If you wanted to find international nonprofits, NGOs, and government taskforces that aim to promote universal childhood literacy, you wouldn’t have to look far—there are thousands of organizations dedicated to creating a future where all children have access to a quality education, and even more who focus on basic skills like reading. The same goes for gender equality—encouragingly, feminism seems to be evermore central to the philosophy of international development efforts. So, in a sea of do-gooders full of the best intentions, how do nonprofits stand out? What makes them innovative, how can they be true change makers, and how can they promote sustainable models for philanthropic giving?

Innovative programs for lifelong learning

When it was co-founded almost twenty years ago by Microsoft executive John Wood, Erin Ganju, and Dinesh Shrestha, Room to Read recognized that international development efforts weren’t going far enough when it came to universal childhood literacy efforts. Many rural schools simply didn’t have enough reading material for students to get the literacy skills they needed to succeed. But the issue with development efforts was also more nuanced. A classroom could be full of books, but were those books age appropriate and engaging for young students? Likewise, you could fill a classroom with young pupils, but how much learning can be done in an environment that isn’t child-centered? A nonprofit could boast graduation rates far above the national average, but is it acceptable that gender gaps in education persist even as graduation rates rise? Room to Read saw a need: too many organizations were looking at education in the developing world as a list of metrics, and not a holistic and highly contextual experience for children, their families, and communities. Room to Read works at every level of government, from project planning at the community level to scaling impactful interventions with state and national Ministries of Education. They are in it to change the system, disrupt a broken nonprofit industrial complex that doesn’t serve those in need, and create more agents of change in the process who will uplift their own communities through education.

A strong evidence foundation

Room to Read believes that the social sector is accountable to the global public—both those who participate in giving and those who receive resources. They believe in measuring impact and sharing results so they know where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and so they can participate in an international conversation about data-driven practice in the complex, often fraught world of international development. This includes developing rigorous methods for determining results through regular data collection against key indicators at more than 3,500 sites annually. This November, they celebrate a landmark achievement: 50,000 girls supported through the Girl’s Education Program, which specifically targets girls at risk of leaving secondary school early with mentorship, life skills training, financial and material support, and family and community engagement. Room to Read’s most recent strategic plan, Scaling Our Impact, focuses on reaching more children, at an even deeper level, through data-driven results, streamlined initiatives, and mobilizing existing resources for a sustainable and ever-improving force for global social good.

Business-minded approach to maximizing social good

Room to Read has programs in South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Room to Read has found creative ways to keep overhead costs low so that more philanthropic dollars can go toward building schools, publishing books, and growing healthy libraries. One way that Room to Read has minimized overhead costs in through mobilizing college students with a passion for social enterprise through local university chapters like Room to Read Northeastern. Students participate in advocacy and fundraising to promote the amazing work Room to Read is doing, often in partnership with a regional chapter like those in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Austin, and Minneapolis, to new a few. Room to Read has been repeatedly recognized for its operational efficiency, and financial excellence—for the last decade, it has been placed in the top percentile for fiscally sound and responsible organizations. With its strong commitment to accountability to stakeholders, the organization can maximize the number of skilled, lifelong readers it helps to create through its formula of knowledgeable teachers and librarians, quality reading materials, and child-friendly learning environments.

Room to Read Northeastern aims to raise awareness for Room to Read’s transformational programs worldwide, and to support these efforts through fundraising and advocacy.

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