John founded Room to Read out of deep concern that nearly one billion people lack basic literacy and that over 200 million children in the developing world are not enrolled in school. “I was blessed with a solid education which was a wonderful foundation for my future. As a result, I had a great career at a company that encourages people to dream big dreams. I started Room to Read as a way to give that same opportunity to children in the world’s poorest places. Education is a hand up, not a hand out. It is within our power to be the generation that ends poverty, so we need to think big and execute flawlessly.”
Since its start in 2000, Room to Read has sponsored the opening of more than 1,400 schools and more than 11,000 multi-lingual libraries across the developing world. The organization has distributed over 9.4 million children’s books in multiple languages and supports nearly 11,000 girls with long-term scholarships. John describes these results as “total tip of the iceberg” as Room to Read plans to increase this literacy network to 20,000 libraries and schools serving at least 10 million children by the year 2015.
In his award-winning memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World (Collins, 2006), John tells the story of how he raised over $125 million of financial commitments from a “standing start” to develop one of the fastest-growing non-profits in history. The book was described by Publishers’ Weekly in a starred review as “an infectiously inspiring read.” Translated into 21 languages, it is popular with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, educators, and internationalists alike, and was selected by Amazon.com as one of the Top Ten Business Narratives of 2006 and voted by Hudson Booksellers as a Top Ten Nonfiction title of 2006. 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 holds a Masters in Business Administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, a B.S. in Finance from the University of Colorado, and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of San Francisco. He also serves on the Advisory Board for the Clinton Global Initiative.
- Reaching Out To The World
Starting with very little social media knowledge, John has amassed 370,000 Twitter followers in just two years, building one of the charity world’s most popular profiles along the way. Today, he and his team coordinate a worldwide network of employees and volunteers, requiring a vast comprehensive communications effort that spans literacy levels, time zones, and technological gaps to get the job done and the message across.
- Setting Great Expectations (And Finding Great People to Meet Them)
In studying and working under great leaders, John Wood has come to believe that bold goals attract those with courage and self-confidence. The corollary is also true. When he started Room to Read and set the BHAG (Big, Hairy Audacious Goal) of reaching 10 million children by 2020, people thought he was crazy. But that bold goal attracted more 10,000 people to get involved, and he will now reach his BHAG in 2015, five years early. Room to Read’s core business is empowerment, a concept that applies as much to its staff and volunteers as to the millions of kids now pulling themselves out of poverty with freshly opened textbooks and minds. John explains how sharing ownership – over programs, outcomes, and ideas – has helped rally thousands of exceptional people to Room to Read’s banner. “I have never wanted to be the leader of an organization. I want to instead be one of many, many leaders of a global movement.”
- Leadership Lessons from the Front Lines of Social Change
In this presentation, John highlights the leadership lessons that can be learned from the front lines of social change. He contends that leaders must be continually disruptive – finding better ways to do business and challenging not only their organizations but themselves in a quest for continual improvement. His brand of leadership balances an uncompromising commitment to the bottom line with deep organizational humility – a willingness to acknowledge problems and consider solutions no matter the source. John Wood inspires audiences to think differently and more boldly about what they can accomplish as leaders. He insists that audacious goals attract audacious people, and that when they work together in an organization that inspires and recognizes innovation, there are no problems they can’t solve. Leadership is a subject on which John lectures at leading business schools, including University of Chicago, Harvard, Kellogg, Wharton and Stanford, and this is an increasingly popular topic amongst corporations, universities, and membership organizations.
- Absolute Accountability
Most NGO’s hide their annual figures, or publish them grudgingly. Room to Read posts all financial statements to its website – not just for one year, but for the last six. It makes all external evaluator reports public as well, “warts and all.” As a result, Room to Read has earned top marks for transparency from Charity Navigator, and donors have come to appreciate – and reward – its radical approach to openness. John himself has written two best-selling books in which he’s not afraid to discuss “all the things I’ve screwed up.” Admitting his mistakes, he says, “gives others the freedom to take risks, knowing that our response when things don’t go as planned will be to laugh, forgive, learn a few lessons, and then get back onto the playing field to take another shot.”
- Leaving Microsoft to Change the World
This is John's first-person account of following his passion, and the lessons learned in doing so. It is a popular "inspiring close" or "bring people to their feet" dinner speech at corporate, industry, and education conferences.