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John Wood

Founder and board co-chairman of Room to Read and author of Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy

  • About John Wood

    John Wood is the founder of Room to Read, an organization that believes World Change Starts with Educated Children.® Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Through its work, Room to Read has brought the lifelong gift of education to 16.6 million children in 16 countries.

    At age 35, Wood left his position as Director of Business Development for Microsoft Greater China region to form Room to Read. The business acumen honed there, combined with his passion and an unparalleled track record at changing the world, makes Wood a unique and inspiring speaker with universal appeal.  Seventeen years later, with over 30,000 schools and communities served, millions have been impacted by John’s decision to help a headmaster in Nepal fill his school’s library.

    Wood’s award-winning memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World:An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children, tells how he raised over $350 million from a “standing start” to develop one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in history. The book was described by Publishers’ Weekly in a starred review as “an infectiously inspiring read.” Translated into 20 languages, it is popular with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and educators alike, and was selected by as one of the Top Ten Business Narratives of 2006 and voted a Top Ten Nonfiction title of 2006 by Hudson Booksellers. The book was also featured during Wood’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the resulting “Oprah’s Book Drive” with Room to Read raised over $3 million from viewers.

    Wood’s follow up book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy, tells the story of how the organization successfully tackled the next steps of scaling beyond his wildest dreams while maintaining integrity and raising money in a collapsing economy.

    Wood has been named by Goldman Sachs as one of the world’s 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs, has been a three-time speaker at the Clinton Global Initiative and is a five-time winner of Fast Company Magazine’s Social Capitalist Award. He has been honored by Time Magazine’s “Asian Heroes” Award, selected as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. He was selected by Barron’s as one of the “25 Best Givers” in 2009 and 2010, ranking 11th and 9th on the list, respectively. In 2014, Wood won the World’s Children’s Honorary Award Laureate through the World’s Children’s Prize, the annual educational program for the rights of the child and democracy—often called the Children’s Nobel Prize. In recognition of his passion to open libraries for the most under-served populations, he was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “the Andrew Carnegie of the developing world.”

    Wood holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Colorado, and honorary doctorates from McGill University and the University of San Francisco. He has served on the advisory board of the Clinton Global Initiative and the Board of Directors for Net Impact and One Acre Fund. He currently serves on the advisory boards of Global Citizen Year, New Story and Possible Health.

  • Speaking Topics

    Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

    "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World" 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.

    Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

    “Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone” is a speech John first delivered at a Microsoft sales conference. With sales reps facing an increasingly competitive and ever-changing economy, Microsoft’s sales leadership team requested that John speak about “what’s possible when a committed person dares to take risks and leave their comfort zone."

    Leadership Lessons from the Front Lines of Social Change

    Leadership is a subject on which John lectures at leading business schools, including University of Chicago, Harvard, Kellogg, Wharton, and Stanford. In this presentation, John highlights the leadership lessons that can be learned from the front lines of social change. This is an increasingly popular topic among corporations, universities, and membership organizations.

    10 Lessons Learned On the Way to Helping Ten Million Children

    It takes a bold leader to publicly declare his intention to reach 10 million children with the lifelong gift of education. In this presentation, John shares the leadership lessons he’s learned while building a global team and movement.

  • Video

  • Praise for John Wood

    Praise for Creating Room to Read

    [John Wood’s] extraordinary enthusiasm [and] boldness…come through clearly. His legacy of libraries is one of which another role model – Andrew Carnegie – would no doubt have been proud, especially since Wood began with nothing like the same personal fortune.

    Financial Times

    Room to Read will show people they do not need to accept the forces of darkness….May the larger, smarter, more compassionate team win. I know which side will get my investment.

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    John Wood is building a global movement around literacy and gender equality. Creating Room to Read offers a blueprint for transforming lives…and eventually the world.

    Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook and New York Times bestselling author of Lean In

    A refreshing reminder of the power of libraries—their ability to transform individual lives and strengthen communities.

    Melinda Gates

    An absorbing personal account of a remarkable achievement.

    Kirkus Reviews

    Wood’s passion for literacy and education infuses every page. An inspiring read on the power of books.


    One of the legendary triumphs of philanthropy was Andrew Carnegie’s construction of more than 2,500 libraries. Numerically, it has already been surpassed several times over by an American man you’ve probably never heard of. Wood is tireless, enthusiastic and emotional: a motivational speaker with no off button.

    Nick Kristof
  • Books by John Wood

  • Media About John Wood

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  • 212 572-2013
  • John Wood travels from Hong Kong

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