KARL MOORE – John Wood was on the fast track to being an executive at Microsoft but he gave it up at a relatively young age in order to form an NGO – Room to Read – which was focused on helping children do better in life through literacy and gender equality. I am delighted to have John here in Montreal today.
Good morning, John.
JOHN WOOD – Good morning.
KARL MOORE – When you look at it, you went from the world of big business, very successful and very driven, to the world of the NGO. What skills could you take from a Microsoft, highly successful, to the world of NGO’s? What are the things you could carry over?
JOHN WOOD – I think one of the key things we can take from the business world is the idea of thinking about scale. If a business sees unmet need, it scales – it sees it as an opportunity. I think that in the non-profit world we need to be thinking bigger about that. The non-profit world, traditionally, sometimes supplies very small and temporary Band-Aids to solutions and I think from my perspective at Room to Read I have always had a BHAG (a Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to say I want to reach 10 million children across the developing world and if we are going to do this then let’s do it in a big way. I’ve always believed that bold goals attract bold people.
If you look at the statements that Bill and Steve made at Microsoft, a computer on every desk and in every home, 20 years ago that was considered to be a crazy goal. Now, we have pretty much arrived there. If you look at the way that large companies set goals, whether it be Google or Facebook, I think that the charity sector can do the same thing. People told me it was hubristic that I thought we would reach 10 million children by the year 2020, given that we were starting from scratch. Well, the good news for us is that we are going to actually reach 10 million children by the year 2015 across 10 countries in the developing world. So I think bold thinking from the business sector, also leadership – being able to go out and inspire people to say, “We can do this. We can make a big impact on the world.” Sometimes I think charities are told that they should think small and really I think the NGO world should be thinking big.
KARL MOORE – We are always hearing business lecturing government and NGO’s about how they should be more business like. Let’s flip that on its head for once and say, “What can business learn from NGO’s? What are the skills of NGO’s that are transferrable back to business?”
JOHN WOOD – I think one of the great things that the NGO world has that the business world can learn from is very simple – it is passion. If you look at somebody like myself, leading Room to Read, I have a passion for the children and the communities we serve, we all have passion for our investors and showing them a good return, we have passion for the mission and the idea of changing the world through the power of education. But if you go to a lot of businesses, we both know it when we see it – you get on, let’s say American Airlines and, oh my gosh, there is no passion there from anybody. Nobody really cares about serving you or taking care of you as a customer and I think a lot of businesses really lack passion.
I think a second thing business can learn is really authentic leadership. The business world today really has a lot of fake leadership. I am not saying there are not a lot of great leaders in the business world but there are also a lot of people who are just kind of going through ticking the box day-to-day and they are not inspiring leaders. I think, in the charitable world, you really do have a lot of fantastic leaders – you have Scott Harrison at Charity Water, Charles Best at Donor’s Choose, Wendy Kopp at Teach For America, just some fantastic leaders who are very authentic and people want to follow them.
I will give you an example of this at Room to Read, we have volunteer chapters at over 57 cities around the world with over 10,000 volunteers involved in them. These are busy people who have day jobs and families and who volunteer their time to raise money for Room to Read so we can help more kids in more places. Why do they do that? Well, because I think they really believe in the leadership of Room to Read and say, 'Ok, those guys know what they are doing. They are passionate, they are on their game – I want to get involved with them.' You know, you can never picture people volunteering for a for-profit company. No one is going to call Exxon and say, “Hey, I want to volunteer for you guys, I am inspired by your mission.” Well, if you look at the NGO world there are literally millions of people saying, “I love what those guys do, I want to get involved, and I want to help make a difference.”