Save the world charity:water trip for tech moguls, in NYT, by Max @Chafkin ...
Jared Sperli stashed this in have it all
I see Tony Hawk! I see Sophia Bush and Maggie Grace!
And Matt Mullenweg and Tom Conrad and Chris Sacca and Daniel Ek!
If you click through you can see a version of the image above with the names:
Thank you Jared for stashing the excellent story of Scott Harrison. I loved reading this!!
The global water problem is solvable:
I was to join this crew of just-like-us tech guys as they headed with Harrison to Tigray, the mountainous region in Ethiopia’s far north, where much of the rural population still lacks basic services like paved roads, electricity, toilets and, crucially for Harrison, access to clean drinking water. It’s not uncommon for a woman there to walk an hour or more to fetch water, drawing it unfiltered from a murky, open well, and then to turn around and haul the sloshing 40-pound jug back home. Not surprisingly, waterborne illnesses are among the leading causes of death in children younger than 5; the infant mortality rate in Tigray is 6.4 percent.
Since its founding, Harrison’s charity has worked in 20 countries, but it has spent more money drilling wells and setting up hand pumps in Tigray than anywhere else — projected to be some $27 million by the end of this year. By trying to ensure that the region’s entire rural population, some four million people, has access to clean water, Harrison hopes to be able to offer proof (a word he loves) that the global water crisis is solvable. So far, charity: water claims to have provided clean water to a million people in the area. Tigray also happens to be relatively safe and heartachingly beautiful — making it a suitable destination for a group of young millionaires. “It’s where I take people to kind of start,” Harrison told me in his New York office in April. “It’s Abyssinia. The priests are wrapped in shrouds. It’s sick” — by which he meant very cool.
No wonder charity:water is so beloved:
In just seven years, Harrison’s organization claims to have raised roughly $100 million — $33 million in 2012 alone, up from $27 million the year before and $16 million the year before that. Today it is the largest nonprofit in the United States focused on water, with revenues that are four times as great as those of Water.org, the group co-founded by Matt Damon. Charity: water doesn’t drill wells or buy water filters but acts as a fund-raising clearinghouse for locally based charities, which it subcontracts to do the actual work. It markets its partners, mostly using its Web site and social media. “You could almost imagine us a Kayak.com or an Expedia,” Harrison says. But charity: water promises to do more than a mere online travel agent does; it claims to verify that the wells its donors buy are actually completed in a timely fashion. “We create an experience,” he says, “a pure way to give.”
charity:water is a charity for people who don't trust charities:
When Harrison founded charity: water in New York City in 2006, he initially intended to counter the cynicism of his club buddies. “I wanted to create a model that would put all the excuses aside,” Harrison says — a charity, in other words, for people who didn’t trust charities. To pre-empt objections to high overhead and waste, Harrison set up two bank accounts: one, raised chiefly from a handful of wealthy individuals, to pay for administration and fund-raising; and the other to finance the digging of wells and other water-related projects in the developing world. Today the organization’s heavily promoted “100% Model” allows it to claim that every dollar donated to water is actually used that way. (Some consider this more a matter of marketing than anything else, but even so, charity: water is a relatively efficient organization, earning a nearly perfect rating from Charity Navigator, a sort of Consumer Reports for the nonprofit world.) Many donations are earmarked to specific projects, so if a church group gives, say, $5,000 for a well in Ethiopia, its members are not only told where their $5,000 is spent, but they also receive pictures of the well they financed and its G.P.S. coordinates. All of this information is publicly available on a section of charity: water’s Web site dedicated to “proving it.” Most donors who happen to visit their well will find their names on a plaque there.
This is why I'm a big fan.
And why their influence and reach continues to grow.
charity:water is disrupting philanthropy:
Harrison’s commitment to geeky transparency, his willingness to speak the language of Silicon Valley and especially his organization’s impressive revenue growth have made him a hero to techies and to a growing class of tech-savvy philanthropists. “Scott is one of a handful of social entrepreneurs who are disrupting philanthropy,” says Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, the founder of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (and the wife of Netscape’s founder, Marc Andreessen). She’s also an enthusiastic charity: water supporter. The organization, she says, “is making philanthropy sexy.”
