FINAL Room to Read Case Study

Transcript

1 ROOM TO READ SCALING UP LITERACY THROUGH LOCALIZED SOLUTIONS ACROSS ASIA AND AFRICA Jenny Alexander, Christina Kwauk, and Jenny Perlman Robinson

2 ROOM TO READ SCALING UP LITERACY THROUGH LOCALIZED Sincere gratitude and appreciation to Priyanka Varma, research assistant, who has been instrumental SOLUTIONS ACROSS ASIA in the production of the Room to Read case study. AND AFRICA We are also thankful to a wide-range of colleagues who generously shared their knowledge and feedback on the Room to Read case study, including: Sourav Banerjee, Unmesh Brahme, Tim Carlberg, Luis Crouch, Lauren Hadi, Cory Heyman, Tressa Johnson, Matthew Jukes, Vishnu Karki, Phong Le, Emily Leys, Cynthia Lloyd, Lynn Murphy, Sara Peracca, and Kim Wright Violich. Lastly, we would like to extend a special thank you to the following: our copy-editor, Alfred Imhoff, our designer, blossoming.it, and our colleagues, Kathryn Norris and Jennifer Tyre. The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and policy solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public. The conclusions and recommendations of any Brookings publication are solely those of its author(s) and do not reflect the views of the Institution, its management, or its other scholars. Support for this publication and research effort was generously provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The MasterCard Foundation. The authors also wish to acknowledge the broader programmatic support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the LEGO Foundation, and the Government of Norway. Brookings recognizes that the value it provides is in its absolute commitment to quality, independence, and impact. Activities supported by its donors reflect this commitment, and the analysis and recommendations are not determined or influenced by any donation. Jenny Alexander, Christina Kwauk, and Jenny Perlman Robinson

3 INTERVENTION OVERVIEW: Room to Read (2000—present) is an education-focused nongovernmental organization that works in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations, and governments to improve children’s learning across Asia and sub- Saharan Africa. It does so through literacy and girls’ education programming that focuses on systemic changes within schools during two periods that are particularly critical in a child’s schooling: early primary school for literacy Room to Read acquisition and secondary school for girls’ education. Room to Read’s Literacy Program, the focus of this case study, is an intervention based in primary school that ensures that schools have a structured library with books in the children’s local languages; trains teachers and librarians in scientifically based instructional methods in reading and writing; and engages families, communities, and government leaders in the school’s reform efforts. Room to at a glance Read’s Literacy Program works in conjunction with its countries’ existing language curricula and includes detailed lesson plans, classroom materials, and comprehensive professional development resources for teachers. Literacy coaches are placed in classrooms alongside teachers to provide instructional support throughout the intervention, and library activities are integrated to create environments that promote reading. Through structured monitoring processes, literacy coaches provide teachers with actionable feedback to improve their teaching methods and EDUCATION LEVEL: assess their students’ reading improvement over time, while library management facilitators provide similar feedback Primary to librarians. Together, these efforts seek to develop children’s reading skills and their habit of reading so that they become lifelong, independent readers. TYPE OF LEARNING MEASURED: Literacy, including reading skills (through a reading and writing assessment, similar to the Early Grade Reading Assessment, that measures decoding, fluency, and reading comprehension) and reading habits Nepal C O S T: Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa Room to Read’s 2014 annual budget was $52.8 million. Total expenditures for its Literacy Program in 2014 were 81 percent of programmatic expenses (including Literacy and School Infrastructure program areas). A total of $42.9 million of its budget made up of cash donations (64 percent from individuals, 26 percent from corporations, 6 percent from foundations, 2 percent from bilateral grants and contracts, and 2 percent from schools or other investors) and $9.9 million was from in-kind donations. Bangladesh Laos Vietnam SIZE: Cambodia Tanzania Direct reach —Approximately 1 million new children were affected by Room to Read’s Literacy Program each Zambia Sri Lanka year. Since 2000, more than 10 million children have benefited from all Room to Read programs in 17,500 —To date, more than 18,000 teachers and librarians have communities across 10 countries. Indirect reach India received professional development in literacy instruction. South Africa IMPACT: Core literacy skills —In Laos, grade 1 students experienced one-year gains in reading fluency 12 times greater than in comparison schools; and in Zambia, grade 2 children experienced two-year gains in reading fluency LOCATION: Reading habits —The proportion of that were two and a half times greater than children in comparison schools. Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam, children in India, Laos, Nepal, and Sri Lanka who enjoy reading for pleasure at home and in school increased and Zambia — National policy-level influence by 51 percent, compared with 31 percent for children in comparison schools. Individual country programs have engaged to varying degrees with their respective governments in revising national literacy textbooks (Cambodia and Laos), developing early grade reading and instruction materials FOCUS OF INTERVENTION: (Nepal and Tanzania), and shaping national library policies and practices that have a direct impact on the Early-grade literacy program for primary school children reading activities and time devoted to reading of children and youth (Cambodia, Vietnam, and Zambia). 5 4

