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Geetha Murali: Creating a World Free from Illiteracy and Gender Inequality

Geetha Murali: Creating a World Free from Illiteracy and Gender Inequality

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hey, friends! It's Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on changemaking leaders who are helping to make the world a better place! I have another great interview for you this week. Today, I’m excited to cruise around with Dr. Geetha Murali, the chief executive officer of Room to Read. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Geetha! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your organization?

Geetha: Glad to be with you, Spiffy! Founded in 2000 on the belief that World Change Starts with Educated Children®, Room to Read is creating a world free from illiteracy and gender inequality. We are achieving this goal by helping children in historically low-income communities develop literacy skills and a habit of reading, and by supporting girls as they build skills to succeed in school and negotiate key life decisions. Room to Read has benefited more than 32 million children and has worked in 21 countries and more than 49,000 communities, providing additional support through remote solutions that facilitate learning beyond the classroom. Room to Read aims to benefit 40 million children by 2025.

Spiffy: Wonderful! What motivates you to tackle this challenge?

Geetha: I cannot think of a better way to shape the future of this world than investing in the young people who will one day be its caretakers. If we want to solve the world’s greatest challenges, then we need millions of young people equipped with the skills to make positive changes for themselves, their families, their communities, and their countries. My family’s trajectory was changed by the single decision of one young woman, my mother, and my path was reshaped from child bride to CEO in a single generation. So, I know “the magic” that is possible when young people have the power to shape their own destinies.

Spiffy: That is incredible. How would you describe the impact of your work?

Geetha: Room to Read’s programs help children develop the skills and habit of reading. They are able to benefit from the science and magic of reading as they see themselves on the pages of books, while also discovering windows to other realities and possibilities. To date, Room to Read has distributed 35 million books to children around the world. Children on Room to Read programs read two to three times faster than children not on its programs and have 70%-90% better comprehension. Girls on Room to Read programs have an average advancement rate of 97%, and five years out from our program 93% have transitioned to further education or employment.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone by Room to Read. What impact does that make? 

Geetha: Room to Read is currently focused on achieving a major milestone of benefiting 40 million children by 2025. This achievement will demonstrate that we can scale our programs by benefiting double the number of children in 5 years than we did in our first 20 years. If successful, we can set our heights much higher and work towards a plan that eradicates childhood illiteracy during our lifetimes.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Geetha: The future of education is based on flexible but sound approaches that reach children where they are. During the pandemic, Room to Read had to deliver programs by any means necessary—in and out of school, online and offline, through camels and boats, and through the internet. In the end, we have to stay laser-focused on our mission, so we do not lose sight of the longer-term impact of a lost generation of students. If we do not act, the ripple effects will impact the global economy and community for years to come.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Geetha—it’s been an honor!

Dr. Geetha Murali is the chief executive officer of Room to Read, a leading international organization that transforms the lives of millions of children through education. She has been a driving force behind Room to Read’s expanded presence in 21 countries—benefiting more than 32 million children to date. (Nominated by the Ladderworks team. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 18, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.