David Risher – CEO and Co-Founder
David Risher is the CEO and co-founder of Worldreader. After a career as a general manager at Microsoft and an early stage executive at Amazon, David recognized early on how e-readers and digital books could give kids in under-served parts of the world better access to the life-changing experience of reading. Since co-founding Worldreader in 2010, David and the Worldreader team have expanded the organization to have impact in more than 46 countries, delivering high-quality books in 52 languages to over 13 million children. Together, they’ve demonstrated how digital technology–combined with high-quality books, smart programming, strong partnerships–can accelerate reading around the globe and unlock the potential of the world’s next scientists, teachers, innovators, and explorers.
David has degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Business School is a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year Awardee, a Draper Richards Kaplan social entrepreneur, an invited member of the Clinton Global Initiative, and a Microsoft Alumni Foundation Integral Fellow. He has two daughters and lives in San Francisco, California, with his wife– author Jennifer Risher.
Colin McElwee – Co-founder and Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships
As co-founder of Worldreader, Colin focuses on developing and growing key partnerships, putting to good use his for-profit and non-profit experience across the globe.
Most recently, Colin was the first director of marketing at ESADE Business School in Barcelona, where he helped establish the school’s reputation as a world-class business education provider. Prior to that, he started his career as an economist for several Brussels-based lobbies to the European Commission, and later worked in global marketing in the consumer goods sector for Scottish & Newcastle PLC.
He has two young daughters and like them is an avid reader of books (now there’s a surprise!). Colin has a degree in economics from the University of Manchester and an MBA from ESADE Business School. He has previously acted as an invited member of the Global Agenda Council on Africa of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and in 2016 Colin was recognized as one of the Social Entrepreneurs of the Year by the Schwab Foundation of the WEF.
His take on reading:
“The images created by the written word make an indelible mark on the mind.”
What got him reading:
Shannon Atkinson – Chief Financial Officer
Prior to joining Worldreader, Shannon was CFO at Raising A Reader, a national US program for young readers and their families. Before that she spent 17 years as CFO at SETI Institute, a non-profit scientific organization studying all aspects of life in the universe. In both of these roles Shannon, with the help of stellar teammates, lead all business aspects of the organizations such as strategy, finance, grant administration, HR, Board relations, and compliance.
Shannon believes that administration and business services are the behind-the-scenes “heart” of any organization and that one of the main goals of these functions is to improve effectiveness and efficiency of our daily work. Her professional mission statement is to provide impeccable administrative support and valuable strategic insight to guarantee the success of the organization and the cause it is dedicated to serve.
“Masterminds and Wingman” by Rosalind Wiseman, which is one woman’s take on the social structure among boys.
Rebecca Chandler-Leege – Chief Impact Officer
With over 20 years of leadership experience, Rebecca recently led World Vision’s engagement in “All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development,” a global initiative of USAID, World Vision, and the Australian Government, that seeks, tests and disseminates innovative education technology solutions to address child illiteracy. Previously at World Vision, she was Director for Child Development/Protection.
Rebecca also worked with World Relief, initially in Rwanda as their Director of Programs before relocating to their headquarters in the United States as Director of Global Program Operations. She has lived and worked throughout Africa and Asia for over 15 years. Chandler-Leege also spent six years in the private sector in international human resources consulting with Fortune 500 companies.
Rebecca holds a Master of Science in Multinational Commerce from Boston University.
Favorite book: West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Favorite quote: Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” – Kofi Annan
Bhanu Potta – Executive Product Leader and Regional Leader APAC
Bhanu is passionate about building and growing purposeful products, businesses, and organizations which enhance human potential. At Worldreader, Bhanu provides strategic direction & leadership for the global portfolio of digital reading products and leads the buildup of Worldreader’s mission in India and APAC region.