4 Background Creating room to read—and more Room to Read activities took off quickly, materials, or from providing their Between 2001 and 2008, each year During the last decade and a half, the teachers with instructional materials and as more and more communities made number of out-of-school children has Room to Read expanded its Literacy requests for support and more and more training in literacy instruction and the Program to one new country in Asia or fallen by almost half, and a record number donors wanted to contribute books and use of storybooks, nonfiction, and other of girls and boys are now enrolled in Africa. To date, Room to Read’s Literacy funds to the cause. supplementary reading materials in local school. Despite this progress in access, Program has reached nearly 10 million languages. In these contexts, the road to approximately 250 million children still fail children in 2,167 schools in 10 countries. As Room to Read rapidly grew to literacy is a hard one. Without a learning to read and comprehend a simple text or The organization has established nearly other countries, however, its internal environment that includes books or 18,500 libraries, constructed over 1,900 perform basic mathematical calculations, assessments and early cross-national promotes reading and without teachers despite the fact that 130 million of these schools, donated over 1 million books, evaluations of its library establishment who know how to engage their students children are in school for four years and published over 1,000 book titles in program demonstrated that children were in effective reading activities, it is hard (UNESCO 2014). The gap in access and 29 languages from its program countries still unable to read at grade level and were to expect children to develop the habit (Room to Read 2014). Room to Read learning is even starker at the local level. not reading for pleasure. Attributing this of reading, let alone acquire lifelong For example, in rural India, although 95 achieved its goal of supporting 10 million finding to the lack of culturally relevant literacy skills. percent of children are enrolled in school, children by 2020 five years earlier than reading materials, in 2003, Room to planned. And with its programs being fewer than half of fifth-grade students can In 2000, this was just the space into Read evolved from English-language implemented in 17,500 communities in 10 read at the second-grade level (ASER book donations and began publishing which stepped John Wood, a former countries, its impact is also felt worldwide Centre 2015). Research suggests that once quality, age-appropriate books written in Microsoft executive, and his cofounders children miss out on learning basic skills across its 1,000 staff (87 percent of local languages. Because many of Room Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha, when such as reading and writing in the early whom come from the communities where Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa they created Room to Read and started to Read’s participating countries lacked grades, they are unlikely to ever catch up they work; Room to Read 2014); over such local-language reading materials working with rural communities—first (Pritchett 2014). The implications of this 18,000 teachers, librarians, and other from the outset, the organization began in Nepal, and then throughout Asia school staff; and over 1,286 local authors “learning crisis” are bleak, not just in and Africa—to build schools, establish to identify and train local authors and terms of the status of national education and illustrators. libraries, and enhance literacy instruction illustrators to produce local-language systems, but also in terms of the addition reading materials. (for more on the story of Room to Read’s To pave the road to literacy, and to of millions of more adults who cannot genesis, see Wood 2007, 2014). Wood achieve such wide reach, Room to Read’s understand, for example, instructions on a Starting in 2008, Room to Read’s and his colleagues believed that a leaders focused the organization on medicine bottle’s label, an employment ad, Literacy Program began to expand its solution to the resource problem noted interventions early in children’s lives in or an election ballot because they lack the scope of activities from creating literate above could be found in the philanthropic order to enable them to develop literacy foundational skills needed to participate environments (i.e., building libraries, mobilization of global resources for skills and reading habits at a young age. in modern society (Room to Read 2013; donating books, and publishing local- education, supported by a passionate The program began with key, quick-win Sperling, Winthrop, and Kwauk 2015). language reading material) to enhancing network of international donors and activities that demonstrated to early literacy instruction in ways that would channeled through local governments The reasons why schools are not donors the beneficial effect of moving help grade 1 and 2 children “crack to individual communities on the delivering on their promise to develop resources to where they were needed the code” and gain the foundational ground. Although Room to Read began the most basic skills in children are the most. Such quick wins included reading skills on which to build their largely by providing book donations to multifaceted and complex. But one building and repairing schools, thereby literacy (Room to Read 2012). By 2009, local schools—an endeavor that grew underlying cause, especially in rural improving the quality of learning spaces beginning in India, and then in Nepal exponentially within a few years—its later areas, is that some governments face and creating more room where children and Sri Lanka, the organization piloted work supporting educators to teach a desperate lack of resources, which could read; and establishing dedicated adding a reading and writing instruction children so that they could become prevents them from providing children library spaces and filling them with component to its work, with a phonics readers provides the backdrop for this with access to a physical school or donated books, to provide children with emphasis that combined frequent and case study. to books and other quality reading more reading opportunities. These initial 7 6

