Becoming a Social Leader: Insights from Room to Read Founder, John Wood

“World change starts with educated children.” – John Wood, Founder, Room to Read


By Sam Milbrath | 7 months ago | Strategy | No Comments

In 1998, then-Microsoft Executive John Wood went on a trip to Nepal that not only changed his life, but the lives of millions of others. While on his travels, Wood realized the dire need for education in rural Nepal communities. In 2000, his drive and passion to help resulted in the foundation of Room to Read.

Today, Room to Read is a global non-profit organization that promotes and enables education through programs focused on literacy and gender equality. With country offices across Africa and Asia, Room to Read establishes libraries, builds schools, publishes local-language children’s books, educates teachers, and supports girls in completing secondary school with the life skills necessary to succeed in school and beyond. More than 8.8 million children have benefitted from Room to Read’s programs – almost ⅙th of the world’s primary school-aged children who once lacked access to education.

Explosive growth surfaces many new business challenges, including the transition from owner to leader. As business owners (or founders) move toward empowering employees to drive the organization, they must also start thinking like a leader and coach.

We spoke with John Wood to hear his thoughts on how to navigate this transition and become a leader in the social space.

Becoming a Social Leader

As an organization expands around the globe, the leader must stay rooted and represent the brand on an approachable, personal level. Becoming a social leader requires high levels of engagement, and personability. For Wood, his opportunity to become a social leader came in 2009, when Twitter reached out to Room to Read to be their first corporate social initiative partner and Wood set up his own Twitter handle apart from the organization.

Today, Wood has 375K Twitter followers who turn to him as a thought leader and “globe-trotting ambassador for global education.”


John’s first tweet courtesy of Twitter

Leading By Example

Room to Read’s mandate requires a global network of support, investments, and volunteer time. While the company focus is to achieve objectives and drive the organization forward, empowering Wood to have a public voice is an invaluable organizational asset. His passion and drive to change the world ignites his Twitter feed and attracts inspired followers from afar. By sharing his adventures in real time, supporters and employees can see how he spends his time, what motivates him to help, and how they can take action themselves.

“One thing people are looking for is authentic leadership. They want to see who the leaders of the organization are and learn what they’re all about.” – John Wood, Founder, Room to Read

Being Personally Provocative

Wood thinks that authenticity is important in social media: “I always say that for every tweet shared my mother should have no doubt that it comes from me.” In other words, be careful of what you outsource, because dedicated followers may spot something that your PR firm wrote.

Another part of being a social leader is having your own voice and opinions. Wood has tweeted about everything from human rights in Russia, to the persecution of gays in America, sometimes raising the ire of people who disagree with him. But he’s undaunted. “These are my beliefs and I think that Twitter is a great forum to express them,” he says. “To me, democracy is about not stifling your own voice for fear that what you say may not be universally popular.” Besides, controversy tends to get conversations going and, perhaps, spark some action.

Combining Social Forces

Between @JohnWoodRTR and @RoomtoRead Twitter handles, the organization can reach over 1 million Twitter followers in real time with social messages, news updates, and announcements. For example, during Room to Read’s 2014 Q1 board meeting, Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, was appointed to the Board. Rather than sharing the news with traditional media coverage, they shared the announcement across their combined social media channels, where over 1 million followers got the news within moments of the vote.

There are many ways to become a social leader, but nothing is better than immersing yourself in the subject. Woods closes, “Becoming a social media expert is like becoming a wine expert, the only way you do it is by drinking a lot of wine.”

Room to Read nonprofit organization relies on HootSuite to grow their organization’s social media presence and connect globally. Learn more today!

Thank you John Wood and Room to Read for chatting with us.

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