November 16, 2013

An interview with Scott Harrison on how to reinvent charity

Scott Harrison (his twitter) is a photographer and the founder of charity: water - a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. This interview is from 2012.

Lessons learned
  • At age 23, he had the prefect life. He lived in New York where he promoted the top nightclubs and fashion events. He hanged out with celebrities and had a Rolex watch. But he described himself as arrogant and selfish and he felt like no-one around him in this rich world was happy - and he used drugs. So at age 28, he felt he needed to change his lifestyle. He did that by applying to humanitarian organizations and he wanted to serve in the poorest country in the world. But all of them said no because they didn't want this drug-using-nightclub-promoter.
  • One organization hadn't turned him down: Mercy Ships. They believed in him so Scott Harrison joined the organization as a photojournalist on a hospital ship in west Africa. His job was to take picture of everything the organization did and he took 50 000 photos in 9 months. The ship he served on was called The Anastatis, but it was decommissioned and has today been replaced with the larger ship The Africa Mercy.
  • It was in Liberia that Scott Harrison discovered water. In the country, people couldn't boil water because they weren't allowed to cut down trees. So to help people get clean water, he founded charity: water.
  • He realized most of the current charity organizations weren't transparent - you couldn't really see how much of the donated money payed for bureaucracy. Scott Harrison came to the conclusion that the easiest way to be transparent is to have 2 bank accounts where the money in one of the accounts pay for the charity projects. It was also important to show the donors exactly where their money went by using Google Earth. His organization even promises to add the card fees the donors has to pay when they donate money.
"When we started charity: water, we made a bold promise to the general public — 100% of their donations would go directly to the field to fund water projects. We'd find another way to cover our operating expenses. And we'd even reimburse credit card fees when donations were made online."   

More articles in the same series: Lessons learned from the Foundation interviews