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  • Awarded: 2006
  • Issue Areas: Early Childhood to Primary Education · Education · Women's and Girls' Education
  • Countries Served: Bangladesh · Cambodia · India · Nepal · South Africa · Sri Lanka · Vietnam · Zambia
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  • About the Organization

    Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries through literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations, and governments, they develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and help girls to complete secondary school with the life skills to succeed in school and beyond.

    Room to Read works in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Zambia. Since their inception, Room to Read has impacted over eight million children by constructing more than 1,700 schools, establishing over 16,000 libraries, publishing 882 new children’s book titles in 27 local languages, and reaching over 25,000 girls through their Girls’ Education program.

    Room to Read’s innovative model focuses on deep, systemic transformation within schools in low-income countries during two periods which are critical in a child’s schooling: early primary school for literacy acquisition and secondary school for girls’ education.

    Room to Read has created a model that can be replicated, localized, and sustained by governments.

    There are 850 million illiterate people in the developing world.

    RtR builds educational institutions and systems in countries that lack resources

    John Wood found his life's passion trekking in Nepal and then returning with more than 3,000 books for a neglected library.

    RtR has built more than 1,752 schools, opened 16,060 libraries, and distributed 13.3 million books in 10 countries.

    Ambition for Change

    Every boy and girl in the developing world goes to a school that has a library, which cultivates a love for reading

    Path to Scale

    Program Growth

    “Adoption” of communities, schools, libraries, and individual girls by donors affiliated with local volunteer committees enables growth.

    Business Model

    Philanthropic support powered by fundraising committees in developed countries.

    In 1998, John Wood was trekking in Nepal on holiday from his life as a senior Microsoft executive. Visiting a school, he was saddened by its library, a crumbling building almost devoid of books. Thinking how his hometown library had affected his life, he returned a short time later on a yak with more than 3,000 books. In early 2000, he founded Room to Read. The library in Nepal — a supposedly one-off project — had become his life’s passion. RtR is builds educational institutions and systems in countries that lack resources, partnering with a community that provides land, materials, labor, and some of the funding to construct a school or to establish a library. RtR offers library training, English and native-language books, monitors performance, and offers scholarships to girls. RtR often acts as a model for the government education systems by testing new programs and methods. In Cambodia, it pioneered computer labs in secondary schools. Noting a lack of children’s books in Nepal, it partnered with NGOs and a publisher to produce books by local authors and illustrators. RtR has an innovative growth and sustainability model, with chapters in 40 cities around the world engaging more than 3,500 volunteers to raise awareness and money, and promoting RtR’s work by hosting events and offering “adopt a” library, school or girl scholarship options. At the time of the Award, Room to Read had constructed 700 schools, established 7,000 libraries, and funded 6,800 scholarships in eight countries.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Room to Read’s cumulative impact now extends to 10 countries in Asia and Africa, where the organization has built more than 1,752 schools, opened 16,060 libraries, published 885 books and distributed 13.3 million books.
    • Nearly 9 million children have access to this network.
    • Completed schools and libraries are owned and operated entirely by the local government and community.
    • 25,703 girls have participated in Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program.


    Geetha MuraliChief Development Officer, Room to Read
    John WoodFounder & Executive, Chairman, Room to Read

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