New Delhi: John Wood, the founder of the non-profit Room To Read libraries, likes to benchmark his efforts against the coffee retailer Starbucks.
“In the 8th year after its IPO, Starbucks opened 1,000 outlets. We are opening 1,600 libraries this year,” says Wood, a former Microsoft Corp. executive who is in India looking for corporate donors.
The new Room to Read libraries will add to those already operational in schools in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and five other countries. Besides libraries, the organization funds scholarships for girls, sets up computer labs for students, publishes books in local languages and in some countries, albeit not in India, runs schools as well.
Socially responsible: John Wood, founder and CEO, Room to Read, with his global team
The organization got a $1 million (about Rs4 crore) grant from investment bank Goldman Sachs Goup, earlier this year to fund libraries in India. It also got a $249,000 (about Rs1 crore) grant from Credit Suisse to build libraries and computer labs here.
Now, Wood is hoping Indian donors will step forward as well. “Corporate social responsibility has to go beyond what can I do to look good,” he says. “And India’s growth has to go beyond how many Pizza Huts can be opened per capita.”
Wood plans to enlist the Young Presidents’ Organisation, a non-governmental organization comprising company presidents and CEOs, for his fund-raising efforts in Mumbai.
The last reliable count done by the Indian government in 2005 with the Indian Market Research Bureau put the number of out-of-school children at 13.4 million, a figure that raised much concern.
The government has said that since then, the number of out-of-school children has dropped to seven million in 2006, based on state reports but not verified by any independent agency.
Room to Read sees common cause with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, the UPA government’s flaship programme that aims to put every child in the 6-14 age group in school.
“Providing resources inside the classroom is a major concern area in SSA. Our effort is in that direction”, said Sunisha Ahuja, country director of Room To Read.
To ensure that children get books and read in the school libraries that it funds, and also to help over worked teachers, the organization employs facilitators and has begun publishing children’s books in Hindi. It will soon bring out titles in Telugu, Bengali and Marathi. Room to Read says it currently provides scholarships to 900 girls in India.