Before Worldreader, in a corporate product leadership career spanning 23 years, Bhanu set up and grew multi-million-dollar social investments & education, wellbeing and livelihoods product programs for Microsoft, Nokia, Perot Systems, Informatics Group and NIIT. As the senior advisor for social investments to Worldwide Education Group at Microsoft and as the global product leader for mobile learning services at Nokia, Bhanu led some of the world’s largest mobile-based learning services which collectively reached over 250 million beneficiaries in global south markets. As the founding partner at Zinger Labs (a boutique advisory firm), Bhanu also advises boards, CXO teams, investors & startup founders on building successful product businesses and impact-focused organizations.
Bhanu is a certified board director and sits on various boards and investment committees. He is a sought after counsel, mentor & professor of practice on product leadership & strategy, ICT for development, and social investments.
Deborah Backus – Senior Director, Global Impact
Deborah supports the organization execute its global strategy with focus on building out Worldreader’s digital services and build collaborations and partnerships that enhance our reach. Her nearly 20-year career has focused on facilitating organizational adaptability; to overcome challenges, address complex societal problems, and increase organizational capacity for creating impact.
She recently supported special projects, in the context of COVID and a global volunteer evacuation, for the US Peace Corps. Prior to that she spent five years with the innovation fund, the All Children Reading Grand Challenge. She has spent a number of years leading policy and government reform initiatives in the Middle East and has worked with refugee communities in Thailand, Cambodia, and the US for both the United Nations and NGOs.
Deborah holds a Master of Social Work focused on social-economic development and management from Washington University in St. Louis.
Currently reading: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Mark Frantz – Business Development Manager
Mark brings over ten years of experience in development, fundraising and partnerships for varied non-profit organizations in fields that range from community services to global development and higher education.
Mark holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Barcelona and has several postgraduate studies in non-profit and strategic partnerships management, marketing and social finance.
Authors that have profoundly shaped Mark are:
Susan George, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano and Naomi Klein.
Veronica Gutierrez – Director, Global Human Resources
Veronica brings over 15 years of HR experience to the company including building culture, working with the team strategically and implementing the HR infrastructure for several start-up companies. She has been a vital part in successfully growing small companies to mid-size. Her passion and expertise to enhance the employee experience is her first priority and believes HR is the pulse of an organization.
Veronica holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Business with a concentration in Human Resources Management from University of Phoenix. She is also certified as a Professional Human Resources (PHR). Veronica is also an active member of the organization of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Her current read: The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah.
Flavia Moroso – Director, Technology
Flavia and her team develop and manage the software and technology we need to process, maintain, and analyze the books that make up Worldreader’s collection. She is an avid reader and software developed and has worked on several projects during her professional life: from gov web applications and big real-estate tailored products to small start-ups.
Flavia holds a Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering from the UNCPA (Universidad Nacional del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, Argentina). She also holds a post-graduate degree in Agile Methodologies for Software Development at La Salle University (Barcelona).
“When I read Lobsang Rampa’s “The third eye”, it made me realize that books can make you travel, and live and have amazing experiences without leaving your room. Knowing that is gold when you are a little girl who has to ask permission to do almost everything. Reading is freedom!”
Joan Mwachi-Amolo – Regional Director, East Africa
Joan Mwachi-Amolo manages the Worldreader portfolio in Kenya and greater East Africa. She is responsible for the strategic objectives and policies in the country office. Joan is an experienced educator, having started her career in the classroom setting and progressing on to designing and implementing training programs and capacity-building initiatives around non-formal school systems in impoverished communities. She has expertise in designing programs and tools for start-up organizations. Prior to joining Worldreader, Joan was the Regional Support Manager, Operations, at Bridge International Academies, a Nairobi-based organization that builds a network of ultra-low-cost private primary schools.
Joan received a Bachelor of Education degree and a Master in Education Administration degree, both from Kenyatta University.
She is inspired by the book “An Enemy Called Average” by John L Mason, which motivates her to do more than average in every aspect of her life.
