Scott Harrison

Founder and CEO of charity:water

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 23, 2015

Discussion

Scott Harrison@scottharrison
Hi everyone, Scott here. So a little about me; I spent 10 years as a nightclub promoter in New York City before leaving to volunteer on a hospital ship off the coast of Liberia, West Africa as a volunteer photojournalist. When I returned home to New York City two years later, I founded the non-profit organization charity: water. Turning my full attention to the global water crisis and the world's 800 million people without clean water to drink, I created public installations and online fundraising platforms to spread international awareness of the issue. In eight years, with the help of more than 500,000 donors worldwide, charity: water has raised over $180 million and funded over 16,000 water projects in 25 countries. When completed, those projects will provide over 5.2 million people with clean, safe drinking water. Ask me anything!
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
All right guys - it's been a cool hour. Thanks so much for all the thoughtful questions. Super grateful to have been able to spend the time with you ... If you're interested in a cool new miniseries and a behind-the-scenes look at our work, check out "The Journey" - http://www.charitywater.org/journey - You won't find it linked anywhere on our website, but I think it's some of the best recent storytelling work we've done! See you all soon and again, thanks for joining!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Thanks for joining, Scott! 🙌
Aaron Fife@fifeaaron
@scottharrison What does the next phase of Charity Water look like for you? How do you see the organization expanding?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@fifeaaron Aaron - when I first started, I was actually calling the organization simply "charity:" ... water was the first "campaign" or "initiative" but I thought one day I would go all Richard Branson and launch a bunch of others: charity: education, charity: shelter, charity: vision, charity: health, etc etc ... What we learned though as we got deeper and deeper into water is that A. It's a really really hard problem to solve and we have so much more work to do to really make a significant dent, B. the more time we spend focused on this, the more expertise we develop, the smarter our programming gets, and the more we're able to innovate and C. water touches SO many things. It makes a huge impact on health, on education (we fund lots of water projects at schools that include toilets for both boys and girls), on HIV/Aids, and even on sight (trachoma is water-borne)... It also impacts local economies and besides making people "healthier" makes them "wealthier" .... An 88 page report from Hutton/ Hailer out of the UN found every $1 invested in water and sanitation (toilets) makes rural communities 4 - 10X wealthier... So $1 = $4 - $12 of impact. We've toyed with the idea of extending water into drip irrigation or agricultural, but so far have remained focused on the 663 million people who don't have their most basic need met, and making sure our projects are sustainable and working for years to come.
Sam Smale@nomenclatured · manager
@scottharrison Have you ever turned down a large donation or partner because of the donor? What is your filter for this decision?
Zach Wigal@zachwigal · Founder, Gamers Outreach
Hey Scott! Big fan of charity:water and love seeing the progress you guys are making. On a philosophical note, I'm curious to know your thoughts on employee compensation in the nonprofit space? There's a book called "Uncharitable" which asserts nonprofit organizations should act more like businesses when it comes to recruiting talent and providing employee compensation / benefits. Do you foresee charities adopting compensation structures similar to a traditional business in an effort to recruit talent? How do you guys handle keeping / recruiting great people at charity:water?
Sam Smale@nomenclatured · manager
Charity:Water is known for its story telling. What is the secret? do you have guiding principles for your stories?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@nomenclatured I think storytelling is one of the things we do best. We just love stories. We seem them everywhere, and use stories to convey values that we care deeply about. I'll give you an example. We crowdsourced a drilling rig once in Ethiopia... More than 10,000 donors contributed just over $1M, and we painted it yellow, mounted a GPS unit to it and gave it a Twitter account. About 6 months later, we heard that our rig had had an accident in Ethiopia, and had slipped off the road. Belly up, basically. Our amazing local partners in Ethiopia were a bit sheepish about it, and were working hard to get it back in operation (they did quickly), but when I heard about it, I tried to rush a photographer out there to capture the accident. I wanted to email the photo of our up-ended rig to the 10,000 donors to say: 1. It's really hard to work in these conditions, and stuff happens. 2. Our local partners are tenacious, incredibly hard-working and they are working in the most remote villages, sometimes on roads that they shouldn't even necessarily be on to reach the most marginalized people - NOT taking the easy route drilling by main roads and finally 3. It's just true. Two of my favorite charity: water stories over time are sad but profoundly moving stories: https://medium.com/charity-water... (Letikiros) and http://www.charitywater.org/blog... (Rachel's)
Jonny Goodchild@jonny_goodchild
@scottharrison has the quick growth of charity: water been a challenge in terms of team dynamics and keeping the same values?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@jonny_goodchild I think in some ways, we haven't grown that quickly - or at least not in startup terms. We've got about 75 full-time people now, and 20 interns, but the growth has been manageable. A business coach and mentor that I worked with for years went from 0 - 2000 employees in under 3 years. I think they definitely had more challenges. We're pretty clear about our values, and use them through the hiring and onboarding process, and have found that if you hire people with share values, they will hire people with similar shared values.