5 understanding that created weekly “reading enjoyment at home and in school increased and learning materials, such as letter timely school-based support to teachers periods” throughout all schools in Vinh Long by about 51 percent in four of the countries, cards for phonics practice or word from literacy coaches with access to Province—not just Room to Read schools— compared with an average increase of cards for print recognition. Literacy local-language reading content in school during which students could engage in a about 31 percent in comparison schools coaches provide on-site classroom libraries. The success of these pilots led variety of shared and independent reading (Room to Read 2015c). However, though enhancement through regular in-service to further pilots in Laos and Zambia in activities. Similarly, in India, Room to Read’s Room to Read’s school libraries helped teacher training and reading instruction 2010, and eventually to a much-larger- 1 leaders pushed policymakers to increase to create an environment that promoted support. scale literacy intervention, which by 2011 According to Room to Read’s students’ time in school to read and explore reading, its impact on children’s reading was incorporated into Room to Read’s staff, deploying literacy coaches has the library, influencing legislation in 2014 habits was not consistent among children Literacy Program across nine countries. been the most effective and efficient that mandated library time in every public of parents with less education or other way to support a large number of Specifically, the program’s reading- school and for reading instruction to begin disadvantages. As a result, between teachers over time for reading skills and-writing instruction component, in in a lower grade (Unmesh Brahme, interview 2013 and 2015, Room to Read instituted instruction. This approach has also partnership with ministries of education, by Jenny Alexander, May 5, 2015). a series of programmatic improvements, minimized the amount of time needed works to supplement gaps in early grade including the introduction of family and for in-service professional workshops Finally, Room to Read has also received reading and writing curriculum, teacher community engagement guidelines to and has allowed teachers, as well as several accolades for its contributions training, and instruction with evidence- help schools increase parental support librarians, to practice specific skills, to increasing literacy levels around the based guidelines in literacy instruction, and involvement in their children’s reading; routines, and activities that encourage world. For example, in 2011, Room to Read detailed lesson plans customized to stronger coordination between the Literacy students to read with success in their was awarded the UNESCO Confucius the local context, and print teaching Program’s reading instruction and school own classrooms. Prize for Literacy in recognition of its library components; and packages to excellence and inspiring experiences promote more consistent implementation in the field of literacy throughout the approaches (i.e., training to librarians) for Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa Impact and evidence of success world. In 2014, Room to Read was all its libraries (Room to Read 2015c). recognized by the Library of Congress with the Rubenstein Prize, which goes to The organization has also influenced Read 2015a). The evaluations also showed Room to Read’s impact on literacy during an organization that has demonstrated national-level policy through its engagement that this impact was sustained over the the past 15 years has been impressive. exceptional and sustained depth in curricular and/or textbook reforms, as course of the two-year intervention: In Sri Compared with an evaluation of 70 and breadth in its commitment to the well as school library reforms. For example, Lanka, children experienced two-year educational interventions in low- to upper- advancement of literacy. Ganju, Room to Room to Read Cambodia was invited by gains that were twice as large as children middle-income countries (of which Room Read’s cofounder and chief executive, was the Cambodian government to rewrite the in comparison schools. In Cambodia and to Read was not a part), Room to Read’s recognized by the Schwab Foundation in country’s literacy textbooks for grades 1, 2, Zambia, children progressed at a rate effect size on young readers was nearly 10 2014 as one of 37 Social Entrepreneurs and 3 after a successful literacy instruction two and a half times greater than their times greater than the average impact of of the Year for her innovative approaches pilot improved the way Khmer literacy skills counterparts (Room to Read 2015a). the other interventions evaluated (McEwan and potential for global impact. Wood were taught in early grade Cambodian 2015). Program evaluations, commissioned was recognized as the 2015 World classrooms. A similar process is currently The program has also demonstrated by Room to Read, found similarly large Children’s Prize Honorary Laureate. under way in Laos, where Room to Read’s improvements in children’s reading habits, effects on reading fluency. Tracking children Finally, Room to Read’s Do Not Read This textbooks for grades 1 and 2 are being as measured by the number of books for two years with literacy assessments video—a public service announcement piloted in place of the existing national checked out of Room to Read libraries and before and after the intervention, that was produced in house for less than Lao-language textbooks. In Nepal, Room the time spent reading for enjoyment at evaluations in India found that children $400 and was launched on International to Read’s literacy instruction materials home or in school. For example, between could read 13 more words per minute than Literacy Day in 2014—was recognized by served as the basis for the country’s new 2009 and 2013, the average number of children in comparison schools by the end the In2 SABRE Awards for digital content national early grade reading curriculum for books that children checked out increased of grade 1, and 29 more words per minute and was featured on YouTube’s Spotlight grades 1 and 2. Finally, in Vietnam, Room to from 3.3 to 8.9 books per student annually. by the end of grade 2. In Laos, grade 1 channel as one of the 12 most powerful Read’s collaboration with the Vietnamese Furthermore, between 2009 and 2012, children improved at rates 12 times those public service announcements. government led to a memorandum of the proportion of children reading for of children in comparison schools (Room to 9 8

