Queen Silvia of Sweden [33]
  • Goldman Sachs "100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs", 2013
  • Tribeca Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award for "Disruptive Innovation", 2012[34]
  • Forbes Impact30 List of the top social entrepreneurs[35]
  • Barron's list of the "25 Best Givers", 2009 and 2010
  • Inaugural winner of Microsoft Alumni of the Year award,presented by Bill and Melinda Gates
  • 2009 Asia Society Award For public service to Asia
  • Three-time speaker at the Clinton Global Initiative
  • Five-time winner of the Fast Company magazine and Monitor Group's Social Capitalist Award
  • Recipient of Time Magazine’s "Asian Heroes" Award, recognizing "20 People under 40 who have done something brave, bold, or remarkable" (the only non-Asian ever chosen for this honor)
  • Selected for the inaugural class of "Young Global Leaders" by the World Economic Forum
  • Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute[36]
  • Four-time winner of the Skoll Foundation Award for Social Innovation
  • Second recipient of the Draper Richards Fellowship[37]
  • Profiled by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) as one of "America’s Great Leaders"
  • Honorary doctorate in Education from McGill University, Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of San Francisco, with honorary PhD's also from Westminster College (2009) and Wofford College (2012). Wofford also honored Wood with the Sandor Tesler Human Rights award

Personal life[edit]

Wood lives with his wife Amy Powell in Hong Kong. He travels roughly 200 days per year for media, public speaking and fund-raising opportunities.[38] His Twitter ID is @johnwoodRTR and he currently has approximately 380,000 followers. His hobbies include running, skiing, hiking, travel, reading, and wine.[citation needed] He has run 13 marathons, traveled to over 50 countries, appeared as an extra in Law and Order and is currently working on his fifth book.


  1. ^ Wood, John, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World Archived 2009-09-04 at the Wayback Machine June 2008, Harper, ISBN 978-0-00-723703-6
  2. ^ John J. Wood
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ 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[...]"
  10. ^ "Room to Read - Board of Directors"
  11. ^
  12. ^,%202009.html
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b Wood, John, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World Archived 2009-09-04 at the Wayback Machine June 2008, Harper, page 261.
  15. ^ Wood, John, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World Archived 2009-09-04 at the Wayback Machine June 2008, Harper, pages 2-9.
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ Connolly, Norma, "Bricks and Books", South China Morning Post, January 23, 2006
  18. ^ Perrin, Andrew, "The Bold and the Young" John Wood, Read all about it", Time Asia, October 11, 2004
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b "Room to Read - About Us". Archived from the original on 2015-05-29. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
  21. ^ Whiting, Sam, "Room to read Sends Books Worldwide", San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2010
  22. ^ Room to Read Celebrates "Year of Tens"
  23. ^ John Wood on Charlie Rose (VIDEO)"
  24. ^ Whiting, Sam, "John Wood (Room to Read) Interview", Australian Literature Review, February 26, 2011
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Creating Room to Read"
  27. ^
  28. ^ "You Say You Want a Revolution?"
  29. ^ "The Ultimate Second Act"
  30. ^ "Memo to Billionaires"
  31. ^ "Bio of John J. Wood"
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ Whiting, Sam, "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World", Second Act, October 28, 2010 Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]