Creating Room to Read by John Wood
Building 10,000 libraries around the world, in places where the concept was almost non-existent, is like the biggest ‘Punya’ that you can do. Giving children the ability to change their own destiny and giving them the power to impact other’s lives is a cause that towers above most other forms of charity – at least in my mind. John Wood is the celebrated personality behind the ‘Room to Read’ movement. In this book Creating Room to Read, he talks about his journey that began with a trek in Nepal and has reached this magic figure of 10,000 in a short period of few years.
He used every management principle under the sun and his personal experience of working with Microsoft to run Room to Read. The way he scaled up and expanded operations while managing the required funding for doing so makes a great case study for all kinds of businesses and NGOs.
It is a very smartly and comprehensively written book. It talks about children who embraced reading and used libraries to change their lives. About the challenge–grant model where the organization challenges a community to invest in themselves before they give funds to build libraries and schools. It takes you through the countries they have been to and brings you closer to their realities. Which may be very different from your own. To tell you the gravity of the situation in a way that you would run to sign a check for them. It talks about the benevolent patrons and supporters who not only contributed by funding but also in some innovative ways like someone donating their frequent flier miles. Some donating extra rooms in their hotels. Others letting use empty flights run a co-campaign. Some by holding their hand while they were down a bit.
It also talks about people who committed large funds but never bothered to put their words into action. Which resulted in all their plans go haywire. John Wood also talks about dealing with such situations at the level of emotions. It talks about finding the right local people in the geographies that they operate in. And the importance of having a team that is as passionate about the cause as you are. He talks about his key management mantra ‘Get Shit Done’ or GSD throughout the book. How that is like an organization DNA for them now. The author talks about the rigor that they go through while picking up new people for their team. It talks about focusing on impact and effectiveness when he talks about publishing in local languages.
In a single book, John Wood manages to touch your emotions talking about children in remote corners of the world. He teaches you some management principles that worked for him and would hopefully work for others too. He puts light on the challenges he faces while running Room to Read. John Wood also evokes sympathy and finally, he manages to give hope for a more equitable world a generation later.
I am sure there were failures and pitfalls that John Wood chose not to write about. But I would leave it as his prerogative.
I would strongly recommend this book Creating Room to Read to people running NGOs and social enterprises; there are many lessons for you out there. Others should also find it interesting and inspiring.