Sam and I heard the story about John Wood and his cause Room to Read
this morning on XM public radio. It's about a former director of New Business at Microsoft for China who decided to cash out a millionaire and help the world. He took a trip to Nepal in 1998 and met a school teacher who said they had no books. John decided it was his mission to create the nonprofit Books for Nepal. By 2000, he had opened 26 libraries in Nepal and built two school. By 2008, they had opened their 5,000th in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Laos and Sri Lanka.
What I am most fascinated about isn't John's commitment to making the world a better place (though that's admirable) or that he gave up an awesome job at places people would kill to work for. It is that this man had an action plan. He personifies execution.
He's grown his ops by understanding the culture of a region, relying on local employees to help guide and staff. He understands that scaling the project while keeping an eye on cultural differences is paramount. He experiments, takes risk, all around the simple idea of educating children.
By 2010 he hopes to have 10,000 libraries with a target on India and their 780 million people who are basically illiterate.
Why is this story compelling? So many reasons. Why is it applicable? Because even though we're all very different we share, as humans, a basic desire to help others. It drives us to do things beyond yourselves. Simple ideas that can make a profound impact.
Some great quotes:
"Leading with technology is really putting the cart before the horse," Wood said. "If we can get the basics right, then computers make sense as an add-on. But we really have to get the basics first."
"Andrew Carnegie created 1,700 libraries in the United States," Wood says. "The chance to do something like that for the Third World is very exciting."
"My personal goal is to help 10 million children to gain an education," he says. "To do that, we have to create 25,000 schools and libraries. I don't see any reason why we need to think small about this."