Issue 22, March 2014
Message From Our Team

Dear friends,

It’s hard to believe we are already two months into 2014 and we are well on our way to setting our sights on some major accomplishments this year including transforming the lives of children in more than 6,500 schools through literacy and girls’ education programming.

What I consider equally important is being able to tell you how these programs are making a difference and I am excited that this year we will be releasing reports from our Research, Monitoring & Evaluation team that speak to this—one report that assesses the long-term effects of our school libraries to increase children’s reading habits, and one report that summarizes how Room to Read’s Literacy program is currently impacting children’s reading skills.

We also continue to look at what’s next for Room to Read and this year we will be embarking on our next strategic plan that will take us into 2015 and beyond. During this process we will explore how Room to Read can continue to scale while increasing our impact.

All of our hard work means that more children will grow up to be literate adults and be able to unlock their full potential. We just received exciting news that demonstrates that children themselves are taking notice with our nomination for the World’s Children’s Prize! The World’s Children’s Prize is an annual educational program out of Sweden, often called the Children’s Nobel Prize, and we are truly honored that John Wood and Room to Read have been recognized by an international jury of youth members from 15 countries along with our fellow nominees Malala Yousafzai (Malala Fund) and Indira Ranamagar (Prisoners Assistance Nepal).

As always, thank you for your incredible support. I look forward to sharing more with you this year as we together create world change through education.

Erin Ganju

Co-founder and CEO

Get inspired.

Hold a bake sale, run a marathon or grow a wicked-long beard. You can do just about anything to support Room to Read’s work. Check out some of our favorite fundraiser stories on the Room to Read blog.


Room to Read Study in South Africa Examines Book Checkout Patterns to Improve Library Use

To run any successful retail business, you need to track what is selling and what items might be less popular. This is the same principle we apply to our libraries and naturally, our customers are the children. Last year, through our Research, Monitoring and Evaluation team, we conducted a Book Checkout Study in Laos and we are currently finishing a similar study in South Africa.

This Gates-funded study is specifically analyzing book checkout patterns among children at South African schools with Room to Read libraries. Through this study we hope to learn which books are most popular overall and assess preferences and trends by grade and by gender. With the results in hand, we can then improve our South Africa libraries by ensuring they are stocked with titles that further generate an interest in reading among children.

One way our team will apply the learnings will be to help inform the books that we purchase for our libraries, as well as the types of books that we publish. For example, when a similar study was completed in Laos, Room to Read Laos noticed that the book “Beautiful Flowers,” about the friendship between a butterfly and bee, was one of the most popular books. Therefore, when sourcing new stories in Laos last year, the team looked at similar friendship-themed books to publish and also paid closer attention to the design aesthetic and writing style so that they could mimic some of those features for future titles.

In South Africa, the Research, Monitoring and Evaluation team visited a sample of eight schools in December and January, four from each of the two provinces in which we work. At each location, they examined the checkout records from the past six months that can be found in each library’s book checkout register—a tool that we train librarians how to use. Some of the data that were collected included the genre and reading levels of the books checked out and name, grade, and gender of the pupils who checked out each book. Preliminary results show that English-language books are more popular than local language books, girls are checking out more books than boys, and children in grades 3 through 5 are checking out more books than children in grades 1 and 2.

“Room to Read’s libraries in South Africa serve as many as 50,000 students and this study is making sure they are as strong and successful as possible,” said Chris Mothupi, Country Director from South Africa. “With the information from this study, we will be working over the next few months with the schools, teachers and librarians—as well as the children we serve—to better support these student’s reading habits and see how we can not only get more children checking out books but more people coming in and out of our library doors.”

Learn more about our work in Research, Monitoring & Evaluation »

Room to Read Earns Eighth Consecutive Charity Navigator 4-Star Rating

For the eighth year in a row, Charity Navigator, America’s largest and most-utilized independent charity evaluator, has awarded the coveted 4-star rating to Room to Read for our sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency. Receiving four out of a possible four stars indicates that Room to Read is able to efficiently manage and grow our finances while adhering to good governance and other best practices that minimize the chance of unethical activities. We are proud to maintain our 4-star rating for consistently executing our mission in a fiscally responsible manner, with 83 percent of total expenses directed toward program costs.

