John Wood (activist)

John J. Wood (born January 29, 1964) is the Founder of two global education charities: Room to Read and U-Go. Wood started Room to Read in 2000 after quitting his executive position as Microsoft's Director of Business Development for the Greater China Region.[1] Along with his co-founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha, he built out a global team that has raised over $750 million in funding commitments and has brought education programs to over 26 million children in 20 low income countries.[2]

John Wood
Born (1964-01-29) January 29, 1964 (age 59)
OrganizationRoom To Read
Notable workFounder of Room To Read

In late 2021, he announced in the Financial Times[3] his decision to start a new non-profit, U-Go, with the aim of helping tens of thousands of young women in low income countries to pursue higher education through targeted scholarships, life skills training and job placement.[4] U-Go launched via a live Bloomberg interview[5] on February 7, 2021 and is now working in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam[6] with plans to add on Nepal and the Philippines.

At the invitation of former President Bill Clinton, Wood served four terms on the Advisory Board of the Clinton Global Initiative and was a frequent speaker at their annual event. He currently serves on the Boards of the Singapore-based private equity firm Asia Partners[7] and Hong Kong-based plant-based protein innovator Green Monday Holdings.[8] He is also on the Advisory Boards of Global Citizen Year[9] and New Story.[10]

Early lifeEdit

John Wood was born in January 1964, in Hartford, Connecticut, where he spent his early childhood. His family later settled in Athens, Pennsylvania, where he attended high school.[11] He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado, and a master's degree in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.[12] He has received honorary PhD's from McGill University,[13] the University of San Francisco, Westminster University,[14] and Wofford College.[15]

From 1991-1999, Wood worked as an executive for Microsoft. His positions included Director of Marketing for Australia, Director of Marketing for the Asia-Pacific region and Director of Business Development for Greater China.[16]

Leaving Microsoft to Change the WorldEdit

Wood took a vacation from his work at Microsoft in 1998 to trek through the Himalayas.[16] While trekking, he met a "resource director" for the schools in the Annapurna Circuit of Nepal, with whom he visited a primary school with over 300 students but only a handful of books—none of which were age-appropriate.[17] Upon seeing Wood's reaction to the lack of books, the school’s headmaster suggested, "Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books,[18]" which inspired Wood to solicit book donations from family and friends via an appeal email sent from an Internet cafe in Kathmandu.[19]

A year later, Wood returned to the school with 3,000 books on the back of six donkeys—all donated in response to his email appeal to friends and family.[20][21] Soon thereafter, he left his job at Microsoft entirely to devote himself full-time to Books for Nepal, a side project that would eventually form the foundation for Room to Read.

Leaving Microsoft was launched in North America by HarperCollins in August 2006, and was subsequently published in 21 languages. It was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007, with "Oprah's Book Drive" for Room to Read raising over $3 million. The memoir was selected by the American Booksellers Association for its BookSense Notable Books List.[22] It was also named one of the Top Ten non-fiction books of 2006 by Hudson's Booksellers and a Top Ten business narrative of 2006 by The sequel—titled Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy was published by Penguin in February, 2013.

Room to ReadEdit

Wood co-founded Room to Read in 2001 with Dinesh Shrestha and Erin Ganju. Operating in 20 low-income countries, the organization focuses on increasing literacy and gender equality in education. Its programs develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.[23] Over 25 million children have benefitted from the organization's programs.[1]


Wood launched U-Go after meeting many Room to Read Girl Scholars whose parents were grateful that their daughters would finish secondary school, but frustrated that they would not be able to continue on to university.[5] For many years he and a small group of friends had personally bankrolled a few dozen scholarships, but he felt this was "too little and too random" and that a more strategic and scalable model was needed to "hand out sledgehammers to shatter this remaining glass ceiling".[18] U-Go's Founding Board is composed of business leaders in five countries and includes Tim Caflisch, Benjamin (Ben) Happ, Patricia Horgan, Nick Nash, Archana Parekh, Anne Patricia Sutanto and Mariana Zobel de Ayala.

Zak the Yak with Books on his BackEdit

Wood authored his first children's book, Zak the Yak with Books on His Back, in 2010. The book, written in rhyme and illustrated by Nepali artist Abin Shrestha, tells the story of Room to Read in a manner accessible to school children. Wood has said that with the book he aims to inspire children to take action.[24] Self-published by Room to Read with costs underwritten by The Republic of Tea, all revenue from Zak the Yak goes directly to the organization's programs.[25]

Television and RadioEdit

Wood appears frequently on television and radio, with multiple appearances on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC's Squawk Box, Channel News Asia, CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, PBS and Tavis Smiley. He has also been profiled or interviewed on Charlie Rose, CBS Evening News, CTV (Canada), France24, Globo (Brazil), the Katie Couric Show, KQED, the Oprah Winfrey Show, Radio France International, WAMU (Kojo Nnamdi) WNYC (Leonard Lopate Show) and numerous others.

