My schooldays in the 1970s in the US were very happy, surrounded by great teachers, amazing books and parents who stressed the value of education. The worst thing was that I grew up in a small town and wanted to explore the wider world. Fortunately, that was counterbalanced by my parents who loved travel and took the family to a lot of places. I went to school in Athens, Pennsylvania, a town of about 5,000 people where I remember the school library and great teachers who challenged us. The library had a limit of 10 books that could be checked out at any one time but I was such a voracious reader that the librarian and I made a deal that I could take out 15. My favourite subject was definitely reading. One year my Christmas present was a bicycle so that I could transport myself to and from the local library. There were so many favourite teachers from then, but I particularly remember Miss Taggi who taught us world geography. I was amazed to discover how big the world was. In secondary school, it was apparent which kids were going to be successful in life because they applied themselves, studied hard and as a result were going to make it. Mr Tubbs taught a course in government and told us that it was important to pay attention to how we were being led by our politicians. Significantly, he also told us that it was all right to argue with him and that arguing was part of a good education. I took him up on that offer on numerous occasions. My family went to a Catholic Church and part of the service involved passing the collection plate in which you put money. Every week, my father would give my brother and me a silver dollar for it. We'd place the dollar in our right pocket and in our left pocket we'd have a five US cent coin. When the plate was passed, we'd reach into the less expensive pocket and nobody would know. We made 95 cents profit on every visit to church. I went on to study at the University of Colorado and after graduating, I went to work for Microsoft where I learned many business skills that I use in running my non-profit organisation, Room to Read. I'm grateful I had the opportunity to live in countries such as China but ultimately felt that I was helping the rich get richer. It wasn't an easy decision to leave Microsoft but I felt that I had found my true calling when I helped establish the first libraries in Nepal after I went on a trek in 1998 and visited a local school. I asked to see the library and was brought to an empty room with a sign above the door that said 'library' yet there were no books. The headmaster said: 'Perhaps, sir, you will some day return with books.' I made a vow to help. In that instant, the seeds were planted for Room to Read. I e-mailed everyone in my address book asking for help. I encouraged people to send new and used children's books to my parent's house because I was living abroad at the time. More than 3,000 books arrived and dad and I returned to Nepal a few months later to help establish 10 libraries. I feel much more fulfilled as a person knowing that I'm part of a team working to give children the lifelong gift of education. While I am busier than I've ever been and work longer hours, I remain so excited about the work we are doing that I look forward to going to work. Our long-term goal is to help in excess of 10 million children gain the lifelong gift of education by 2020. This year, we've expanded to Africa, with our programmes beginning in South Africa. We plan to continue growing with both Ethiopia and Zambia slated as our next two countries. We likewise plan to be working in Central and South America starting in 2008 and also hope to open in at least two new countries in Asia. By the end of 2008, Room to Read will be a truly global organisation, with educational programmes operating in 15 countries on three continents. If I were asked to give any advice to students it would be this: dare to dream big dreams, but also dare to implement them. John Wood is the founder of the charity Room to Read and was recently in Hong Kong for the launch of his memoir Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. He was talking to David Phair.