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Tenacity, Determination & Leadership: John Wood's Lessons from the Front Lines of Social Change

By Olivia Allen

Each year in the Social Enter­prise Institute’s intro­duc­tory social entre­pre­neur­ship class, Pro­fes­sor Shaugh­nessy des­ig­nates a hand­ful of high-impact social entre­pre­neurs to the prover­bial “Mount Rush­more” of social entre­pre­neurs — a group of inno­v­a­tive social dis­rup­tors that have pio­neered a fun­da­men­tal impact. This cur­rently includes Muham­mad Yunus of Grameen Bank, Govin­dappa Venkataswamy of Aravind Eye Care, Willy Foote of Root Cap­i­tal, Paul Farmer of Part­ners in Health, and John Wood of Room to Read.

On Mon­day, Octo­ber 21st, Mr. Wood lead his dis­cus­sion enti­tled “Tenac­ity, Deter­mi­na­tion & Lead­er­ship: Lessons from the Front Lines of Social Change” at the Social Enter­prise Institute’s Octo­ber Lec­ture Series event.

Mr. Wood pro­vided stu­dents with an analy­sis of ten business-driven prin­ci­ples that drive Room to Read’s stag­ger­ing impact and sus­tain­abil­ity. Room to Read’s sharp focus on fis­cal effi­ciency, an unre­lent­ing com­mit­ment to co-investment from the com­mu­ni­ties where libraries are estab­lished through chal­lenge grants, strin­gent impact mea­sure­ment, and close atten­tion to mar­ket feedback.

Under his lead­er­ship, Room to Read has evolved from an English-language book dona­tions for chil­dren in Nepal to a global orga­ni­za­tion that has reached seven mil­lion chil­dren in order to pro­mote life­long lit­er­acy and an improved liveli­hood that edu­ca­tion can provide.

Demon­stra­tive of their com­mit­ment to social impact and the needs of those they serve, Room to Read has iden­ti­fied local lan­guage pub­lish­ing (over 50 titles have been pub­lished in areas where Room to Read oper­ates) and expanded their Girls’ Edu­ca­tion Pro­gram in order to close the gen­der gap in education.

Mr. Wood’s lec­ture not only coin­cided with the social entre­pre­neur­ship stu­dents’ analy­sis of Room to Read, but also with the estab­lish­ment of a Room to Read Chap­ter at North­east­ern, lead by stu­dents in Pro­fes­sor Den­nis Shaughnessy’s fresh­man Hon­ors Sem­i­nar. Their work will be sup­ported with a gen­er­ous $5,000 seed grant. Thus far, the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute has estab­lished three libraries with Room to Read and looks for­ward to cre­at­ing more.