At Ed. School, Wood Touts Room to Read

Non-profit builds schools and libraries in developing world

Arguing that increased literacy leads to higher GDPs and life expectancy rates, John J. Wood praised the work of his award-winning non-profit Room to Read, which builds schools and libraries in the developing world, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education yesterday.

Four million children have benefited from Room to Read’s endeavors, which have included building more than 1,000 schools and 10,000 libraries, Wood said at yesterday’s speech.

He said the non-profit aims to expand into Tanzania and other countries while reaching out to 10 million children by 2020—an aggressive growth rate he compared to that of Starbucks.

“If the world needs a new latte, the world damn well needs literacy,” Wood said.

Wood was both humorous and heartfelt while discussing Room to Read, citing benefits of literacy beyond simply being able to read. Educated women, for example, are twice as likely to vaccinate their children, according to Wood.

“Education has a ripple effect,” Wood said.

This talk was part of the Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Forum series, which brings leaders to discuss current topics in education. The audience at yesterday’s talk came from Harvard, MIT, and the Greater Boston area.

Room to Read currently operates in 10 countries throughout Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, it works with local communities to build schools and libraries for children. It also publishes native-language children’s books and provides scholarships for girls to graduate from secondary school.

After discussing Room to Read and its plans to expand, Wood answered questions on topics ranging from illiteracy in America and corporate sponsorships in Japan to projects being run by students.

For instance, in response to a question from Linfeng Yang ’11 about distributing e-readers in the developing world, Wood said that such a plan would not be cost-efficient.

Office of Career Services Assistant Director Loredana George, who attended the event, said she “loved the talk.”

After first hearing about the organization through a friend, she said she found Wood and the organization exciting and interesting.

“I think I’m going to get involved,” she said, especially since Room to Read is involved in her native country.

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