I finished a book this weekend that outlines the very simple solution to changing the world. Appropriately, the book is titledLeaving Microsoft to Change the World - An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children - by John Wood.
John Wood was a key figure in the rise of Microsoft in the early 1990's. He worked a non-stop schedule all over the world and made good money doing it. In the late 1990's, he took a break from his fast paced life to spend 21 days trekking through the Himalayas. Fate would have it that he visited a school in Nepal before embarking on his rugged journey to 18,000 feet, the highest climb of his life. To his dismay, he was shown the school's library. A tiny locker with about 40 books in it. The locker was locked. When he asked why, he was told it was because there were so few books and they were in such demand there was fear they would be stolen. When the locker was unlocked it uncovered books ranging from cheap romance novels to field guides left behind by previous backpackers.
The book goes on to describe how that moment changed this man's life. Before he returned from the trip he sent emails to everyone he knew asking them to donate books for the school. He had promised the school he would get them 300 books. Upon his return home, his dad emailed him to request that he come home and get the 3000 books that had been sent to their house.
John Wood was so moved by the response and his ability to help educate these children of Nepal that shortly after this event, he quit Microsoft. He left behind what I'm sure amounted to many millions of dollars to raise far more than that to fight illiteracy in developing countries. His book outlines in great detail his journey from those first 3000 books to the 4 million books, 4,000 libraries, 400 schools and nearly 4000 long-term girls' scholarships worldwide. It is an amazing story of one man allowing the possibilities of his infinite business knowledge to be carried away by his passion to create a product that to date has impacted the lives of over a million children.
His book goes into great detail about the many people who have supported his award winning non-profit organization "Room to Read". You can learn more about his organization at www.roomtoread.org.
There will continue to be great debate the next several months of this presidential campaign about many social issues, including the war on poverty and a faltering education system. One side will continue to advocate pouring more money into a broken system; the other side will continue to convince us that it is not money, but more accountability for those systems. One side will say the other is only interested in helping the rich get richer, the other will say the rich are the ones creating opportunities for the poor.
As all of the campaign noise buzzes in the background, John Wood continues to unleash in the face of politics the real answer to fighting poverty, to fixing a broken education system. He has demonstrated a passion for those less fortunate than he and has freely given of his time. I don't believe there is an imbalance of wealth in this country; it is an imbalance of attitude. Many of those who have the wealth quite frankly like it. Their lives become devoted to getting more of it. As for the poor, they take one look at those with the means to help them looking the other way and weakly give up.
If I were campaigning, my biggest tax breaks would go to those donating time. To the person who gives their time to tutor a kid, to be an adult role model for some child who has never seen one or the person who helps serve food at the local soup kitchen. Until people develop a genuine interest in that guy next to them who doesn't have it quite as good, this world is going to struggle. No amount of change in political parties or legislation can combat that.
When I finished this book, I couldn't help but think of Jesus when he said "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me."