6 Timeline of key events Key drivers behind scaling impact 2 than planned. In addition to this ambitious Room to Read did not have a finalized 1998 vision for scaling up its efforts, another approach for scaling up on day one. John Wood visits a school in the Himalayas in Nepal and is inspired Instead, it evolved its plans as it developed crucial element was identifying early on to leave his executive position at Microsoft to start Books for Nepal and as its leadership learned more about a theory of change about how scaling up (BfN), together with Dinesh Shrestha. BfN focuses on building schools and establishing libraries shelved with donated English- the strength of its programming and the the organization and its impact on literacy language books. was supposed to take place. This helped needs of the people whom it served. Indeed, 2000 the organization went through several Room to Read operationalize and test the BfN expands its scope of work and begins its Girls’ Education Program. phases of changes after it was launched in viability of its assumptions, and at times 2001 use scaling up to drive larger impact. 2000, each of which had a different focus. BfN officially becomes Room to Read. Erin Ganju joins the team Whereas early efforts focused substantially as cofounder and chief operating officer. As the remainder of this case study on establishing thousands of libraries, 2002 Room to Read Vietnam is launched. Room to Read Cambodia is launched. demonstrates, Room to Read’s vision and creating hundreds of children’s story Room to Read begins to invest in monitoring and evaluating the theory of change for scaling up have books, and funding a large number of girls’ impact of its programs. 2003 together helped it to develop a number of scholarships, the organization’s current Room to Read India is launched, with a focus on local organization strategies that have led to the successful focus is achieving quality educational and government partnerships. Room to Read launches its Local-Language Publishing component to scaling up of its literacy impact—defined as outcomes for children at scale, by focusing produce children’s books in local languages. fluency, reading comprehension, decoding, on the quality of implementation and the Volunteer chapters emerge in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States to help broaden Room to Read’s fund-raising efforts. A and reading habits. These strategies associated outcomes of its literacy and 2005 chapter strategy is formed. include decentralizing ownership, co- girls’ education programs. Room to Read Sri Lanka is launched after the December 2005 tsunami. Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa Room to Read launches its first five-year strategic plan. investing for the long term with its Room to Read Laos is launched. 2006 The Global Solutions Database is created in collaboration with How, then, has Room to Read’s model government and community partners, Room to Read expands to the African continent, launching its Salesforce. been replicated, localized, and sustained ensuring that outcomes are measured and programs in South Africa. Room to Read’s leadership begins the organization’s global 2007 results are fed back into the development by governments across Asia and Africa? awareness effort via media exposure. Room to Read Zambia is launched. One key to its accelerated growth was its and refinement of program activities, and In India and Nepal, the first cohorts of girls graduate from Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. big-picture focus on the eventual goal of being honest about how best to strengthen 2008 The Room to Dream campaign is launched to support the organization’s program components—which sometimes supporting 10 million children by 2020, a Room to Read Bangladesh is launched. goal of establishing 10,000 bilingual libraries in three years. Room to Read pilots its Reading and Writing Instruction component goal that was achieved five years earlier has meant scaling back its programs. in India to support educators as they teach students to become 2009 readers. The Reading and Writing Instruction component is piloted in Nepal and Sri Lanka. India’s pilot continues for a second year. Room to Read’s chapter network expands to Australia, 2010 Decentralizing ownership while maintaining program quality Hong Kong, Japan, and the Middle East. Room to Read’s Reading and Writing Instruction component pilots expand to Laos and Zambia. Room to Read launches its second five-year strategic plan, which Room to Read recognized early on that concentrated its initial expansion in Asia in consolidates its program areas to Literacy and Girls’ Education. local adaptation and ownership would be countries where it already had established Room to read establishes its 10,000th library. critical for the success of its programs. This personal connections, an existing network 2012 recognition has helped it build flexibility of supporters, or a prior commitment. Room to Read Tanzania is launched. into its projects and has also helped it to For the additional countries in Asia and establish strong relationships with local Africa where it began to operate, Room partners. In turn, this has helped Room to Read’s process of decentralizing to Read work within existing community ownership was successful. This process networks and identify the context- started with hiring a strong national country specific issues that it must address to 2015 director, who in turn hired a solid local improve learning. Indeed, Room to Read Room to Read reaches a milestone of support for 10 million children. Room to Read approves its third five-year strategic plan. Room to Read launches its Accelerator technical assistance unit. 10 11

7 team that developed a “proof of concept” effective content and training materials into for several national governments. To lay For example, in Sri Lanka, after the deadly for the country context. That is, an activity worldwide implementation packages that these foundations, when investing in a 2004 tsunami, Room to Read worked had to achieve a demonstrable level of were designed to be cost-effective, scalable, new country, especially one planning closely with the Sri Lankan government success in a way that was manageable for and sustainable, as well as easy for country to implement a full program, Room to to improve literacy education efforts in the context in which it had been tested. The teams to use and implement with local Read first raises a minimum of risk- the country’s primary schools. As a result next step was to share this proof of concept partners. Country teams recontextualized tolerant funding that will last for three of this partnership, in 2011 Room to Read with government officials and/or other the materials into local languages and years. The philosophy underlying this was invited to participate in a Ministry organizational leaders in ways that inspired ensured that the content was culturally is that an effective program requires of Education’s steering committee to adoption and scaling up through larger appropriate and responsive to countries’ building networks and establishing prepare policy guidelines on the types systems. The originating organization then administrative needs, while also making roots without fear of discontinuing the of reading materials that were being shared the details of the program model certain that it was as closely aligned as program mid-stride. distributed to schools. According to Room with representatives