John Wood's education and work experience at Microsoft helped prepare
John Wood's education and work experience at Microsoft helped prepare him to lead a nonprofit organization, Room to Read. It was while he was on vacation, hiking in Nepal that he was inspired to think about what he would do with the rest of his life and where he could make the most impact. It would take a lot of courage to quit your job, live off savings and hope that you could make the money and connections to build an organization like this with the ambitious mission to provide educational opportunities for the developing world.I liked the personal stories of the people he met along the way, and the logistics behind building a successful nonprofit, from 501(c)3 status to a clear mission, effective fundraising, good people, clear results, and community involvement and ownership.This book inspires and reminds me to be grateful for what I have, particularly books and the opportunity to learn. It inspires me to do more to give back and help others. It inspires me to see and get to know people and to look for and fulfill my dreams and passions.Here are a few quotes I liked from the book:
"His next sentence would forever change the course of my life: 'Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books (p. 10).'""The Dalai Lama wrote that when we gave something away, we actually got something back in return: happiness. If we were to use our money simply to buy ourselves things, there would be no end. Acquisition would not produce true happiness, as we'd never have the biggest boat, the nicest car, and would be stuck in a perpetual materialist cycle. But if we gave something away to those who are less fortunate, we'd get nothing in return except for a warm feeling in our heart and the knowledge in our brains that we had made the world a better place (p. 14).""The love of reading, learning, and exploring new worlds so predominates my memory of youth that I simply could not imagine a childhood without books (p. 15).""'There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming (Soren Kierkegaard, p. 17).'""'You do not have to pay me anything. You are my friend.' Before I could utter a word of protest, he smiled, waved good-bye, and sped off into traffic. This was my final positive impression of Nepal after three weeks that had been full of them--the quiet dignity of a people who are poor, but who value friendship over money. I knew that there was no way I could ever repay all the kindness that had been shown to me (p. 20).""'The most crowded libraries have always been in neighborhoods with the largest population of recent immigrants.' This was the power of Andrew Carnegie's legacy. He had used his wealth to set up over 2,000 public libraries across North America. Three generations after his death, they were continuing to pay dividends....Could we do the same for the people of Nepal? How about other countries in the developing world? My travel experiences had taught me that parents around the world are similar at least in one respect--they want their children to have a better life than they have had. I did not possess Carnegie's wealth. But I had a thirty-year head start on him. I would not wait until I was old and retired. I was still young, and full of energy. In Colorado, spilling out of my parents' home and into their garage, we had at least an initial down payment on this dream (p. 24).""'This is a very big day for our school and our village. We now have a library full of books. Inside books you will find hidden the mysteries of the world. With books, you can learn, and you can make a better future for your families and for our country (p. 32).'""For most of our lives, we are taught to act in accordance with society's expectations. I would soon defy them. My entire life had been on a predictable trajectory dominated by a couple of university degrees and thirteen years of white-collar employment. My identity was defined by my career. I now planned a radical shift, a big leap into the unknown: from corporate executive to unemployed guy setting up libraries in the Himalayas. I prayed that I would be decisive and follow through on my gut instinct (p. 38).""All my life I had been in saving mode, and now my nest egg would be severely scarred. I then rationalized to myself, what good are savings if you can't use them to fund your dreams (p. 65)?""I tried to remind myself how pathetic it was to rely on labels and easy cliches to define my identity. I recalled advice my father had given me in junior high school. One night as we raked leaves, he asked if he needed to sign the permission form for junior varsity football. No doubt to his surprise, my response was to start crying. I explained to him that I had no interest, that all the kids who had signed up were bigger than me, and that my visions of the Darwinian playground had convinced me that I would be best off sticking with my paper route as my after-school activity. As usual, his advice was simple and straightforward: 'If you don't want to play, then don't play....John, you are old enough to know that the only person you have to satisfy in life is yourself. Even your mother and I no longer matter. Don't do anything to please us. Do what you think is the right thing to do and get used to answering only to yourself (p. 66).'""At Microsoft, I had grown used to having calls returned, a staff that would execute my plans, and all the resources needed. I was now a fish out of water. With no experience in the complex world of international nonprofits, I had a grand vision but few results and even fewer contacts. I felt demoralized and wondered if my transition had been a mistake (p. 79).""Our team works in partnership with local communities in the developing world under a coinvestment model to catalyze the creation of new educational infrastructure, including schools, libraries, computer labs, and long-term scholarships for girls (p. 84).""I'd endured tortured introspection about whether there would be 'life after Microsoft.' And now here I sat in a rural village, as happy as I had ever been. I did not have any of the trappings of my old Microsoft life and had not collected a paycheck in over a year. But I felt as though I had found my