John Wood’s belief in the power of edu­ca­tion prompted him to leave his job as a Microsoft exec­u­tive in 1999 to start Room to Read, a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to improving lit­eracy in the devel­oping world.

At Room to Read we are trying to be social entre­pre­neurs who edu­cate as many chil­dren in the world as pos­sible,” Wood told more than 250 stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff who filled the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room on Monday evening. “In this day and age, anyone who wants to can have an impact on the world.”

Since its incep­tion in 2000, Room to Read has grown into one of the world’s most suc­cessful, fis­cally effi­cient social entre­pre­neur­ship orga­ni­za­tions. Over the last 13 years, it has built more than 15,000 libraries and 1,681 schools in poor com­mu­ni­ties in 10 coun­tries in Asia and Africa, including Laos, Nepal, and Vietnam.

The edu­ca­tion non­profit has already reached 7.8 mil­lion chil­dren and will achieve its goal of 10 mil­lion in 2015, a full five years ear­lier than expected. In 2011, Forbes mag­a­zine named Wood to its “Impact 30” list of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs.

Monday’s event was hosted by Northeastern’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute, which has con­tributed to Room to Read’s suc­cess by donating money to build libraries at schools in India.

At the event, SEI’s exec­u­tive director Dennis Shaugh­nessy announced that the uni­ver­sity would form its own chapter of Room to Read, for which the insti­tute would pro­vide a $5,000 seed grant. The chapter will be led by stu­dents in Shaughnessy’s freshman Honors Seminar.

We have been reading John’s books for many years now and studying his pro­gram as a model for social enter­prises,” Shaugh­nessy noted. “John is one the leading social entre­pre­neurs in the world today, and Room to Read is one of the best orga­ni­za­tions in that space.”

Wood attrib­utes much of Room to Read’s suc­cess to its employees, the majority of whom are locals who know the lan­guage, people, and needs of the com­mu­ni­ties they serve. “These are the most impor­tant people at Room to Read,” he explained. “They’re more impor­tant than I am because they are the ones out in the rural vil­lages get­ting things done.”

Another impor­tant aspect of Room to Read’s suc­cess is its method for building schools and libraries. Rather than asking vol­un­teers to travel to the coun­tries in which they build the edu­ca­tion facil­i­ties, the non­profit chal­lenges locals to help with the work, allowing them to con­tribute to the process.

We honor the work ethic of the local com­mu­ni­ties by saying we aren’t going to build it for you, we are going to build it with you,” Wood said. “Let the local people con­tribute the sweat equity because many times par­ents there are cash strapped and this is what they have to offer.”