from the government possible with Room to Read’s worldwide to Read, this was the first time that an Additionally, investing in a country for and/or other organizations, and in some approach. international nonprofit organization had the long term also means investing in cases even trained them in methods. It was been invited to sit on a ministry steering The development of these implementation communities as partners—whether by then up to the recipients to scale up the committee related to policy formation, and packages helped Room to Read follow a recruiting local country directors to lead activities in ways that made the most sense it ultimately provided Room to Read with more disciplined approach to scaling up local program staff; including in-country for their constituents’ needs. an invaluable opportunity to positively its activities, in terms of both its direct research, monitoring, and evaluation influence literacy education nationwide This approach to scaling up led to a trade- programming and in areas where it did teams; or by leveraging local participation (personal communication, Cory off between allowing for local ownership not have a direct presence in a country. and expertise to ensure greater community Heyman and Jenny Perlman Robinson, and adaptation while maintaining fidelity to By engaging in a process of reflection ownership. Another key strategy for February 17, 2016). And there are a the program model. As local engagement and revision, the organization was able to Room to Read has been to follow a “co- number of other stories of government Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa increased, additional components were often identify and refine its best practices and investment” model, whereby Room to partnerships leading to Room to Read’s added to the programs, but others were not to standardize its approach to ensure Read and the local community are both participation in national-level education eliminated, which led to more complicated that its core programming remained of invested in children’s literacy outcomes. policymaking processes. In Bangladesh, and complex programs at full scale. To high quality while expanding. At the same For example, as part of any new library the organization’s partnerships with respond to this growing complexity, in 2014 time that this approach assists Room to or school construction activity, Room to government led to Room to Read’s Room to Read began a process of program Read with balancing customization and Read requires a community contribution participation two years later in a national consolidation. And in 2015, Room to Read standardization, it also ensures that the to the overall effort of approximately 15 committee tasked with overhauling launched its technical assistance arm, known organization assists even more children percent of total costs. This can be in the the national educational curriculum. In as the Accelerator, to further standardize in areas it would not otherwise have been form of cash, labor, or in-kind donations Cambodia and Laos, Room to Read was 3 its scaling approach. able to reach through an exclusively Specifically, Room to (i.e., land use, construction materials, invited to help rewrite the respective direct implementation model. Read organized its 10 country teams’ most and books). This upfront commitment, or governments’ early grade literacy “challenge grant,” generates a different textbooks. And in Zambia, Room to Read’s set of expectations for project outcomes, focus on building strong relationships with creates a stronger sense of partnership the national government eventually led to Investing in a country for the long term and community ownership, and increases an invitation to provide recommendations the likelihood that not only will projects Closely related to Room to Read’s instead of private sector educational for the country’s national education policy. be implemented on time but also that decentralized approach to ownership providers through direct program communities will be more inclined to It took Room to Read time and strategic was the organization’s approach to taking implementation. This decision was rooted themselves sustain project activities over planning to transform itself from its the long view when investing in a new in a theory of change that presumed that the longer term. This co-investment model nascent phase of building libraries country. Early on in its organizational governments’ predominance as the funder opens the door for strong community and implementing reading-and-writing development, Room to Read’s leadership and facilitator of mass education in many interest in learning the details of program instruction programs to its current role made the conscious decision to work countries made it a natural partner in activities, providing input and feedback of serving as a trusted educational voice almost exclusively with governments working to scale up programs. 13 12

8 elections because they have not been about the efficacy of the overall program admire and seek to replicate (personal leverage volunteers to make substantial accountable enough for the community’s design and its alignment with community communication, Tim Carlberg and Jenny contributions to their fund-raising efforts, funds pledged toward building schools needs, and ensuring accountability for Perlman Robinson, March 31, 2016). which is something similar organizations (personal communication, Cory Heyman the use of resources. Room to Read’s and Jenny Perlman Robinson, February staff in Tanzania have even reported 17, 2016). community leaders losing their jobs in Leveraging data to refine the approach Detailed results from over 30 indicators In 2008, during a discussion between are not only shared publicly in an annual Wood and his former supervisor at Following a businesslike approach to fund-raising report, as discussed earlier in this case Microsoft, Melinda Gates, about the study, but are also shared regularly with and 2008—and it has done so without best way that Gates could support Although the co-investment model has country teams, becoming the starting substantial bilateral funding (Room to Room to Read, the two agreed that it been vital to generating commitment and 4 point for annual program improvement Read 2015b). would be through a grant for large-scale support among individual communities planning sessions. research and evaluation. The resources and governments, Room to Read’s Like any successful business, transparency would provide opportunity to study and “unapologetic,” businesslike approach What is important here is that research, has been central to Room to Read’s