There are only 100 charity:water Well members, among them @Jack Dorsey and Sean Parker:
Charity: water offers two basic “products,” in Harrison’s phrasing. The first way to give is through mycharity: water, a sort of social network that allows you to set up a Web page to encourage your Twitter and Facebook friends to donate in honor of an event or cause — a birthday, for instance, or a marathon. (I gave $63 for a co-worker’s birthday two years ago; 10 months later I got an e-mail that began: “You gave money for a drilling rig. Here’s your proof.” A link to G.P.S. coordinates was included.) Khan started his first campaign in 2010 and raised $206,000 in 10 days, leading to a conglomerate of 22 wells in and around Seglamen, Ethiopia, that charity: water officials — and most everyone else connected to Khan — informally call “Shaktown.” Khan followed that effort by buying a Well membership, Harrison’s other major product.
Well members — there are 100 of them today, 13 of whom were on this trip — promise to donate at least $24,000 a year for three years to charity: water’s operational bank account, which pays the salaries of Harrison and his 62 employees, keeps the servers running and covers travel expenses for the staff. Members get a chance to hobnob with people in Harrison’s inner circle of well-known techies, which includes the Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and the former Facebook president Sean Parker, as well as the chance to go on trips like this one. “When you get to spend four or five days in an intense environment, the real you comes out,” Khan said. “You’re not polished, you’re not going onstage.”
charity:water's critics see it as a Branding and Marketing organization.
charity:water's champions see it as innovating a new kind of philanthropy:
Harrison’s critics don’t dispute his marketing prowess but say that’s beside the point. Charity: water’s “biggest provable impact may be that it puts the names of millennials on new, but perhaps not always functional, wells in poverty-ridden countries,” Anne Elizabeth Moore wrote in an essay published on Truthout, a liberal Web site, earlier this year. “That’s branding. Not a movement.” Moore noted Harrison’s use of the two bank accounts but questioned whether charity: water had really provided clean water to the more than three million people that the organization claims. One estimate suggests that 30 percent of all water projects, industrywide, break down ahead of schedule. And charity: water currently has limited ability to monitor its own wells. “We don’t know what percentage of our wells are broken,” says Robert Lee, the organization’s director of special programs. “My guess is 5 to 10 percent.”
This fact has the potential to create a gulf between Harrison’s brand of charity and the charitable work itself. In 2011, an internal audit found that a nonprofit Harrison hired in Kenya had done unsatisfactory work on 31 projects financed in 2008 by employees and customers of Brighton Collectibles, a California-based retailer of handbags and accessories. Brighton sued charity: water, claiming breach of contract, fraud and negligence, and though charity: water denied any wrongdoing, it agreed to pay $1 million as part of a settlement (which would ultimately finance another organization’s water projects). Harrison told me that tribal violence in Kenya following a disputed 2007 election was to blame for the project’s shortcomings, but he acknowledged that he failed to warn donors of the risks of a large-scale project in a poor country rife with violence and corruption. “We were more naïve then,” he said. “We set expectations poorly.”
Charity: water says well maintenance is an industrywide problem and presents itself in a familiar role as savior. Last December, the organization was awarded a $5 million grant by Google’s philanthropic arm to develop sensors to monitor water flow remotely in real time and to pay local charities to hire maintenance crews. The plan is to solve the problem of well failure while also improving communications with donors, who, if all goes well, will be able to check the status of their wells halfway around the world on their iPhones. Jacquelline Fuller, the director of Google Giving, says that the sensor project has the potential to “change the entire sector.”
It’s a compelling pitch, and it should be said that Water.org, Harrison’s closest significant competitor, has confronted the problem of well breakdown by shifting most of its resources away from digging wells. The philanthropy, which was formed in 2009 when Matt Damon’s H20 Africa merged with WaterPartners, a pioneering charity that dug its first well in the early ’90s, has expanded its mission to providing microloans to help people in developing countries hook up to existing municipal water systems. Gary White, the organization’s C.E.O., says the goal is to use “market-based solutions” to “move beyond the high-subsidy approach.” White, who has spent his adult life trying to get people to care about water, tells me that he is grateful to Harrison for raising awareness but is skeptical of his approach. “There’s never going to be enough charity in the world to get water to everyone who needs it,” he says.
Harrison is less pessimistic. He sees giving as a growth industry, and his business plan calls for charity: water to raise $100 million in 2015. He has been hiring engineers and product managers from tech companies like Twitter and Zynga with the hope that they can propel charity: water to the kind of fast growth that helped those companies reach multibillion-dollar valuations. He’s already thinking about expanding to other areas of charitable giving — perhaps charity: education or charity: shelter. “The people working here have signed up for the moonshot,” he says. “We’re not here to grow 10 percent a year.”