In each of my charitable endeavors, I’ve tried to share my resources where they can do the most good, in the communities and groups that need it the most. Like any good investor, I want to know that my donations are going to where they’ll make a difference. This principle has guided me toward some great organizations run by inspiring people.
As a board member of PowHerFul, it’s been clear to me that there is still much work be done in terms of promoting gender equality worldwide. True fairness comes from equality of opportunity and resources, beginning at a young age–and unfortunately, the numbers paint a grim picture for too many.
For instance, UNESCO studies show that fewer than half of countries worldwide (and none in sub-Saharan Africa) have educational parity between girls and boys. In South Asia, 80% of girls not currently in school will never enroll, compared to 16% of out-of-school boys. The results of this disparity are clear: two-thirds of illiterate adults today are women.
In the course of my research, I learned of an incredible organization called Room to Read. Room to Read provides educational resources for children that need it most around the world, with the aim of improving literacy and gender equality. They’ve made it their guiding principle to identify, through rigorous research and analysis, the communities where they can make the biggest difference for both girls and boys.
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
One vitally important aspect of Room to Read’s mission is their partnership with local communities and organizations. They understand that it takes more than an infusion of cash to help the situation, and are dedicated to putting their resources in the hands of those who know what best to do with it. Both governments and NGOs have worked with Room to Read in areas in need in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, with over ten million students affected.
This close partnership is no temporary arrangement. 87% of team members hail from the countries in which they work, from Zambia to Cambodia and nearly a dozen countries in between. This means that they are personally invested in seeing things improve for their children’s generation. Far from a hands-off approach, the team at Room to Read have dedicated themselves completely to their shared goals.
An Informed Approach
Another admirable, atypical (at least for the nonprofit world) aspect of Room to Read is their sharp focus on data-based action. Their annual Global Monitoring Report provides an impressive summation of the work done over the past year, and further, determines what needs to be done in the future.
This high level of transparency reassured me that my donation would have the greatest impact on those who needed it most. The Report details the impressive progress they’ve made over the past year, and gives a face to the students and teachers whose lives have been made better by Room to Read’s mission.
A personal connection
According to their website, Room to Read focuses very heavily on India, impacting nearly 3 million schoolchildren in the country. As an American of Indian descent, this is another reason that Room to Read is near and dear to my heart.
Although India has come very far in the past few decades, with its economy continuing its strong growth and resulting in notable gains in childhood education, some key challenges remain, particularly where it concerns literacy. In an analysis of UNESCO and government data, The Times of India found that while literacy rates increased by around 186 million, illiteracy rates decreased only by 31 million. In other words, India’s population is growing so quickly that it’s outpacing existing literacy services.
Seen in this light, Room to Read’s mission becomes even more important. Not only is it pursuing a noble goal, it’s also helping the government provide vital services to underserved populations in my ancestral homeland.
Acclaim for Room to Read
Of course, I’m not the only one who has been impressed by Room to Read. For years, there has been a plethora of media coverage recognizing the programs that have helped so many. These included a collaboration with the IKEA Foundation that gave 93,000 children in Indonesia and Bangladesh new schools with opportunities to expand their minds creatively, and a visit to a Room to Read classroom in Cambodia from First Lady Michelle Obama, among many others.
It’s not only media attention that has distinguished the organization. Multiple charity watchdogs have given high honors to Room to Read for their commitment to transparency and efficient allocation of resources. Charity Navigator has given Room to Read their highest 4-star rating yearly for over a decade running.
Other accolades include the Library of Congress Literacy Award, the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, and a #14 ranking worldwide in NGO Advisor’s latest Top 500 NGOs list, alongside prominent charity groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Skoll Foundation.
These awards, media coverage and staff dedication make sense when you consider the origins of Room to Read: the organization was founded by John Wood, who happened to visit a sorely underserved school while traveling through Nepal. An administrator’s suggestion that he bring back some reading materials for the students turned into a book drive that brought 3,000 new books to the school–and planted the idea that there was much more work to be done.
Along with co-founders Dinesh Shrestha and Erin Ganju, Wood made Room to Read a reality, and the world is better for it. Today, over ten million children have been impacted by Room to Read, and there are no plans to slow down.
This dedication is why I’m proud to associate myself with this honorable organization.