Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Winter 2006Kellogg School of Management
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Room to write: alum's memoir chronicles transition to social entrepreneurship

"Back in 1999 people told me I was crazy to try to set up a library in rural Nepal with 500 books," says Room To Read Founder John Wood '89, one of the keynotes at the Net Impact Conference in October.  Today, Wood's organization has helped build, staff and stock more than 3,300 bilingual libraries throughout six poor Asian nations. In August, Wood was on the road promoting a new book — his own.

"About two years ago, I became overwhelmed with the number of people asking me for advice on transitioning from the private sector to the social sector," says Wood. With a stack of personal journals he'd written to chronicle his transition from marketer to social entrepreneur, Wood began work on Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children (2006, HarperCollins).

He first entertained leaving the corporate world after a visit to a Nepalese village during which he learned that the village's 450 students had no books. But this dearth of reading material did not strike the conventionally wise as a reason to abandon a high-powered marketing career, and Wood faced resistance from skeptical employers and friends. Fortunately for the children now benefiting from Room To Read's thousands of libraries, he saw that first village as one of many in need, and went ahead with his plans.

"There are so many people willing to tell you why it can't be done, and especially in the early years it can be tempting to listen to the detractors," recalls Wood. But with Room To Read's success, many in the business community have come out to help.

Many "hardcore, white-collar capitalists" are looking for an outlet for their philanthropic impulses, he says, noting that hundreds of volunteers — including Kellogg alums — contribute worldwide. "One of them even sold her second car, a Jaguar, because she realized that Room To Read could build three preschools with the money," Wood says. "One car, three schools — life can produce interesting equations sometimes!" — AH

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University