document the successes of Room to Read to fund-raising—an approach perhaps monitoring, and evaluation have been success in rallying and sustaining global programming in a way that could provide inspired by the fact that two of Room to integral components of Room to Read’s financial support. According to one Room proofs of concept and acheive credibility Read’s three founders emerged from the program design and implementation to Read board member, “Most nonprofits with other funders. The ensuing grant corporate sector ([email protected] strategy. That is, action-oriented data are are mismanaged by well-meaning people funded external evaluations and internal 2008)—has also been instrumental for linked purposefully to program decisions who don’t have the skill set to achieve their research of Room to Read’s library and the success of the organization’s scaling- by staff at all levels, from schools to dreams. What was unique about Room to book-publishing activities. up process. With its gala-style fund- Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa districts, from country offices to the global Read and John [Wood] and Erin [Ganju] raising model, its low-overhead, three- office. In doing so, information is fed up To this day, the organization has was that we had these people who were year in-country startup fund, its committed into the larger country-level monitoring consistently invested in local research, not only good people, but who also had the network of corporate and foundation system to explain trends and modify monitoring, and evaluation officers in every skill set and talent to create a lot of growth partners, and its community challenge program content or implementation country where it implements its direct in a highly efficient manner” (Darwall and grants, until recently Room to Read did not strategies as needed. services. These staff members develop Dorage 2010, 3). In particular, Room to focus on bilateral and multilateral grant- tools and assessments targeted for Room Read’s businesslike approach calls for writing—itself a labor-intensive endeavor. For example, Room to Read has identified, to Read’s literacy outcomes so they are scalable, measurable, and sustainable with each evaluation, what was missing closely aligned with the tools of the Early results. According to Wood, “You have to Approximately 60 percent of Room to in its approach and implementation and Grade Reading Assessment and are also Read’s budget comes from individuals who show results to attract capital. . . . If you has made adjustments along the way. contextualized for each country. They are committed to and passionate about achieve results, you attract capital, which Starting with the observation in Nepal train school-level implementers to collect allows you to achieve even more results” the organization’s mission. In addition to that low-income children lacked books strategic information about program (Darwall and Dorage 2010, 3). To this end, their own contributions, they have put and that books are a predictor of later implementation and outcomes in ways in Room to Read made a conscious effort together a chapter network of more than academic success, Room to Read’s which implementers can work immediately to use data to demonstrate a program’s 14,000 volunteers around the world cofounders began establishing libraries and directly with schools on program impact and or to drive a program that hosts events and fund-raises for the and moving great quantities of book improvement. Together, in collaboration improvement if it was not achieving results. organization in more than 40 cities on donations to rural communities in Nepal with Salesforce, Room to Read’s Global an annual basis. Together, with donations The tangible visibility of many of Room and then to other countries in Asia. Solutions Database provides a robust from corporations and foundations, these to Read’s activities (i.e., the number of Once the organization recognized that it global monitoring system and online funding sources have helped Room to schools built, school libraries established, needed more books in local languages, platform to process cross-nationally books published) made this process easier Read become only one of 201 U.S.-based it launched its publication initiative to consistent monitoring data on an annual among its network of individual donors. nonprofits that surpassed the $50 million train local authors and illustrators and to basis from more than 4,000 project sites. Room to Read was able to effectively annual revenue level between 1975 14 15

9 in grades 1 and 2. In this way, Room to publish quality children’s books in local materials was too expensive to produce, staff in each country program ensure that Read has been a “learning organization,” languages to distribute to its network of and preparing and transitioning between Room to Read is rooted in the community constantly cycling through an attempt libraries. The organization then realized activities was time-consuming. Therefore, and its needs. Indeed, the importance to assess and correct its philosophy, that learning levels were still low because Room to Read consolidated its classroom placed on the local makeup of its human similar to that of a Silicon Valley start- children could not read the books materials into a single, nondisposable resources has dramatically improved the up. The monitoring of data as well as the provided to their schools. As such, Room student book per grade per country that contextualization of its programs and the collecting and reporting of that evidence to Read crafted its literacy instruction included the same engaging activities but potential for policy impact. have thus been key factors in Room to component to ensure that reading and was less costly to produce on a per-child For its U.S.