“As Room to Read matures as an organization, now in its fourteenth year of operations, we continue to honor the core business principles that have been in our corporate DNA since day one--transparency, fiscal responsibility, and accountability to our investors and the children we seek to benefit," says Joanne Chou, Room to Read’s Chief Financial Officer. "We are focused on the 'how' just as much as the 'what' of our business."

As the nonprofit sector continues to grow at a rapid pace, savvy donors are demanding more accountability, transparency and measurable results from the charities they support. Room to Read’s “exceptional” designation from Charity Navigator is a recognition only one percent of rated charities can claim, demonstrating that Room to Read “outperforms most other charities in America”, is differentiated from its peers and worthy of public trust, according to Charity Navigator President & CEO Ken Berger.

Read more about what fiscal responsibility means for Room to Read and check out our profile on Charity Navigator.

VIDEO: Re-educate Yourself on Room to Read in Under 3 Minutes

We all know that Room to Read lives by its motto: World Change Starts with Educated Children but do you want a refresher about what that really means to us and why we think Room to Read is so vital to the changing the world? We will give you a sneak peak from our founder, John Wood: “We need to think big about this—finding ways to be innovative, focused and results-oriented. If you can get a child reading independently, if you can invest in equal education for girls, it’s going to impact so many other issues. Education is a game-changer.”

Learn more about Room to Read and what we do through the eyes of founder John Wood, and CEO and co-founder, Erin Ganju in less than 3 minutes »

“Creating Room to Read” Paperback Edition Released

“Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy” by John Wood is now available in paperback edition, in stores and online. The sequel to “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” chronicles Room to Read’s journey from a start-up venture to an award winning nonprofit organization that has reached nearly 9 million children to date. Kirkus Reviews calls it, “an absorbing personal account of a remarkable achievement.”

Learn more »


Room to Read boasts chapters in over 50 cities worldwide. Find the chapter nearest you and get details about our upcoming events on our website.

Toronto - March 4
Brisbane - March 6
Toronto - April 25
Montreal - May 1
San Francisco - May 8
New York - May 8


Meet Shafiqul Islam, Country Director, Bangladesh

We are thrilled to introduce you to Shafiqul who comes to Room to Read with 37 years of experience in the international development sector including working with the Dhaka Ahsania Mission, UNDP, BRAC, ActionAid, Prip Trust, Save the Children USA, the Association of Development Agencies Bangladesh (ADAB), Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Services (RDRS) and the Bangladesh Department of Social Services. Shafiqul holds two master’s degrees—one in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands and one in Social Welfare from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. We asked Shafiqul about his career in education in Bangladesh and what we can expect from Room to Read Bangladesh in the future.

You have professional experience at many different international development organizations. What made you decide to join Room to Read and how do you think Room to Read differentiates itself from other NGOs?

Bangladesh is one of the developing countries striving to achieve the Education For All and Millennium Development Goals (MDG) especially in primary education and Room to Read’s focus in literacy and gender equality in education directly speaks to this.

Through my experiences, I have observed that increasing access to and ensuring quality in primary education is still very challenging. Though enrolment targets might be achieved, retention is still a challenge due to factors such as quality reading materials, teaching practices and lack of competency assessment for students. Creating a joyful learning environment in primary school classes is often considered a contributing factor to retain the learners. Our Literacy program at Room to Read addresses these issues.

I value that Room to Read puts community at the heart of our program operation to ensure sustainability. Additionally, I value an organizational culture with contextual priority, self-motivated staff members within a global network and facilitating horizontal learning opportunities. All this makes Room to Read unique from many organizations.

What excites you most about your role as Country Director for Room to Read Bangladesh? And what are the challenges since you entered your role at a time when we are witnessing much instability in Bangladesh?

We have a great potential to contribute in the expanding primary and secondary education and development sectors in Bangladesh, focusing the underprivileged children in rural areas. The innovative model of our Literacy program has its own merit to scale up by developing partnership and networking in the government and non-government sectors.

I am excited to lead our dynamic team strategically and create a nurturing environment where they can release their full potential. I want to encourage innovation in program implementation, create good practices and scale up our annual achievements. Furthermore, I am also excited to document our program impact. We want to advocate our programs at the national level backed up with adequate empirical data, for which we plan to focus this year more on research, monitoring and evaluation.

