Room to Readers ―― Room to Read代表 ジョン・ウッドからオルタナ読者へ(2)

Dear Alterna Readers,

There are many kinds of charities doing incredibly effective work around the world. They are all working towards the same purpose, to make the world a better place. These organizations take on many forms and guises. From small and local to established and global.  Charitable organizations may be government funded, privately funded or have corporate supporters; and they all have their unique modus operandi and factors of success.

Many times I am asked in interviews about the success factors of Room to Read.  How could a small, non-governmental organization grow from one person delivery books on a yak to a small mountain village in Nepal, to what it has become: a global organization which has built over 442 schools and 5,100 libraries, and impacted the lives of over 1.7 million children.  All this, with extremely low overhead and a small team of paid staff. (Note: if the story of me and my yak intrigues you at all, I encourage you to read more in my book, which was recently translated to Japanese, called “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”).

These interviewers are searching for the “magic formula” of a successful organization, which they can communicate to their readership. Their focus is usually on me, as a leader and founder of the organization. This is flattering, but I always need to explain to them, that Room to Read is so much bigger than just one person.  I believe that one of the significant success factors is our unique volunteer chapter structure. We now have 20 chapters in major cities of the United States, and 13 chapters in major global cities, including Tokyo.  Each chapter is comprised solely of volunteers and  works in partnership with the headquarters office on fundraising projects, volunteer recruitment, and publicity for Room to Read. New chapters are created when a capable, dedicated and enthusiastic individual approaches us, wanting to form a chapter.  With the support of the staff at San Francisco headquarters we guide these chapters through monthly conference calls, an annual chapter leader conference and through constant e-mails and telephone calls.  The staff at headquarters are on first name basis with hundreds of volunteers, who have become a part of a large Room to Read family.

It is these groups of unpaid volunteers who raise a third of our operating budget, who introduce us to their friends and communities, and who have carried our organization forward with new and creative ideas.  Many of our corporate sponsors come to us by way of introduction from a volunteer in one of our chapters.  These volunteers are always busy organizing local fundraisers and auctions, or promoting the book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World.  The Tokyo chapter alone raised $480,000 last year, which translates into nearly 2000 years of girls scholarships, 500,000 local language books or 24 entire schools in Nepal!

I try my hardest to make it to as many of these fundraisers as I can (and I will be attending the annual spring event in Tokyo at the end of the month), but as the number of chapters grows, so does my time available become more scarce.  Still, I sleep less and travel more, as I find it extremely satisfying to meet like minded individuals who are committing their free time and resources to improving educational opportunities for children less fortunate.  Besides the thrill I get from actually visiting the children in the schools and libraries we have built, meeting the volunteers in the chapters, is one of the ways I re-energize and re-motivate myself to move this organization forward.  In the end, I am just a guide, and the volunteers in the chapters are the ones who are truly moving us towards our ultimate goal; to provide education access to 10 million children in the developing world.

John Wood (Room to Read CEO)