Education has the power to create a better world. It’s key to escaping the cycle of poverty that prevents millions of children from achieving their full potential. Education can open doors that would otherwise stay closed for children, simply because of where and when they are born.
“The cruelest fate for a 5-year-old is to be told you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so you’re not going to be educated and will live in poverty,” said Room to Read’s Founder John Wood.
Room to Read was founded in 2000 after Wood, a former top executive at Microsoft, took a backpacking trip that changed his life. While traveling through Nepal in 1998, Wood met a man who showed him a local school. The empty library Wood saw there inspired him to leave his corporate position and take on a mission to bring literacy and education to children around the world.
“[There were] 450 kids who could have been learning to read, but they didn’t have any children’s books,” he said.
Wood and his co-founders, Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha, began operations in Nepal and have since expanded their programs in literacy and girls’ education to 10 countries in Asia and Africa. Now, working in partnership with local communities in the world’s poorest regions, Room to Read has set a goal to help educate at least 15 million children by 2020.
Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of Salesforce, has been a key partner from the organization’s earliest days. Said Ganju, “Salesforce has been a valued investor from the very beginning and has helped us scale our impact successfully.” Leveraging its best-in-class technology, supportive people, and other helpful resources, Salesforce.org multiplies the social impact of organizations such as Room to Read.
Research shows that when girls and women are educated, their communities achieve more peace, prosperity, and stability. Yet girls and young women comprise two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population.
That’s why Room to Read created its literacy program, which targets the critical primary school years. The program uses low-tech methods to help young children become independent readers by ensuring that schools have a library of books in the local language, as well as teachers and librarians trained in the best practices of reading and writing instruction.
Its girls’ education program helps ensure that girls complete secondary school and possess the skills to negotiate key life decisions. The program reinforces girls’ commitment to their own education, helps them develop essential life skills, and builds support for girls’ education among their parents, school staff, and communities.
The strategic use of technology helps Room to Read collect data to inform decisions and improve its programs each year.
Using a checkout system built on Salesforce, Room to Read can track the popularity of book titles across all libraries and locations. “The checkout information we collect at project sites allows us to continue publishing books that we know children actually enjoy reading, which is crucial to our goal of developing the skill and habit of reading,” said Heather Simpson, Chief Program Officer.
The social collaboration tool, Chatter, connects Room to Read’s staff across different countries so they can easily share learning and best practices. They are now using mobile devices to log teacher evaluation and student attendance results in the Salesforce platform. This will allow Room to Read colleagues at other project sites to compare progress against that of control schools and students in Room to Read program schools.
Room to Read continues to grow rapidly, and centralizing its data in the cloud helps it scale. When planning new sites, program managers can access and analyze data from active schools and libraries to project funding and other resource needs. “What’s magic about our use of Salesforce is that we’re able to use the data to inform decisions and shorten our feedback loop,” said Simpson.
“We’re a very data-heavy, performance-driven organization,” said Wood. “We believe very much in what gets measured gets done.”
Not surprisingly, both employees and donors love the ability to track and measure progress across all fronts with Sales Cloud. The data, sent as updates through Marketing Cloud, keeps donors intimately engaged in supporting programs by showing how their contributions are making impacts, and where. “If donors want to actually support a specific school, library, or book that we’re publishing, we can link donors up with those projects in Salesforce,” Ganju said. “We then communicate back to donors about progress within the schools that they’re supporting.”
Since its founding, Room to Read has made a difference in 18,000 communities and reached its milestone of benefiting 10 million children by the end of 2015. With the help of technology, a single organization has vastly improved the prospects for millions of children and, in turn, their families, communities, and the world.