Meet Dinesh Shrestha: Founding Father of Room to Read
Many of you may have heard the name Dinesh Shrestha before but you’ve probably never met the legend himself. Well, here’s your chance and what better time than now, on the heels of Room to Read’s 10 year anniversary!
Dinesh’s history with Room to Read began in 1998 when he was connected over email to John based on a request to help him deliver books to a rural library. From that chance meeting, John and Dinesh collaborated to launch what was then known as Books for Nepal. You could call Dinesh our first in-country ambassador and first full-time volunteer (not counting John and Erin, of course).
Before joining Room to Read, Dinesh worked as chief of operations for the German Technical Corpora-tion's Rural Development Program (GTZ) and later held a position with the World Health Organization – all while volunteering with Room to Read.
In 2001, Dinesh became Room to Read's first official full-time country director in Nepal, where he led the team for eight years and ultimately established Room to Read as an influential NGO in Nepal. In June 2008, Dinesh transitioned to the role of regional human resources and administration director for Asia.
Following is our conversation with one of Room to Read’s founding fathers:Take us back to the beginning. How did your connection with John grow from a one-time book donation to the co-founding of Books for Nepal?
After I received John’s original letter request through my social club, I saw it as an opportunity to work on more projects so even though John’s books arrived in December of that year, I kept pushing John to send more and told him if he sent more, I would deliver more to places in need. This became my own personal project and I think John also saw it as his personal project. Later that year we thought, “This could be its own organization” because that would help us continue the work that we both wanted to do.The story goes that the idea for the “Challenge Grant” model can be traced back to you. Why did you feel that was important?
I think the name was John’s but the concept was mine because I wanted to make sure communities were involved with the work and felt a part of it and feel the ownership. So, when the communities told us they needed our help, I said, “OK, why don’t you match the amount we will give you by donating money, materials or manual labor.” In fact, I remember in the Dhading District of Nepal we were helping to build a school our second year and one of the community meetings, just to encourage and get their contribution for the project, I raised my hand first and announced the community I would personally donate 5,000 NPR (Nepalese Rupees) out of my own pocket and then everyone started raising their hands and we were able to raise and match our contribution in that 20 minutes meeting. John and I were both there for the inauguration of that school in 2000.
In 2001, when you became the first official country director in Nepal, did you know or expect that Room to Read would become the global organization it is today?What excites you most about Room to Read’s future?
No, I never envisioned when we started we’d one day be an organization that now has over 300 employees and works in 9 countries! I attribute our success to having a team that is dedicated, committed and passionate about what we do. With that, and the reputation we have created in the countries where we work, we have found great success which has allowed us to rapidly expand our organization and programs.
I am excited about the direction we are headed because I see many challenges but with challenges come opportunities. I am excited about disrupting the status quo and helping to take the organization to the next level so we can achieve even more. I am most excited about building upon our relationships with partner organizations – particularly with governments with whom we work. In order to succeed in impacting more children, we need to work more closely with government partners because Room to Read can only do so much for so long. We want the communities we invest with to thrive and be sustainable long after Room to Read’s support ends.
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Room to Read Touches the Sky with Cathay Pacific
Room to Read is proud to continue its relationship with Cathay Pacific in 2009 and as the supporting airline of Room to Read. Our partnership began in 2006 and really took off in 2007 with the Literacy One Flight on a new Boeing 777, a special campaign to deliver 400,000 donated English-language books to Room to Read libraries across Asia.
Cathay Pacific’s generous donation of airline miles provides valuable operating support for Room to Read across the globe, enabling our employees to travel between our country offices in Asia and Africa and our global offices in San Francisco, London and Hong Kong, which helps keep our overhead low.
We would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Cathay Pacific for their generous contribution as we scale our programs to provide access to more libraries, schools, local language books and long-term scholarships to millions more children in the developing world.
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Mr. Poet Meets Miss Library
The following poem was written by “Mr. Poet,” a student and frequent visitor to a Room to Read library in East London South Africa.
Miss Library, you are the quiet lady full of respect and dignity.
You attend to people who take time to seek information and never get disappointed.
Your shelves are full of books filled with knowledge, inspirational information and amusement.
Through you I shared in the ideas of very important people like William Shakespeare and Gcina Mhlophe.
The dinosaurs became extinct before our time but you kept record of them and make them alive to us.
Anytime I visit you seeking knowledge, I depart more powerful which confirms the saying ‘knowledge is power.'
When I seek a good story, she leaves me inspired. Oh Miss Library you are one of a kind.
You are a mother of all nations.
You feed the nations with knowledge and wisdom.
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