Ethel Sakitey – Regional Director, West Africa
Ethel oversees the Worldreader portfolio of programs in Ghana and West Africa. She leads strategic planning, program expansion, and facilitates business development and partnerships within the region. Ethel has over fourteen years of program management experience within the development, public health, and education sectors. She was previously a Country Director and a Program Officer for Right to Play’s West and Francophone Africa (WAFA) Regional Office in Ghana.
Ethel holds a Master of Philosophy Degree in Public Health from the University of Ghana, Legon and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Work and Sociology from the same University.
Her favorite book is “Attitude is Everything” by Keith Harrell.
Wendy Smith – Director, Education
Wendy comes with over 15 years of experience working on education and child protection programs in development and conflict and affected countries. Wendy has worked for many international organizations (CARE, SCF, NRC, IRC, World Vision) strengthening early childhood and basic education programming.
Wendy currently sits on the INEE Steering Committee and hopes to help us support pre and life-long reading in both low-resource and fragile contexts. She holds dual French/American nationality and attended Colombia University Teachers’ College for her graduate studies.
As a mother of three, her favorite books are children’s books! “It is the only thing I have time to read anymore. My favorite children’s author at present is Kate DiCamillo. Anything she writes is gobbled up by me and my kids.”
Heidi Williams – Director, Accounting and Administration
Working within the Finance Team, Heidi oversees US accounting and audit and global cash management. She also has responsibility for global administration, working behind the scenes to ensure that we’re efficient and effective and implementing processes that govern our general business operations. Having also served as our first Director of Finance and Human Resources, Heidi has been involved with the development of all aspects of our infrastructure from the earliest stages.
Prior to joining Worldreader as one of our very first volunteers, she worked in financial
services and business management but attributes her keen organizational skill to the time she spent away from the workforce raising, and reading to, her two children. Heidi holds a BA in English Language and Composition from the University of Utah.
Books she has enjoyed re-reading with her teenagers:
Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby, The Life of Pi.
Mike Wilson – Director, Product
Mike is responsible for developing and continuously improving Worldreader’s suite of mobile applications designed to drive literacy and education outcomes among pre-readers and lifelong readers. His previous work experience includes leading the development of Kinect Sports Rivals for Xbox at Microsoft and most recently leading the development of Despicable Me: Minion Rush.
Mike is a Business Studies graduate from the Nottingham Business School.
In his own words:
“Books have always captured my imagination and given me the knowledge, desire, and courage to meet any challenge head-on. I look forward to bringing these same experiences to people all over the world.”
Melanie Wise – Senior Director, Global Marketing and Communications
Based in San Francisco, Melanie oversees global marketing and communications. She brings a passion for education and 20 years of social sector experience to the role. Previous roles include serving as the strategic communications director for the East Africa Preterm Birth Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and chief communications officer for Breakthrough Collaborative. For more than a decade, Melanie ran her own communications consulting firm, WiseExposition, where she worked with clients across sectors including nonprofit, government, and tech.
As a veteran educator and senior lecturer emerita at San Francisco State University (SFSU), Melanie has developed and taught a variety of communications courses to college students and professionals both at SFSU and UC Berkeley Extension. Melanie holds an MA in English literature with a certificate in teaching writing from San Francisco State University and a BFA in visual arts from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCUarts).
Elizabeth Wood – Senior Director, Digital Publishing and Innovation
Elizabeth leads the global content team to develop and grow strategic partnerships with publishers. Her efforts ensure that the Worldreader library is full of high-quality, locally relevant, and engaging content for our readers. She connects with our local and international publishers in order to enhance our contribution to the local publishing ecosystem and increase our overall impact.
Between 2017 and 2019 Elizabeth was a Senior Business Development Manager for Amazon’s books department in London while serving as a Trustee on Worldreader’s UK board. Prior to that, Elizabeth worked for Worldreader during our very early days, laying down the groundwork for some of our biggest accomplishments over the years: she drove our initial work with publishers, acquired our first pieces of content, built the publishing team from scratch and was the brains behind creating Worldreader for mobile phones. Elizabeth received her MBA from INSEAD and resides in London with her family.