Financial Times

Room to Read challenge to local businesses

By Dilshani Samaraweera

Room to Read, a non governmental organisation involved in providing educational facilities for children in developing countries, is challenging Sri Lankan companies to contribute towards its efforts in Sri Lanka.

“I am challenging the business community in Sri Lanka to contribute for children in Sri Lanka,” the founder and Executive Chairman of Room to Read, John Wood, told journalists at a press briefing during his visit to Colombo last week.

Room to Read is looking at raising 10% of its annual budget for Sri Lanka for 2010 through its challenge to local businesses. This is around Rs 20 million out of the US$ 2.3 million annual budget for Sri Lanka
Room to Read, which is active in 9 countries in Asia and Africa, says it is involved in enhancing educational opportunities for children by setting up libraries, publishing local language children's books and constructing schools. The organisation says it is entirely private funded and does not depend on aid from governments. “We are 100% financed by private capital from individuals and corporations around the world,” said Mr Wood. The organisation is now looking at tapping Sri Lankan private funds, to contribute towards its activities in Sri Lanka.

“I will travel the world to raise money for Sri Lanka, but it will be much better if Sri Lanka can also raise money for Sri Lanka. Which is why I am calling on the business community to contribute,” said Mr Wood.
A former senior executive with global software giant Microsoft, Mr Wood says he uses a business mindset to raise funds for his cause, by meeting top corporate executives and rich individuals all over the world. The organisation also has 41 Fund Raising Chapters around the world and uses volunteers to cut operating costs.

“I am a very good salesman and I feel that you can’t be shy about fund raising. I have raised US$ 80 million to build schools round the world. Even in our work, we attract people with a business mindset,” said Mr Wood.

Mr Wood also invited Sri Lankans living abroad to donate through its Fund Raising Chapters. During his visit last week, Mr Wood donated 50,000 books to Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, to be distributed in 598 schools in the conflict recovering Eastern districts of Ampara and Batticaloa. Mr Wood also met Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, the Minister of Education Susil Premajayantha and other high level officials in the education sector.

The organisation says it is looking at expanding its activities to conflict-recovering parts of the island.
“Our goal is to move into the North and East in 2010, because as re-settlement increases, the need for education will also increase,” said Mr Wood.

Room to Read has been operating in Sri Lanka since 2005 and says it has constructed 202 pre/primary schools 655 bilingual libraries, given 1,200 long term scholarships for girls and published 47 children’s story books.

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