Saturday, October 06, 2007

Changing the World

Just finished listening to Episode #6 of Foreword Thinking: the Business and Motivational Book Review Podcast that's hosted by Mitch Joel.

His guest in this episode is John Wood, author of the memoir Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and founder of Room to Read, a non-profit organization that establishes schools, libraries, and other educational infrastructure in developing nations.

I was moved by the idea that this man would feel compelled to dedicate the best years of his life to battling illiteracy in countries so far from his own home. It's humbling because I live in a developing country, see poverty and the effects of a deteriorating educational system on a daily basis, and yet I don't do enough to help.

Below are a few of the quotes from the podcast which really struck me [minutes into the podcast]:

  • The Tyranny of Or. Sometimes there's this thing -- Steve Ballmer calls it the "Tyranny of Or" where everything's an Either-Or thing [7:26]
  • On over-thinking. In a certain sense, I'm glad I didn't over-think it, because I could have talked myself out of it very easily. There's no shortage of people who would tell me exactly why this is a bad idea, or why this wouldn't work, or how difficult it would be. And I think at a certain point, you just have to ignore those voices and dive into what you're passionate about. So looking at it now, where I am today 8 years later, if I'd over-thought it I probably wouldn't have done it and I'd probably still be at a desk at Microsoft or some other technology company [8:05]
  • Keeping Things Tangible. It's hard to be cynical about charity if you know exactly where the money is going to: you see a photograph of the finished school; you see a dedication plaque; it's very tangible for people. In this day and age when communication is ubiquitous, it's not difficult to raise money to do one project in the developing world. [15:42]
  • Education as Key to Personal Success. All of us who have done well in life, we have education to thank for our success in life. The fact that there are almost 1 billion people in the world today who are illiterate is a damning indictment on our world. How can we ever break the cycle of poverty for these kids if they don't go to school? It is impossible. [17:37]
  • Education affects Entire Countries. The United Nations has statistics where you can graph amazing things against the literacy rate. The most literate countries have the highest life expectancy; the most uneducated countries have the lowest life expectancy. Maternal death during childbirth: low literacy countries are losing 15 times as many women to death during childbirth as in an educated society like Iceland, or Norway, or Sweden. [18:05]
  • Education is not a hand-out, it's a hand-up. You're giving people the skills they need to break the cycle of poverty themselves. [18:55]
  • It is solvable; you don't need millions of dollars. We can build a school library and support it for the first three years and train a librarian and fill it with books for US$3000. We can put a girl on scholarship and keep her on scholarship and have a strong female mentor who looks after her, and pay her school fees, and give her a bicycle and pay for her school supplies and pay for her healthcare -- all of that is Cdn $275 a year. It's less than a $1 a day to put a girl in school and keep her in school [19:32]
  • Literate women and girls will educate the next generation. The statistic that I think is most depressing and most damning is that two-thirds of the people who are illiterate in the world today are women and girls. And if we don't educate the girls, we don't educate the next generation. That to me is one of the most important things in the world -- to get girls in school, keep them in school, they will break the cycle of poverty for their family. An educated mother -- I know from my own background; my grandmother and my mother were both educated and they both read to me. If they had been illiterate, my life would be very different today. [20:04]
  • Keep the solutions simple. Sometimes in the charity world, people make things overly complicated. I have people who say -- I want to help you plunk down a solar-powered, satellite enabled, remote learning station... and I'm like -- Oh, my God. Let's just build a library and put some books in the hands of kids and start with the basics. [20:48]
The hardcover edition of the book came out in 2006. The paperback edition was released in September 2007.


Mitch Joel said...

I am so happy you enjoyed that episode of Foreword Thinking. I have another one in the hopper, but it has been slow-going. I'm passionate about business and motivational books and hopeful that as more and more episodes come out, it piques people's interest.

Thanks for listening.

mdy said...

It's a great podcast -- I haven't missed an episode since you started it. This episode in particular made me want to stop and rethink a few things. I'm looking forward to the next one. 8-)