-based team, the organization Read’s success from the start. writing were taught more effectively basis. These books also could be used has often hired from within so as to for multiple years, helping to bring the continue promoting and cultivating books down to a price point that could be institutional knowledge, which also absorbed by ministry budgets over time. Being willing to scale back contributes to its ability to grow. However, A focus on sustainability has also meant the trade-off here is that Room to Read such as growing its network of learning By continuously and honestly making tough calls to scale back, as has functioned with a very lean team, environments and publishing quality reevaluating how best to strengthen mentioned above. But in some cases, leaving little room for cuts or changes. reading materials. its programming, Room to Read has given Room to Read’s popularity in some According to Tim Carlberg of Dalberg demonstrated a strong commitment communities, the prospects of scaling Global Development Advisors, Room to Thus far, Room to Read has never left a to learning from evidence, even if the back have led local partners to step up Read “grew through the efforts of highly country. But it has scaled back or paused evidence is not positive. For example, (personal communication, Cory Heyman motivated individuals,” and it has used its intervention, depending on the local poor outcomes from one of its early and Jenny Perlman, February 17, 2016). that to maintain and sustain its strong needs and context. In general, two reasons programs that focused on computer For example, in India, which has Room organizational culture throughout its explain why some Room to Read programs, education within school settings led Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa to Read’s largest country program, the phases of growth and expansion (Tim at times, did not work: (1) the right program Room to Read to halt the program in organization began to have difficult Calberg, interview by Jenny Alexander but the wrong implementation, as in 2009, on the grounds that its relative discussions with state education officials in and Jenny Perlman, March 20, 2015). Cambodia, which saw rapid expansion but benefits were not sufficient to justify 2013 about phasing out its work in certain Continuing to aspire to keep its overhead low marginal impact, so the organization the expenditures. In Vietnam, Room states over time in order to consolidate its low in its early days, however, meant that slowed down and improved quality before to Read closed the instructional national programming to achieve greater it risked overstretching employees as scaling up again; and (2) poor program fit, component of its Literacy Program economies of scale. Officials countered it continued to scale up. In the last five as in Vietnam with the reading-and-writing based on findings that many children that their states would increase funding years, it has hired more staff more rapidly instruction component (Matthew Jukes, in the country were already achieving if Room to Read would continue its than it did in its first decade. interview by Jenny Perlman Robinson, foundational reading skills through the work, which had already helped many February 27, 2015). Room to Read’s national reading approach. Rather than Taking sustainability into account from the children develop stronger reading skills culture of learning and its openness to duplicating what was already working, start has also meant that Room to Read (personal communication, Cory Heyman adapt based on mistakes, however, have Room to Read’s leadership determined has made difficult decisions regarding and Jenny Perlman Robinson, February helped it learn from and build on these that the organization’s scarce financial 5 its design features. To illustrate, in 2014, Collaboratively, Room to Read 17, 2016). negative experiences rather than be and staff resources would be better it went through a controversial change and state officials petitioned the U.S. discouraged by them. targeted to other program activities, in its approach to literacy instruction. Agency for International Development Previously, it had used a large number for more transformative financial support. of “manipulatives” in its classroom The result was a five-year cooperative Taking sustainability into account from the start activities, including flash cards, literacy agreement, whereby Room to Read would wheels, dice with words on them, a small support 100 new model schools and then Room to Read has attempted to build funding requirement adds a layer of series of decodable texts, and individual train state officials in the implementation security to ensure the country program’s sustainability into its programs from student writing books. Though teachers of literacy and library programming so sustainability. Additionally, the local the establishment of each new country enjoyed these resources, the diversity of that effective activities could be increased program. For starters, the three-year leadership and nearly 100 percent local 17 16

10 of its internal organization—particularly its to 1,000 schools during the project’s people, internal systems, and processes— five-year period, with an ultimate goal of in an attempt to build a more robust adoption at the state level. platform for scaling up its impact (Room to Although Room to Read has been highly Read 2014). Recognizing that its internal successful in leveraging data to scale up system has not grown at the same pace as literacy efforts across Asia and Africa, its programmatic impact, it has identified since 2010, the organization has slowed as one of its next challenges improving down its expansion in order to ensure that the efficiency of its staff and reducing it is thoughtful about the countries it enters, redundant or misaligned processes. is assured that the right environment is in Through increased capacity building for place, has assessed the local community’s its staff members, improvements to its needs, and has secured adequate technology infrastructure, and expansion financial resources for further expansion. of its internal communication, Room to Meanwhile, Room to Read has begun to Read has set its course toward the next focus more on increasing the sustainability goal of organizational sustainability. Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa 18 19

11 Recognizing the important role that these donors could play in bridging stronger relationships with program country governments, Room to Read has included a proposal to increase its engagement among bilateral and multilateral donors in Lessons learned its current five-year strategic plan. • Room to Read’s willingness to scale back when necessary has helped keep organizational resources focused on high-impact activities. built sustainability into its programs during the establishment of Room to Read • The key to accelerated growth during each phase of Room to Read’s • each new country program. The three-year funding requirement helped add an ambitious vision for scaling organizational development was a combination of a layer of security, while community financial and labor donations allowed up from the outset and a detailed plan that was continuously refined at each funding to be channeled into high-impact activities that could stretch the impact phase. Together, these anchored the organization’s work over time. of every dollar raised a little further. Also, employing local staff