Room To Read

Room to Read is a leading non-profit organization focused on literacy and gender equality in education in Asia and Africa. Since its inception in 2000, Room to Read has benefited over 11.6 million children (up from 9.9 million last year) by distributing over 18 million books and partnering with 18,696 schools through their literacy programs. In addition, their girls’ education program has supported over 50,000 girls, 94% of whom have stayed in the program and advanced to the next grade.

I recently interviewed Sharon Davis, who started the Vancouver chapter of Room to Read 12 years ago and continues to lead a group of committed local volunteers. She has a background in investment finance, and when she met Room to Read’s Founder John Wood, she knew she wanted to work with him and Room to Read.

John started Room to Read after visiting Nepal and witnessing the lack of educational materials and infrastructure. In the past 17 years John and his team took a very businesslike approach thinking strategically and scaling the organization beyond targets and expectations. Tapping in to volunteers worldwide, Room to Read created a global chapter network. Room to Read has amassed 16,000 volunteers and 45 chapters around our world raising funds and creating awareness for the organization. The Chapter Network is a force on the ground and raises on average 30% of Room to Read’s funds annually with representation across Canada, the U.S, U.K, Europe, Australia and Asia.

Sharon mentioned that the organization is still in touch with its grass roots, and the staff and volunteers are a large extended family. Thinking big and staying entrepreneurial allows Room to Read to change, evolve and scale for the children they have committed to.

On April 25, 2015, Nepal suffered a disastrous earthquake, and as a result a lot of their Nepalese-built schools and libraries collapsed. Fortunately, schools constructed by Room to Read were built to higher standards and survived the quake. Room to Read worked with the Nepalese Government and others to plan and execute the rebuild of schools and ensure the children of Nepal could get back to school as quickly as possible. Room to Read hires local nationals in all the countries they work in, positioning them on the ground and aware of the needs for both day to day operations and in the event of emergencies.

Room to Read supports girls through to the end of high school providing them with the education and life skills training to set them up for success. Seventy percent of graduates have found additional support and attended tertiary education, returning to their villages as teachers, medical staff, and social workers, giving back to their own communities. Room to Read believes in giving these girls a hand up, not a hand out. When talking about providing these girls with support, Sharon noted, “We should solve, not just band aid, these problems. Our biggest goal is to become obsolete. If you educate people they will solve their own problems.”

Room to Read works in countries such as Cambodia, where there were no books for children because no one could afford to buy them. Room to Read developed a book publishing program by training local authors and illustrators to create culturally relevant, age appropriate children’s books in their local language. These books are created and printed in the country of origin providing jobs for the locals and books for the libraries. Room to Read now publishes books in over 10 countries, in 30 languages, filling libraries and schools with high quality, affordable books for children. (In 2011 Room to Read won the UNESCO prize for Literacy for this book publishing program).

Room to Read believes that world change starts with educated children and is on track to invest in the lives of at least 15 million children by 2020.

Sharon is part of a team organizing the Capacity Conference that will take place in Vancouver, BC, on Friday, January 26th at Telus Gardens. The conference is designed for small nonprofits, and is bringing together capacity builders to share best practices and set nonprofits up for success, growth and increased engagement.

As well, John Wood is scheduled to speak in Vancouver on February 7th as part of the Rosewood Hotel’s “Rosewood Conversations” Series. For more information, contact Sharon through her email at

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Alison Wheatley

Alison Wheatley

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