This video book review was originally published at 2019 Miles to Water, a collaborative charity effort founded by Emile Wang, CEO of EWB Podcasts, and last month's guest blogger for The Busy Reader!
Video Length 2:14
Who Should Read It
Why Should We Read It
This autobiography is a compelling story of the personal and organizational growth of the NGO charity:water and its CEO, Scott Harrison.
What Will We Learn
We will (re)discover the joy of charity, the vitality of water, and the power of our own actions.
"If we cannot run a total of 2019 miles by January 1, 2019, we will pay the pledged amounts on our donors' behalf! "
Longtime supporters of "2019 Miles to Water" know our gig by now. We are a group of six non-athletes who want to get healthier, and need every motivation to change our sedentary life. To do so, we set up every incentive we could to help us be active consistently, including asking friends and family to pledge a dollar amount to charity:water on our behalf. It may turn out that altruism, peer pressure, self-shame, medical knowledge are all poor motivators when compared to the dollar. If we cannot run a total of 2019 miles by January 1, 2019, we will pay the pledged amounts on our donors' behalf! At this time, $1565 is on the line!
Changing our status quo is what the six of us are attempting, and Scott Harrison is no stranger to change. He is the co-founder of charity:water, and the author of his and his organization's autobiography, Thirst. But he wasn't always a charismatic CEO of an innovative NGO. In the early 2000's, he was a charismatic club promoter. He methodically worked his way into the VIP sections of the hottest parties in New York City, and routinely socialized with A-list actors, supermodels, and wealthy bankers. Drugs, alcohol, and sex were a normal Wednesday evening. He was paid handsomely to party, and he excelled at it. But by 2004, both his mind and his body had literally become numb. He felt lost and restless, and dropped everything to volunteer in Africa.
"But equally powerful was…the universal desire for a better life for our children and the personal joy experienced when giving from our heart."
Mr. Harrison’s medical mission became a personal watershed moment. Like most of us, he had never previously seen extreme poverty and a total lack of healthcare. But equally powerful was what he also was able to observe: the universal desire for a better life for our children and the personal joy experienced when giving from our heart. NGO’s at that time were certainly adept at focusing on improving lives; they were at best neutral at sparking joy in their donors. Mr. Harrison felt he could do better, and he had a unique skill set to do it. For charity:water's inaugural launch in 2006, Mr. Harrison leveraged his VIP network and threw a party (also his 31st birthday party) at a hot new club in the Meatpacking District. He raised $15,000 in one evening. Donating money had never been so much fun.
One of charity:water's first public outreach efforts, with Jennifer Connelly
Mr. Harrison had given up his birthday to raise money, and he realized that he had much to offer in revolutionizing how nonprofits work. He again leaned on his former life's network, and convinced Terry George (Oscar-nominated director of Hotel Rwanda) and Academy Award-winner Jennifer Connelly to create an edgy commercial about clean water on behalf of charity:water. He committed charity:water to the "100% model", where 100% of public donations go directly to giving clean water and 0% goes to overhead (more on that here). He also realized that plenty of people, like him, were willing to give up their birthday celebrations/gifts to ask friends and family to donate on their behalf instead. Charity:water created custom websites for all interested in "giving up" their birthday- and raised $150,000 in a month.
charity:water's most successful birthday campaign, raising $1,265,823
Perhaps the most transformative aspect of charity:water's operations is their commitment to accountability and transparency. In 2010, charity:water promised clean water by September 2010 to a remote pygmy tribe in Central African Republic (CAR), and raised $290,000 for this effort. When it became clear that they would not be able to deliver on that $290,000 investment, Mr. Harrison decided to make a video about it. He wanted to be upfront about the difficulties of their work, and was ready for donor and media backlash. Instead, the opposite happened. Thousands on social media offered praise and support for his handling of this setback, and charity:water raised an additional $1.7 million. They returned to CAR in 2011 and successfully built a well for one of Africa's most destitute people.
No Birthday for charity:water, Central African Republic (2010)
Scott Harrison's Thirst is more than a simple autobiography, or even a history of charity:water. It is, of course, a call to action for all readers to get involved with charity:water (and 100% of the author's net proceeds from Thirst will go to fund charity:water projects around the world). But more importantly, it is an opportunity for reflection. If we step back from our usual lives, we find that we are not that much different from each other, whether we are in Africa, Asia, or America. Should we accept a 21st century world where geography dictates access to water? Changing anything is difficult, and usually scary. If one former club promoter can do so much, imagine what six non-athletes can achieve.
Somewhere in this world, there is someone like you and me