Ariana Malushi@amalushi · Brand Strategist
@scottharrison what is your opinion of using a microfinance model to increase access to clean water?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@amalushi I think water.org is doing some really interesting work with microfinance, though our focus is very different (they are primarily focused on urban / peri-urban areas and on communities that might be making $2 - 4 a day - we're focused almost exclusively on rural communities and most of our work is serving people closer to the $1 a day or even less) ... I know they've had some great successes in India, and have been working hard to prove the model in Africa as well...
Trevor Young@_tyoung · Product Designer @ Square
In your view, how well do charities and non-profits leverage available technology to promote/further their cause?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@_tyoung I think they are getting better at this, and we're seeing more bright spots every day...
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Scott - Welcome! 1) The jump from nightclub promoter to Charity: Water is a big one. Connecting the dots looking backwards, how do you make sense of it? 2) What is your core competence - what are you best at ? How and when did you realize you were great at said skill?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@eriktorenberg Liquid! I promoted drinking alcohol for 10 years and now I'm promoting clean water for 663 million people! I'm only half kidding, I think I'm an optimist, and love telling stories and promoting other people and ideas. The beauty of our community of now more than 1M donors is that there is such a wealth of stories. Our partners are heroes in the field - some of our drillers working 29/30 days each month and being away from their families in rural areas for months at a time to serve communities... Or 6-year-old girls running 12 lemonade stands for clean water - some even in the rain... I think I just needed a massive change in lifestyle / heart / faith and after the decadent selfish decade in nightlife, I was glad I was given that chance to serve in Liberia for two years. What I saw there changed me forever, and I came back determined to try to redeem a lost decade, and use some of those promoting skills that I'd learned for good.
Alexandra@alexandrabenet · Product Designer at Facebook
@scottharrison How did you raise $180M for such a good cause? And how do you get people to give their time, energy and resources to help with the projects?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@alexandrabenet We have a great story (people need water!), great organizational values (ie. transparency, excellence) and most importantly a passionate team that could all be working anywhere else and making way more money, but have chosen to use their gifts and talents in the service of others... I think we've also been careful not to guilt and shame people into giving, but invite them to be a part of what we're doing. We have a saying here, Opportunity not guilt. It's an amazing opportunity to be able to give of your time, talent, money to a cause like this. We don't need to (or ever want to) guilt people into engaging with us.
Pierre Paslier@ppaslier · Founder at Skipping Rocks Lab
Hi, Pierre here, cofounder of Ooho! the edible water bottle. Any advice on how/where to get funded by investors who are not here for the profit but for the impact?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@ppaslier Story story story. Get good at telling the Ooho! story, and talking about the impact that their dollars will make with you if they fund your vision!
michal Naka@michalnaka · Product @moovel
@scottharrison I am a big fan of the "The 100% Model". What is the back story with that and how did you initially set that up?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@michalnaka I realized that the reason so many of my friends weren't giving to charities was a lack of trust - and all of that primarily around money. They thought charities were black holes, they didn't know how much of their money would reach the people they were trying to serve, and everyone seemed to have a horror story of a bad charity that robbed people of their money. I thought the 100% model would take that objection completely off the table, and not allow people to use that excuse for why not to give. Said more positively, give them a reason to take another look, and to be generous. We've carefully protected the integrity of the 100% over time, and even pay back credit card fees (which at our size, is expensive!) ... For example, if you gave $1k online using your Amex, we'd get $970, separately raise the $30 from private donors, and send the whole $1k to the field. We have KPMG come in and specifically audit the 100% model every year as well. A little more online here: http://www.charitywater.org/100p...
Olly Murs Gang@moveslike1d · Student
@scottharrison Hello Scott! What is your favourite/most inspiring quote? From a university student who really needs some motivation!
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@moveslike1d Two ... I'll paraphrase Hilel for the first: "If not us, who and if not now, when?" and another rabbi for the 2nd - "Do not be afraid of work that has no end" ...
CameronWoodward@cameronwoodward
What do you love about the not-for-profit industry and what is frustrating?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@cameronwoodward I think put simply, every day our team members get up and give the best of themselves in service of others.... In our case, trying to help the 663 million people without access to clean water worldwide. I think many people find the nonprofit sector a bit stale, stuck in its ways... not known for innovation. We've seen that sometimes, but have constantly tried to push our partners and even our donors to innovate and think more creatively about problems and solutions.
