Nearly 2.1 billion people around the world still lack access to safely managed drinking water services and 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services, according to data from the United Nations. There is a need for increased investments in water facilities, especially in developing countries within Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, Southern Asia, Eastern Asia, and South-Eastern Asia.
A study in the past found that as little as $1 investment in water sanitation initiatives would bring in an average return of $9 – a seemingly small amount to many people but one that could save millions of lives, particularly children living in poor communities.
However, charity: water founder and CEO Scott Harrison thought it wiser to start with $20 and even further, to start a charity while partying in a nightclub for his 31st birthday.
Harrison, now 43, had since convinced one million people to donate to charity: water, which has funded more than 30,000 water sanitation projects in 26 countries. To date, his charity has given clean water access to nearly 10 million people.
“I actually look at it like I’m inviting people to a party. I’m inviting people to come past … There is no velvet rope. I had the doors open for anybody. But come to this party where you give of yourself generously and you see the impact of that gift,” he told CNN.
Launching charity: water at a nightclub
During the launch of his non-profit group, Harrison shared he lured his friends with a night of partying, complete with an open bar — all for a donation of $20 per person. But while it may look like it was the promise of having fun that enticed his friends into donating, Harrison said this was actually not the case.
Instead, he promised them that 100 percent of every donation would go directly to projects that bring clean water to poor communities.
“[That promise] would take the most common objection off the table,” he said.
But why launch a charity in a nightclub of all places? This was because he knew such places very well.
Harrison was a wayward child who at 18 years old escaped a home built around and strictly adhered to Christian teachings. He ended up in New York City where he worked as a nightclub promoter. Before he knew it, the lifestyle has already consumed him. He became addicted to alcohol and drugs.
He lost his moral compass and didn’t care for spiritual virtues; his daily life was colorful on the outside but he felt rotten inside — until he woke up one day and realized he was the most terrible person he knew.
He was 28 years old when he decided to turn his life around.
“If I had just partied like this, I may not make another 12 years. My tombstone might actually read: ‘Here lies a club rat that got a million people wasted,” he recalled.
A club rat trying to turn his life around
When Harrison had his epiphany, he tried to volunteer in institutions such as the Peace Corps, UNICEF, American Red Cross, and Oxfam International — all of which turned him down. He ended up paying a monthly fee of $500 in one charity which managed floating hospitals and healthcare.
From there, he went to Liberia and West Africa and witnessed first-hand how people were compelled to drink water which had filthy green algae floating in it. He also saw how children, in their young age, fetched heavy buckets of this dirty water to bring home to their families. This experience has further strengthened his will to do something meaningful.
The strongest push, however, came from his meeting with Dr. Gary Parker, a surgeon who told him that dirty water has actually made more people sick than all world wars combined.
Indeed, the United Nations said 90 percent of all natural disasters are water-related. These water-related catastrophes accounted for 70 percent of all deaths due to natural disasters.
Dirty water is also among the leading cause of child mortality around the world, according to the United Nations. Diarrhea alone has been killing an estimated 1.5 million children per year or approximately 1,000 children each day — mostly five-year-olds and below.
To be successful in rallying more support to charity: water, Harrison has been utilizing the power of social media. Most of their crowdfunding activities were promoted across online channels such as Facebook.
In 2014, former President Barack Obama found him and his charity, and praised him for his work.
“That’s the kind of promoting we need more. That’s the kind of faith that moves mountains,” Obama said during the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast.
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