JOHN WOOD is the founder of Room to Read, an organization that believes World Change Starts with Educated Children. Room to Read envisions a world in which all children can pursue a quality education that enables them to reach their full potential and contribute to their communities and the world.
At age 35, John left his position as Director of Business Development for Microsoft’s Greater China region to found Room to Read.
John’s award-winning memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children tells how he raised millions from a “standing start” to develop one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in history. The book was described by Publishers’ Weekly in a starred review as “an infectiously inspiring read.” Translated into 20 languages, it is popular with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and educators alike, and was selected by Amazon.com as one of the Top Ten Business Narratives of 2006 and voted a Top Ten Nonfiction title of 2006 by Hudson Booksellers. The book was also featured during John’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the resulting “Oprah’s Book Drive” with Room to Read raised over $3 million from viewers.
John’s follow up book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy, tells the story of how the organization successfully tackled the next steps of scaling beyond his wildest dreams while maintaining integrity and raising money in a collapsing economy.
John has been named by Goldman Sachs as one of the world’s 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs, has been a three-time speaker at the Clinton Global Initiative and is a five-time winner of Fast Company Magazine’s Social Capitalist Award. He has been honored by Time Magazine’s “Asian Heroes” Award, selected as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum, is a Lifetime Achievement Honoree of the Tribeca Film Festival’s Disruptive Innovation Awards, and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. He was selected by Barron’s as one of the “25 Best Givers” in 2009 and 2010, ranking 11th and 9th on the list, respectively. In 2014, John won the World’s Children’s Honorary Award Laureate through the World’s Children’s Prize, the annual educational program for the rights of the child and democracy—often called the Children’s Nobel Prize. In recognition of his passion to open libraries for the most under-served populations, he was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “the Andrew Carnegie of the developing world.”
John also serves on the advisory board of the Clinton Global Initiative and New Story.
Since 2000, Room to Read has impacted the lives of ten million children across Asia and Africa through its programs in Literacy and Girls’ Education. It aims to reach 15 million children by 2020.
3 words to describe Nature?
Best. Thing. Ever.
3 things Nature taught you?
Take time from work to enjoy it.
Stay in shape, stay young.
3 most treasured Nature spots?
Annapurna Circuit of Nepal, because a hike there inspired the formation of Room to Read
Any hiking trail in my adopted home city of Hong Kong
When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel...?
Grateful to live near it.
When you see a forest, it makes you feel...?
Like I need to put on my hiking or running shoes, grab my wife Amy, and get out there!
When you see a volcano, it makes you feel...?
Assuming it’s dormant, like climbing to the top. If active, then reminds me that I need to update my will ☺
When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel...?
I’m hugely nocturnal, so sunrises not happening for me. Sunset makes me do a reality check on whether I’ve accomplished all the work goals I’ve had that day, and if not, to get on it.
When you hear thunder, it makes you feel...?
Like I need to grab a good book, lie on the sofa, and enjoy the warmth and security
When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel...?
Like I should be out hiking
Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?
The latter 3, impossible to decide
On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?
10. I globe-trot constantly for Room to Read, and in every city I always try to find Nature, and of course build my holidays in places like the Dolomites and Namibia and Nepal so that I can over-dose on it.
Share with us a childhood nature memory?
The first time I skied in Colorado I knew that I needed to abandon dreams of university on the east coast, and so I ended up having four very happy years at the University of Colorado in Boulder.