Aaina@aaina · Creative Director, HelloSign
@scottharrison Hi scott. I've read/heard your story and it's truly inspiring. What gave you the courage to start something of your own without having any experience in this field?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@aaina I had a background as a decade-long nightclub promoter and knew how to promote. For years, I told a very selfish story. Get into our clubs, get drunk, and your life has meaning! After seeing extreme poverty in Liberia and coming face to face with the water crisis, I thought in some ways, my experience as a "promoter" uniquely qualified me to start a charity that would try to get everyday people to care about their brothers and sisters thousands of miles away who had been born into very different circumstances. I then tried to get good at hiring people who had the necessary water programs expertise, and nonprofit finance backgrounds ...
Aaina@aaina · Creative Director, HelloSign
@scottharrison thanks for the thoughtful reply.
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@aaina Thanks for your question! I don't know if I'm typing fast enough. :)
Jenna Siflinger@jennasif · Program and Community Outreach Director
@scottharrison Hi Scott! First of all I just wanted to say thank you so much for all you have done and continue to do- I am completely inspired by your journey. I'm a recent college graduate working as the program and community outreach director for a small community organization in MA, and am just about to finish up a campaign for charity: water. Campaigning for your organization has been awesome and it is my absolute dream to get the opportunity to start a career with you guys and help make a real difference. I have applied for a couple of positions and internships but didn't hear back, and was hoping you could advise me of a good way to get my foot in the door? Thank you so much for your time!
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@jennasif Jenna - First of all, thanks so much for campaigning for us. We're so grateful for the time and effort you've put into it! As far as working here, please continue to be persistent. We get tons of applications for jobs and internships, and try to do our best to pick the very best people who we think can be successful at the open roles. Wishing you the very best of luck!
Jenna Siflinger@jennasif · Program and Community Outreach Director
@scottharrison @jennasif Thanks so much!
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
@scottharrison Hi Scott! Have you ever found yourself wanting to post a thought online or be more vocal about an issue, but was concerned that some donors might not like it? What is your thought processes when this happens? Hope you're well!
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@theo_dimarhos That's a good question. I've really not been interested in diving into political debate, or posting anything negative. I value optimism so highly, and really try to say positive things or not say them at all. That said, with 6,000+ tweets over time, I've probably said some less than kind things about airlines who have left me stranded or stuck on runways for hours. :)
Rahul Gupta@hul · President, Big Wheel Brigade
@scottharrison What's the most significant change (or three) Charity: Water has made in the past 8 years in terms of tracking the efficacy of C: W's projects?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@hul Thanks for the question. I'm incredibly proud of the team that works on this day in and day out. We now have funded more than 19,000 water points in 24 countries. We know they were all working on Day 1, and we've made the photos and gps information transparent to the public. but we want to know that they are working, and that those projects are effectively serving communities for years to come. One of the big innovations is sensors. We got a $5M grant from Google.org to concept and develop a sensor that we could drop on our wells in remote locations, so we'd know how much water was flowing from our computers here in NYC. That was an incredibly challenging process that took almost three years, and we worked with more than 20 labs to finally get it right. We think we're there now, and just last week, produced our first 4000 sensors - 3000 that are en route to Ethiopia. We believe that this data will be game-changing. It will help us and our local partners inform better implementation, predict failure, and move the transparency needle a bit further in the right direction. In the meantime, many people don't know this, but 50% of all our completed projects are under maintenance programs. This looks different in each country, and for example, in Ethiopia, it's 15 guys on a bike that go visit 3,000+ wells every years with spare parts and tools. We look to the communities to pay for the maintenance and repairs, but we've setup some innovative "mobile mechanics" programs now in several countries. All in, we care deeply about this and will continue to invest significant resources, time and attention here.
Rahul Gupta@hul · President, Big Wheel Brigade
@scottharrison Thanks, Scott -- really excited to see the data coming through those sensors over time.
Chandra Kalle@chandrakalle · Maker @orangecaffeine.com
In one of your recent articles you mentioned 663 million people on the planet drink dirty and dangerous water. What does it take to ensure every person on the planet has access to clean drinking water?
Scott Harrison@scottharrison
@chandrakalle Chandra. I actually don't know the $ amount and have heard a bunch of different amounts quoted. We're currently serving people at about $30 a person, but as you continue to solve the problem, costs go up... It's a reverse economy of scale. I'll tell you a few things. 1. A lot of the low-hanging fruit has been taken care of, meaning big infrastructure water projects in urban and peri-urban areas. Currently 8/9 people without access to clean water live rurally. 2. To understand the math better, imagine a $10,000 drilled well in Malawi could serve 333 people. That's $30 a head. But if only the least populated communities were left, that might look like a $10,000 project serving a village of 50 people ($200 a head)... That + inflation and it gets harder and more expensive. We're focused on trying to serve 100M of the most rural poor directly (we're at about 5.5M so far so a very long way to go) and think that's probably going to average out at $50 or $60 a person but it's too early to tell... Hope that helps...