Published worksEdit

  • 'Hong Kong Helps Nepal - A Report from the Quake Zone" - South China Morning Post, July 2015, series of four daily posts from the field.[26]
  • Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy (Viking Penguin, 2013)[27]
  • It Began with Books—Newsweek, 2008[28]
  • Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children. (HarperCollins, 2006)*
  • "You Say You Want a Revolution?", GOOD Magazine. (January 26, 2009)[29]
  • "The Ultimate Second Act," Stanford Social Innovation Review. (Summer 2009)[30]
  • Zak the Yak with Books on His Back. (Publishing cost underwritten by The Republic of Tea, 2010)
  • "Memo to Billionaires--We're Ready for You." (with Matt Flannery of Kiva) (September 27, 2010)[31]


Wood has received the following honours:

  • Northwestern University Alumni Association Service to Society Award, 2015[32]
  • World Children's Prize, for a "15 year fight for children's right to education", awarded by Queen Silvia of Sweden[33]
  • Goldman Sachs "100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs", 2013
  • Tribeca Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award for "Disruptive Innovation", 2012[34]
  • Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind, 2012[15]
  • Forbes Impact30 List of the top social entrepreneurs[35]
  • Barron's list of the "25 Best Givers", 2009 and 2010
  • Inaugural winner of Microsoft Alumni of the Year award, presented by Bill and Melinda Gates[36]
  • 2009 Asia Society Award For public service to Asia
  • Three-time speaker at the Clinton Global Initiative
  • Five-time winner of the Fast Company magazine and Monitor Group's Social Capitalist Award
  • Recipient of Time Magazine’s "Asian Heroes" Award, recognizing "20 People under 40 who have done something brave, bold, or remarkable" (the only non-Asian ever chosen for this honor)
  • Selected for the inaugural class of "Young Global Leaders" by the World Economic Forum
  • Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute[37]
  • Four-time winner of the Skoll Foundation Award for Social Innovation
  • Second recipient of the Draper Richards Fellowship[38]
  • Profiled by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) as one of "America’s Great Leaders"
  • Honorary doctorate in Education from McGill University, Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of San Francisco, with honorary PhD's also from Westminster College (2009) and Wofford College (2012).

Personal lifeEdit

Wood lived with his wife Amy Powell in Hong Kong for 8 years[39] but now resides in Solana Beach, California. He travels roughly 200 days per year for media, public speaking and fund-raising opportunities.[40] His hobbies include running, skiing, hiking, travel, reading, and wine.[citation needed] He has run 16 marathons, traveled to over 50 countries, appeared as an extra in Law and Order and is an investor in over 25 growth companies.


  1. ^ Kristof, Nicholas (2011-11-05). "Opinion | His Libraries, 12,000 So Far, Change Lives". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  2. ^ "Home". Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  3. ^ "How to quit: an outgoing founder's advice on succession planning". Financial Times. 2021-12-22. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  4. ^ Moore, Karl. "John Wood's New Nonprofit U-Go Is Helping Women In Low-Income Countries To Attend University". Forbes. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  5. ^ a b U-Go Founder John Wood on Improving Access to Education, retrieved 2022-05-26
  6. ^ "U-Go". U-Go. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  7. ^ "Advisory Board – Asia Partners". Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  8. ^ "Our People". Green Monday. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  9. ^ "Advisory Council". Global Citizen Year. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  10. ^ "About Us". New Story. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  11. ^ Thompson, Bob, "His Bottom Line: Educating the World's Kids", The Washington Post, September 9, 2006. Retrieved October 28, 2014. "[...]as he did seven years ago at age 35[...]"
  12. ^ "Room to Read - Board of Directors"
  13. ^ "McGill Reporter - News you can use about what's happening around the University".
  14. ^ "Westminster Office of Communications Weekly Events Newsletter". Archived from the original on 2016-09-11. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  15. ^ a b "Wofford College | Sandor Teszler Award Recipients". Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  16. ^ a b Wood, John, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World Archived 2009-09-04 at the Wayback Machine June 2008, Harper, page 261.
  17. ^ Wood, John, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World Archived 2009-09-04 at the Wayback Machine June 2008, Harper, pages 2-9.
  18. ^ a b Moore, Karl. "John Wood's New Nonprofit U-Go Is Helping Women In Low-Income Countries To Attend University". Forbes. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  19. ^ Van Slambrouck, Paul, "Once a high-tech exec, he now shares his passion for reading in Asia and Africa", Christian Science Monitor, September 7, 2010
  20. ^ Connolly, Norma, "Bricks and Books", South China Morning Post, January 23, 2006
  21. ^ Perrin, Andrew, "The Bold and the Young" John Wood, Read all about it", Time Asia, October 11, 2004
  22. ^ "The September 2006 Book Sense Picks & Notables Preview". 3 August 2006.
  23. ^ "Room to Read - About Us". Archived from the original on 2015-05-29. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
  24. ^ "John Wood on Charlie Rose (VIDEO)". Archived from the original on 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2011-06-30.
  25. ^ Whiting, Sam, "John Wood (Room to Read) Interview", Australian Literature Review, February 26, 2011
  26. ^ "Hong Kong helps Nepal: Quake wrecked homes but not dreams of education". 14 July 2015.
  27. ^ "Creating Room to Read"
  28. ^ "It Began with Books". Newsweek. 29 March 2008.
  29. ^ "You Say You Want a Revolution?"
  30. ^ "The Ultimate Second Act". Archived from the original on 2011-07-10. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
  31. ^ "Memo to Billionaires"
  32. ^ "Northwestern Alumni Medal".
  33. ^ "John Wood - World's Children's Prize".
  34. ^ "Tribeca Film Festival, Professor Clayton Christensen and Disruptor Foundation Announce Honorees for Third Annual Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards".
  35. ^ "John Wood - Forbes". Forbes.
  36. ^ "Integral Fellows". Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  37. ^ "John Wood | Aspen Global Leadership Network - Fellow Exchange". Archived from the original on 2016-04-03. Retrieved 2016-03-21.
  38. ^[permanent dead link]
  39. ^ DW News (11 April 2022). Companies and individuals leave Hong Kong over zero-COVID policy. DW News. Retrieved 19 April 2022 – via YouTube.{{cite AV media}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  40. ^ Whiting, Sam, "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World", Second Act, October 28, 2010 Archived September 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit