Last summer, I interned at Room to Read, an international nonprofit that believes “world change starts with educated children.” Programs focus on literacy and girls’ education in 14 countries around the world. Operations began in Nepal in 2000, when founder John Wood was traveling and saw a need for books in local schools. Co-founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha joined him, and a passion to bring education to low-income communities grew into an organization with scalable and data-proven programs, which have now benefited 11.6 million children in 20,000 communities.
I was particularly inspired by Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. Many families pressure girls to quit school, and most girls find themselves either in an arranged marriage or at risk of teen pregnancy. Thanks to the program, girls are beginning to advocate for themselves and finish secondary school, giving them more opportunities and improving their ability to shape their own future. This is just one of many examples of how Room to Read is changing lives through literacy. Illiteracy and gender inequality in education continue to be huge problems, and Room to Read is successfully tackling these challenges by working with local, on-the-ground staff and creating strong government partnerships.
I had been interested in Room to Read for several years, and I was excited to join the team and learn more about reporting to a board, matrix-structured organizations and their decision-making, and how a nonprofit can be run successfully with data metrics and a “business brain.” John Wood holds an MBA and previously worked for Microsoft. He was able to start this organization with quality evaluation methods and operational efficiency in mind, and the reporting structure now keeps Room to Read both accountable and successful.
As an International Operations intern, I was fortunate to work on a variety of projects. I analyzed various budget scenarios, created visual representations to showcase trends and developed a by-country insight analysis. My largest project entailed assessing inefficiencies in timeline reporting, and recommending and implementing improvements to streamline communications. The end result was a master calendar with all organizational reports in one place, including calendars for each department and for the country offices.
My background as the director of operations at Veritas Prep was key to my understanding of optimizing efficiencies, and my Erb education around social intrapreneurship, base-of-the-pyramid markets and global strategy and communications allowed me to tackle these projects in a way that was useful to the organization.
On a more personal note, I learned what I value in an organization, the type of work/life balance I’m looking for in a career, and how much I value having a deep understanding of the place I work and the people I work with.
Room to Read has done a great job in scaling to this point. The organization is in a growth phase, and the teams are hard at work with daily operations, while the management team is adding long-term strategic growth plans to its agenda. The organization is scalable and, through Room to Read Accelerator, its technical assistance model, it will continue to develop partnerships with governments and other international organizations to scale efficiently and reach even more children. In my mind, the organization’s next steps lie within management to determine what the next stage of growth will look like.