Of course there are challenges. Realizing and accepting the context of the current instability due to political changes in the country, my challenge is to take all possible measures to mobilize my country team with consideration of safety and security measures to achieve the targets set for 2014. Our country has a new government which has taken power in January 2014. Therefore, we need to develop new linkages at the macro and micro level. Room to Read has achieved at least some level of familiarity with different quarters of the government, especially with the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, and I plan to capitalize on this and drive to expand this relation with further good works.

What role has education played in your life?

When I started my development career back in 1976, I focused on the non-formal adult functional education for the poor, vulnerable and the marginalized communities following ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ philosophy. I learned that every human being has unlimited potentialities and if opportunities are given they can be the change makers in their societies. To enable this change, literacy is very crucial.

Since then I have worked closely in the education field, directly as implementer or as a manager. I believe educating people and especially investment on children is a pathway of building human and social capital for a nation. My background in development studies, my professional engagement in the integrated education sectors inspires me to continue working for disadvantaged people. I believe that people can change self, family, community, and nation and enter into the world change process if they are literate.

Learn more about our programs in Bangladesh »

The Atlassian Foundation Raises $3 Million for Room to Read…$10 at a Time

When co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar started Atlassian in 2002, they aspired to create a socially responsible company that cared for the communities it existed within as well as communities in need. Atlassian adopted a 1% model where 1% of profits, 1% of employee time and 1% of equity are donated to the Atlassian Foundation, the charitable giving arm of the enterprise software company. According to Farquhar, it was an easy decision to make since, "giving away 1% of basically nothing at the time was a no-brainer." But after reading John Wood's book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, the pair of entrepreneurs were awed and inspired to get involved with Room to Read.

In 2009, Atlassian leveraged a unique business model to create what they call “causium marketing”, a combination of freemium and cause marketing, to simultaneously raise money for charity while giving startups and small teams affordable access to Atlassian software. Atlassian created a Starter License program whereby new users can purchase their 10-user versions of their products for $10. The result? Over $100,000 raised in the first five days. Seeing the possibilities, Atlassian hasn’t stopped since.

As of 2013, Atlassian and Room to Read have given more than 170,000 children access to quality educational opportunities. Atlassian’s investments have established 238 libraries, constructed or renovated 13 schools, published 13 new local language children's titles, and supported 1,480 young women towards completion of secondary school, giving them the support they need to succeed. Atlassian was also instrumental in Room to Read's launch of our Reading and Writing Instruction program in Cambodia to help young children become independent readers.

While Atlassian has impressively raised $3 million for Room to Read, this inspirational company seeks to do more. Atlassian has an even loftier goal this year—to impact 250,000 children by December 2014 by raising at least $750,000 through their Starter License program. In addition, Atlassian employees have taken it upon themselves to raise an additional $75,000 to support girls' education in Cambodia. This is a reflection of how personally invested Atlassian employees are in furthering Room to Read's mission.

Atlassian continues to grow their Starter License customer base, and will be running a number of targeted fundraising initiatives throughout the year.

Watch Atlassian’s video documenting a recent trip a group of employees took to Cambodia to see their impact first-hand »

Dauntless: An Incredible Distance. An Incredible Girl.

We are often amazed by how far our students will go to receive a good education, and for Srijana, a young woman from Nepal, this was more than a metaphorical distance; it was a solitary 10 km (6.2 miles) hike across streams and hills to reach her school each way -- every day, starting when she was in just the fourth grade.

At first, Srijana moved in with her aunt who lived closer to the school. However, her aunt did not value Srijana’s education and demanded she prioritize domestic responsibilities over school work. She rose early each morning to study and finished her chores late at night. Despite this exhausting schedule, Srijana still managed to become one of the school’s top performers.

However, Srijana was not satisfied. “I was spending more time doing housework than studying. I returned home and explained the situation to my parents and told them I was ready to brave the long walk.”

“The idea of walking 10 kilometers to school every day was daunting at first. The roads stretched forever and it felt like eternity walking by myself,” Srijana said. But this apprehension soon melted into joy. “It’s something that I have come to love. I actually look forward to it every day.”

Although naturally concerned about their 10-year-old daughter hiking such a long distance alone, including crossing a stream that swelled during monsoon season, her parents knew that nothing would stop Srijana from attending school. However, no one would have guessed where this would carry her next.

Find out what Srijana discovered on her journey to school by reading more on our blog »