Equal access to education for the world’s children remains a challenge, despite initiatives by national and international governmental bodies to eliminate disparities due to gender and socioeconomic status.
Room to Read is one organization that is making a difference in the education of children around the globe. It was founded in 1999 by John Wood, after a trek through Nepal where he visited several local schools. He was amazed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the students and teachers, but also saddened by the shocking lack of resources. Wanting to help, he quit his senior executive position with Microsoft and built a global team to work with rural villages to help solve their educational challenges.
In 2001, Room to Read co-founder and CEO Erin Ganju spearheaded Room to Read’s expansion into Vietnam. Since then, the organization’s operations have expanded to include Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zambia. From its founding, Room to Read Room has made a significant impact. Here are some of the impressive statistics its programs have amassed during this 11 year period:
- Schools – 1,450
- Libraries – 12,522
- Books published – 591
- Books distributed – 10 million
- Girls’ education participants – 13,667
- Total number of children benefited – 6.0 million
TEDxBerkeley – Erin Ganju – Scaling Social Good
The key to its success, says Ganju, is “know what you do, and do it well.” In an article for Bloomberg Businessweek, she identifies 5 key factors that have helped Room to Read to grow into the $30 million plus organization it is today, in a scalable and sustainable manner.
- Focus, measure, improve – Room to Read has kept its focus squarely on children’s education and literacy, avoiding the temptation to tackle too broad an agenda of social issues. Acting in much the same manner as any successful business, the organization carefully monitors what is and isn’t working, making adjustments where necessary.
- Innovation – Room to Read has been an innovator is bringing books to children around the world. Early on, it realized it wouldn’t be able to supply books in all the languages required to achieve its goals. It teamed up with the Skoll Foundation and through a grant provided by them set up Local Language Publishing which hired local authors and illustrators to create the books it needed. As a result, it has become one of the world’s largest publishers of children’s books in Asia.
- Empower local people – The organization works with local people on the development and implementation of its programs, knowing this is the only way to build in long-term sustainability.
- Think big – Room to Read is trying to tackle illiteracy for more than 759 million people around the globe, two-thirds of whom are women and girls. The key to “achieving big” in this case is building models that governments and other non-profits can replicate around the world.
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate – The organization has partnered with the likes of Republic of Tea, Twitter, Credit Suisse and the Financial Times to help build its global network of educational resources.
Through its passionate but business-like approach to global illiteracy, Room to Read has pioneered a new brand of social entrepreneurship that may well become the standard for other socially conscious not-for-profits to emulate.