role in the universe. I looked out at the crowd, and several children smiled and waved at me as soon as we locked eyes. Their faces made every minute of my three-day journey to this remote village in the shadow of the Himalayas worth it (p. 112).""Parents could prove their commitment to education and the new school by donating labor. The women we saw this morning had responded to the call. Each morning, a group of them would wake up before sunrise, walk an hour downhill to the roadside where the cement bags were being stored, and then walk 90 minutes back up to the village. The bags weighed 50 kilos--110 pounds--and some mothers were making the trip twice in one day. Dinesh reminded me that this was a farming village, and they women would still have to spend their day in the fields (p. 114).""The events of September eleventh remind us that we live in a very confused world. I think that how we respond says a lot about our capacity as human beings to be optimistic in the face of nihilism, and to prove that light can win out over darkness. I am not saying that education is going to solve all the world's problems. But it's something direct, and tangible. We can do it right now. You can go home tonight knowing that within a year, a few new schools will be open. I hope you'll choose to support our work (p. 133).""The clerk insisted that 'sending it as checked luggage' was the only solution....Only then did I realize that they were referring to the man's key chain, on which was attached a tiny letter opener whose blade could be popped open with the push of a button...'But this is a family heirloom; it belonged to my grandfather and I cannot throw it out.'....At this point I intervened and told him I might be able to solve his problem. If he could give me the letter opener, and a business card, I could put the letter opener in the bag I was checking. When I got home to San Francisco, I could drop the family heirloom in the mail to him. His jaw dropped. Native New Yorkers may not be used to strangers going out of their way to offer favors...'I don't know who you are, but thank you.'....Two weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from my new best friend, Brent Erensel. 'Dear John, Thank you for sending me back my letter opener...After receiving the package from you along with your business card, I went online to look up what Room to Read does. As I viewed the photos of the kids you are helping, I decide that both you and Erin must be angels. That would be the only explanation for what I have witnessed from meeting you briefly at JFK, and then viewing the slide shows on your site. Enclosed please find a little something to keep the positive energy flowing.' He had written Room to Read a check for $1,000 (p. 135).""Rather than talking about what we were going to do, I would instead talk about what we had done. Tangible stuff: the number of schools opened; the number of books donated; the number of girls on scholarship....In 2001 I came up with an idea that is still used today. I set my email signature file to list our results at the bottom of each and every email that I sent out....We're all about results. 200 schools built, over 2,500 bi-lingual libraries established, 1.2 million books donated, and over 1,800 girls on long-term scholarships. Join us in the quest for universal education (p. 140).""'Three hours and four minutes in the Boston Marathon. Great time! Well run!' 'Wait. Stop! How did you know that?' 'I know everything about my people!' That loyalty, more than anything else, explains why so many people who have worked for Steve are, to this day, intensely loyal to him. He demands much of his people, but he also lets them know that he's got their back (p. 148).""'John, your role in life is not to live in a fabulous house overlooking the water. You are never home anyway. You need to keep doing what you do, because not enough progress is being made in the world, especially for the poorest countries. Don't think about real estate as being what matters. You have something that few other people have--the certainty that comes with knowing you are doing, every day, exactly what you should be doing. To sacrifice that to chase a big home would be a disaster and huge mistake (p. 177).'""A dark-haired teacher in his late 20s explained that the school was waiting for a lock for the door, and bars for the windows. Until this security was in place, the teachers were each spending a night sleeping in the lab. I was impressed and made a mental note to share the story with Bill Draper, who had told me that the only aid projects that worked were the ones where the local people felt ownership (p. 204).""'This girl has seriously cool parents,' I thought as I pictured them actively engaged in helping her learn the joy of reading, and the satisfaction of service to others. I forwarded the email to a dozen of our most dedicated volunteers to let them share in the heartwarming story. And then it dawned on me how lucky I am, to be working in a role that provides so many examples of basic human kindness. I have a near constant interaction with people who believe that in education lies independence, self-sufficiency, a better life, and progress for humanity. Best of all, they are willing to take action, rather than sitting around talking about the problems (p. 211).""True entrepreneurs are not afraid to declare to the world that they are going to fill a market gap or offer a new product or service, even if they are not entirely sure how they are going to do it. They simply take the leap (p. 229).""The other important lesson is that once we declare a bold goal, thousands of people rallied around it....In retrospect, I believe that the majority of these people were motivated by the fact that we did not yet have a complete strategy or solution for Sri Lanka. In the absence of such, each individual was able to exercise his or her creative muscle and invent his or her own role (p. 230).""If you are thinking about making some adjustments in your life to allow you to help change the world, my heartfelt recommendation is not to spend too much time thinking about it. Just dive in (p. 237)."
"Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly (St. Francis de Sales, p. 253)."