Book Report: Leaving MSFT to Change the World

Sunday, January 14, 2007 6:13
Posted in category The Big Picture
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Leaving a position where one has attained a position of power, money, and the ear of Steve Ballmer would be a difficult decision to say the least, and few would do it under normal conditions.

John Wood, author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, did just that though, and first chapters show it was no easy decision.

As one of Microsoft’s stars, Wood seemed to have everything a professional in their 30s would want, and it was not until a trip to Nepal, and the chance encounter with a man named Dinesh, that Wood saw that all Microsoft had to offer would fail to be enough.

In the years that followed, Wood took no salary and traversed the globe to create Room to Read, a non-profit organization devoted to providing schools and libraries to some of the poorest areas on earth.

A U.S. based 501(c)(3), Room to Read now has centers in Nepal, India, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. In its 8 years since driving his first donkey train with 3,000 books into Nepal, Wood has brought together his passion, vision, and drive to create an all star team of members who were equally passionate and were willing to put forth great effort without any guarantee of pay.

Obviously, a natural leader, Wood and his team have used innovative fundraising practices to raise obscene amounts of money. Whether through fundraising committees in cities around the world, and changing emails that redefine the word viral, fundraising for Room to Read is more a competition than anything.. The fundraising was worldwide and touched and catalyzed so many different groups: 85 Broads, Michael Lindenmayer of Grameen Bank, a climber on Everest Bruno Rodi (made first pledge while actually on Mt. Everest), and countless others

and their donors respond like no others:

Donor story 1: Count me in Don
In chapter 19, Wood recounts an event that was specifically designed to raise funds to kick off the Cambodian program. Following an introduction of the program history and goals for the Cambodian program, Don Listwin interrupted with the following

” I’m going to interrupt our regularly scheduled slide show with an announcement, and a challenge. There are more than fifty of you here tonight. for every one of you who sponsor a scholarship, … , I will match you, dollar-for-dollar, girl-for-girl, year-for-year. You fund fifty and I will fund fifty. We need to do this. No excuses”

the result in Wood’s words was “in less than 2 minutes we’ve received over $150,000 of commitments.”

Donor story 2: Who can raise the most
In chapter 21, Wood details how chapters through a impromptu competition continued to one up each other:

It started gradually, when Chicago raised $75,000 in an evening, and the New York chapter vowed to beat them. They did, upping the ante to $82,000. A few weeks later, in November of 2004, the San Francisco team planted their flag by generating over $90,000 at a “Reading Room” event. within weeks, the London chapter hosted a private dinner for high net-worth individuals who collectively pledged $100,000. It was all done in the spirit of a friendly competition, and it was fun to watch the mails fly around the world as the bar continued to be raised

As a side note, it was the Hong Kong chapter that ended up raising the most with $330,000

Through efforts like this his team have funded the opening of more than 3500 schools and libraries to date (that is 36 a month if you count all 8 years as being fully operational). Time after time, Room to Read has an organization (staff, volunteers, and fundraiser’s) pushed to bring the gift of education to the poorest villages of Nepal, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Laos…. and they did it.

One of the most amazing stories of Room to Read’s efforts comes at the end of the book when Wood returns to Nepal to attend 3 openings. It turns out though that his man on the ground in Nepal, Dinesh, has something else in mind for him:

Dinesh: “this friday will be a big day”
JW: ” Dinesh, what’s going on? Do you want to let me in on the joke?”
Dinesh: “Actually, we will not just open on library on Friday. We wanted to make the day special. So on Friday between 10a.m. and noon, thirty new libraries across Nepal will have their opening ceremonies.

In fact, 123 libraries opened to some 30,000 students on that one day showing that the competitive spirit within Room to Read not only drives their donations, but also their operations..

This book is full of Wood’s passion and drive as he has set goals that many thought were impossible, and only then exceeded in record time. I am sure his time with Steve Ballmer proved to be great training in that regard. Ultimately, the power of this book will not only drive people to donate money to the Room to Read organization, it will catalyze people to become champions for the less fortunate in many other ways.

I highly recommend everyone pick up a copy this book. at 250 pages, it is a quick read and I guarantee the time spent is better than watching any movie on United Airlines.

If anyone has worked with Room to Read please share your thoughts here…. also, if anyone knows why a China branch has yet to be set up, I would be interested to know…. Wood was based in Beijing before leaving microsoft.

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