members in country program offices ensured that programs were rooted in the community’s • Expanding into countries where leadership had a personal connection, an needs. The organization’s next challenge is to strengthen its organizational established network, or a prior commitment enabled Room to Read to take a sustainability. to expansion. This allowed its programs to be adopted decentralized approach by local organizations and refined to respond to local communities’ specific needs. As such, programs were manageable for the context in which they had been tested. However, decentralized ownership also created some challenges, because the • nature of decentralization meant that local country offices could be customized Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa to a point where they became difficult to scale up. It also meant that maintaining to the original program model was more difficult. In order to know which fidelity components were effective and to sustain a set of core, defining program components, Room to Read has been working to strike a balance between . customization and standardization A co-investment model helped to ensure that communities and governments were • committed to Room to Read’s project design, implementation, and outcomes, creating a real sense of partnership, ownership, and increased accountability in the process. A business-like approach to fund-raising was key to building financial support • for Room to Read’s expansion. Combined with its honest and transparent use of research findings to demonstrate impact, donors could see tangible evidence that their contributions were used effectively, spurring on greater commitment to and trust of the organization. • As the predominant funder and facilitator of mass education in countries, Room , which could make for a natural partnership to Read works with governments and strategic route to address scale. However, to date, bilateral and multilateral funding have constituted no more than 4 percent of Room to Read’s budget. 21 20

12 References Endnotes 1. Ideally, literacy coaches are college graduates and/or graduates of teacher-training programs, teachers, ASER Centre. 2015. Provisional, January 13. http://img. Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2014. or former teachers. They are recruited locally, are trained by Room to Read’s staff, and are responsible asercentre.org. for working with approximately 5 to 10 schools, with monthly visits to targeted grade 1 and 2 teachers. Darwall, Christina, and Kristin Doarge. 2010. From Bahundanda to Bangladesh: The History of Room to Read. Room to Read’s goal, as of 2014, is to reach 15 million children by 2020—by partnering with 25,000 2. http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic725401.files/Room%20to%20Read/Room%20toRead%20 schools through its Literacy Program and by supporting more than 66,000 girls in its Girls’ Education HistoryFINAL..pdf. Program. The Room to Read Accelerator was established to disseminate the organization’s knowledge to a 3. [email protected] 2008. “Room to Read’s John Wood: Bringing the Power of Education to Children wider constituency, thereby maximizing its impact. The Accelerator model seeks to offer technical around the World.” Interview with John Wood, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, December 23. assistance and share Room to Read’s expertise and resources with partner organizations by providing http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/room-to-reads-john-wood-bringing-the-power-of-education-to- training materials, workshops, periodic support, and monitoring—all in efforts to maximize the quality of children-around-the-world/. implementation and, in turn, replicate its work. The Accelerator trains staff members from government ministries and other organizations to enable them to effectively implement literacy and girls’ education McEwan, Patrick J. 2015. “Improving Learning in Primary Schools of Developing Countries: A Meta-Analysis programming. of Randomized Experiments.” 85, no. 3: 353–94. Review of Educational Research 4. Bilateral funding has never exceeded 4 percent of Room to Read’s total revenue. As a result, it would be interesting to note if this has had an impact on Room to Read’s ability to work with governments, Pritchett, Lant. 2014. Washington: Center for Global The Rebirth of Education: Schooling Ain’t Learning. which often prefer to work with recipients of sizable bilateral and multilateral funding. In the future, Development. bilateral and multilateral donors may become more prominent sources of funding for the organization, because Room to Read’s leaders have begun to recognize the opportunities for growth in cooperation Annual Report. http://www.roomtoread. Room to Read. 2012. Laying a Foundation for Literate Communities. Room to Read: Scaling up literacy through localized solutions across Asia and Africa with government partners by pursuing this kind of funding, especially vis-à-vis policy engagement and org/AnnualReport/2012/. systems reform. The organization’s strategy for 2015 to 2019 aims to increase bilateral and multilateral revenue to 5 to 6 percent of its annual budget. ———. 2013. Global Monitoring Report 2013. 5. According to internal evaluations, results from India in 2012 demonstrated that students participating in the Literacy Program were reading at a fluency level far below the minimum expected rate of 45 words ———. 2014. Solving the Puzzle: Children’s Literacy and Girls’ Education, Annual Report. http://www.roomtoread. per minute. Room to Read responded by supporting teachers in increasing their activities to promote org/AnnualReport/2014/. more student engagement with texts. One year later, fluency among grade 2 students had more than doubled, to 41 words per minute. ———. 2015a. “Literacy Program Reading Skills Results Summary.” ———. 2015b. Scaling Our Impact: Global Strategic Plan 2015-2019. ———. 2015c. School Libraries Cross-National Evaluation. Sperling, Gene B., and Rebecca Winthrop, with Christina Kwauk. 2015. What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment. Washington: Brookings Institution Press. http://www.brookings. edu/~/media/Press/Books/2015/what-works-in-girls-edu/What-Works-in-Girls-Educationlowres.pdf?la=en. UNESCO. 2014. Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All—EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/14 . Paris: UNESCO. Wood, John. 2007. Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children. New York: HarperCollins. Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy. New York: Plume. ———. 2014. 23 22

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