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On way to solving water crisis, Scott Harrison works to build a brand

Water changes everything. That's the message charity: water founder Scott Harrison shared today at our Big Kansas City event. Harrison's non-profit organization has raised nearly $100 million to bring clean water to communities in 20 countries. Access to safe drinking water is changing not just the lives of people in those towns and villages, but

Water changes everything.

That’s the message charity: water founder Scott Harrison shared today at our Big Kansas City event. Harrison’s non-profit organization has raised nearly $100 million to bring clean water to communities in 20 countries. Access to safe drinking water is changing not just the lives of people in those towns and villages, but the lives of the donors and organizers, as well.

Water changed Harrison’s life. He was working in New York City as a nightclub promoter, making big money and partying hard. That was until he realized he was “going to be 60 years old getting people drunk for a living.” Harrison decided he needed a change and asked himself, “What would the 180 degree opposite of my life look like?”

In 2004 he signed up for a stint with Mercy Ships, a mission organization that brings medical attention to people with little access to health care. It took him to Liberia, where Harrison photographed and blogged about doctors’ efforts to provide medical care in Africa.

He also witnessed the fundamental problem his organization aims to solve: dirty water makes people sick. Harrison said one in nine people in the world drink water that’s likely to make them ill. Think of children drinking from parasite-infested pools, or women walking up to eight hours per day hauling water.

Harrison said these images broke his heart. He returned to New York City and started charity: water because “nobody should have to drink water from a swamp,” he said.

When he began work on the organization, Harrison realized more things needed to change. One was how charities worked. He said many of his friends thought charitable giving was a broken system, in which their money went into a “black hole” without accountability.

So charity: water began with a goal of transparency. First, 100 percent of all public donations directly fund water projects, while all organizational funding comes from private donors, foundations and sponsors. Also, charity: water documents every project using photos and GPS coordinates, allowing donors to see exactly where each dollar ends up.

Harrison believes promotion and advertising also needed change. “Why shouldn’t we try to build an epic brand that rivals a Nike or an Apple? There wasn’t that brand to me in charity,” he said.

The organization came up with new ways to raise donations, such as having people give up their birthdays. Instead of parties and presents, people ask for donations. Justin Bieber joined in, giving up his 18th birthday, and even Saks Fifth Avenue donated its windows for promoting charity: water.

By using the latest technology and online tools, charity: water has funded more than 8,000 water projects, bringing clean water to 3.2 million people.  “We really just believe we can solve this problem through everyday people,” Harrison said.

Big Kansas City is a two-and-a-half-day event that aims to inspire, educate and celebrate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the heart of the Midwest. Produced by Silicon Prairie News, it’s part of the Big Series, the nation’s most ambitious events on innovation and entrepreneurship.

 

Credits: Video by Quadrant5. Snippet photo by Kenny Johnson Photography.


The Big Kansas City Video Series is presented by NIC, Inc.

NIC Inc. is the nation’s leading provider of official government portals, online services, and secure payment processing solutions. The company’s innovative eGovernment services help reduce costs and increase efficiencies for government agencies, citizens, and businesses across the country.

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