Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Microsoft's Loss is Humanity's Gain

Is worker burnout always a loss? Not in the case of John Wood, a Microsoft exec who took a long needed break by hiking in Nepal and the Himalayas. There he met a Nepalese “Education Resource Officer” who invited him to visit a school in a neighboring village. He was stunned by its poverty. In that dilapidated classroom he inspected “their library”! The few books there included not only a Danielle Steele romance and a Lonely Planet guide to Mongolia, but the tiny collection was kept under lock and key-to protect them from the children! 

As John left the village, his guide exclaimed sadly: “Perhaps, Sir, you will come back with books.” Did he ever! He emailed his friends asking for donations. Within two months he had collected over 3,000 books! The following year John and his father returned with eight book-bearing donkeys. 

The looks on the faces of the Nepalese children moved him to quit Microsoft, and in 1999 he founded an NGO called “Room to Read”. This Andrew Carnegie of the developing world had a new career! Starting in Nepal with his local partner Dinesh Shrestha they started helping rural communities build schools (“School Room”) and give them effective libraries (Reading Room).

They soon realized that many girls in developing nations were ignored because of long held prejudices. In 2000 “Room to Read” became the “Girls’ Education” program. It targets young girls with a long-term commitment to their education.In 2001 Erin Ganju joined the duo as chief operating officer and helped “Room to Read” expand into Vietnam: in 2002 Erin and John added Cambodia and India in 2003. 

Because children’s books in local languages were very hard to find they launched Local Language Publishing. Colorful books by local authors and illustrators joined the international books.In 2004 they opened their 1000th library in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Later that same year after the December 24th Asia tsunami they decided to expand to Sri Lanka and help the community rebuild!

Room to Read” has its headquarters in San Francisco at 111 Sutter Street, 94104,16th floor. Voice, 1-415 839 4400. FAX, 415 591 0580. Info@roomtoread.org. Anyone anywhere is encouraged to help the expansion. No less than the future of the human race is at risk. In the two years (2012/3) “The Global Journal” has been listing the world’s Top NGOs, Room to Read has made the prized list, 26th in the world in 2013. 

Never in so complicated a complex of problems has so simple a solution appeared. Microsoft’s loss is definitely humanity’s gain. Google “Room to Read” and learn how easy it is to lend a hand! May such “social businesses” (named by Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen bank for the poor) flourish as humanity grapples one by one with its most discouraging complexities.

Another version of this essay is published at Broad Street Review.

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