Scott Harrison is the founder of Charity: Water, a nonprofit organization that's focused on providing clean water to people and places that don't have it.
Scott was also recognized in Fortune Magazine's 40 under 40 list, Forbes magazine's Impact 30 List, and he was named number 10 in Fast Company's hundred most creative people in business. He is also a World Economic Forum young global leader. In addition to all of this, he recounted his journey in vivid detail in his NYT bestselling book Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World.
Scott has lived an incredible hero's journey filled with life lessons for us all. He spent his twenties as one of the top club promoters in New York City, indulging his darkest vices, and he hit a point where he realized that he had hit spiritual, moral and emotional bankruptcy.
He decided to change his life and went on to spend two years on a hospital ship off the coast of Liberia, and he saw the effects of dirty water.
He's gone on to use the entrepreneurial talents that helped him become a top club promoter in New York, to build a remarkable, innovative non-profit, using a business model based in transparent giving and a 100% donation promise.
Thanks to the help of 1 million donors in the last 16 years, Charity: Water has raised over 740 million and funded over 120,000 water projects in 29 countries. When these projects are completed, they will provide 16.8 million people with clean, safe drinking water.
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The Spring: A Charity Water Video
Thirst: The Book
Scott Harrison Wikipedia
Charity: Water Today [5:42]
Gas poisoning as a child [11:51]
Becoming a club promotor [18:53]
Filler versus image promotor [21:47]
Entrepreneurial instinct [24:34]
Growing discontent and waking up [28:09]
Tithing time in Liberia [32:03]
What is and isn’t “rich” [34:45]
Holding onto hope and building the Nike of charities [44:53]
The importance of clean water [52:31]
Transparency model [1:01:18]
Building a well [1:05:17]
1 million lives [1:07:50]
Finding inspiration for change [1:14:22]
One message to make the world a better place [1:18:06]
[00:00:00] Scott Harrison: And I spent more and more time off the ship in the rural areas. And I, I really learned two simple things, Nathan. I learned half the country was drinking bad water, and half of the disease in the country was because people were drinking bad water and didn't have access to sanitation and hygiene. So yeah, I mean, could 5,000, could half of the people been sent home if they just had clean water?
[00:00:24] You, we think the answer is yes. Hmm. And I remember sharing the pictures and, and what I was seeing with the chief medical officer, Dr. Gary Parker, and he said, yeah, we know. Why don't you go work on this? If you really care about health, why don't you just, you, Scott, you 30 year old, Scott, why don't you go back to New York and try to bring clean water to everybody on, on Earth before you die.
[00:00:50] Several years
[00:00:50] Nathan Hurd: ago, my wife and I saw a man speak, give a talk, and we brought it, brought us both the tears. This, this talk, it was deeply moving [00:01:00] and the cause that this person was talking about is something that we've been advocates of ever since. The man's name was Scott Harrison and he's the founder of Charity Water, which is a remarkable nonprofit organization that's focused on providing clean water to people and places that don't have it.
[00:01:22] Uh, charity Water has, with the help of 1 million donors in the last 16 years, raised over 740 million and funded over 120,000 water projects in 29 countries. When these projects are completed, they will provide 16.8 million people with clean, safe drinking water. Now Scott, his story is amazing. I love stories where people go through sort of a hero's journey.
[00:01:54] Scott's twenties, he spent as a club promoter, one of the top club promoters in [00:02:00] New York City, indulging his darkest vices, and he hit a point where he realized that he had basically hit spiritual, moral and emotional bankruptcy. He then went on to spend two years on a hospital ship off the coast of Liberia, and he saw the effects of dirty water.
[00:02:20] What? What happens to people? All the different consequences that are downstream of simply not having access to clean. Water for drinking and cleaning and cooking. And this is a problem all around the world. In fact, 1.1 billion people at the time, he began this, this work were without access to clean water.
[00:02:42] And that number has, IM improved significantly. In fact, in, in the last 16 years since he started to work in this area, ultimately he's gone on to dedicate the rest of his life to this project, to this cause to help ev provide clean drinking water to everyone in the world. In addition to that, though, Scott has incredible [00:03:00] business savvy and creativity.
[00:03:02] He was, even though it led him to a dark place, uh, a very, very successful club promoter. And we talk a little bit about what made him that way. And there, there are aspects of his business acumen that have translated very nicely into the work he does with Charity water and that are really compelling and interesting.
[00:03:21] But now of course, he's dedicated to his la his life to a cause that's far bigger than he is. And it's really inspiring to hear how he faced his own demons, how he decided to make this change, what that transition was like, and what he's up to now that is such a calling and is doing such amazing work for people all around the world.
[00:03:48] Scott was also recognized in Fortune Magazine's 40 under 40 list, Forbes magazine's Impact 30 List, and he was named number 10 in Fast Company's, [00:04:00] hundred most creative people in business. He is also a World Economic Forum, young global leader, and he and his wife Victoria, have two children. In addition to all of this, he wrote a really amazing book that outlines his life's journey, starting with a, a really traumatizing situation as a young man with his mother.
[00:04:21] Um, and then everything that happened since through his club promoting Days and then onto Charity Water and Building Charity Water. It's a great book that gives you a visceral sense of what his life was like and, and is also very inspiring. I've wanted to have this conversation for a very long time.
[00:04:35] Scott is remarkable, as you'll hear, and there's a lot of lessons to be learned from his vulnerability. His self-reflection, his self-awareness, and what he's done with all of that, and how he's converted that into such a positive trajectory. I hope you enjoy this conversation. It was a really remarkable discussion.
[00:04:57] Scott Harrison: of insight.[00:05:00]
[00:05:09] Nathan Hurd: Scott Harrison, thank you so much for being here. It's great to see you.
[00:05:12] Scott Harrison: Hey, thanks for having me. This will be fun.
[00:05:15] Nathan Hurd: So I am so excited to talk. Where do we start? Yeah, where do we start? I mean, from my perspective, um, your story is just amazing. The, the contrast and the varied experience. What's led you ultimately to where you are today?
[00:05:30] And I think maybe that's where I'd love to start, if you would, if anyone's listening that's not familiar with who you are and the work you do, could you just take a second and talk about what life is like today, what are you up to today? And talk a little bit about Charity
[00:05:42] Scott Harrison: Water. Yeah, great. So I, well, I just came back from my 39th flight of the year.
[00:05:49] Uh, so this has been a really heavy travel quarter. Um, I was in Africa twice in three weeks. The first trip was exciting cuz I got to take my six and eight year old [00:06:00] for the very first time, uh, to see what daddy and mommy have been working on for almost two decades now. Wow. So, uh, I lead an organization called Charity Water.
[00:06:09] Uh, we are, uh, maybe not surprising, we're a charity that helps people get water around the world. I was not very creative in the naming, but it, it, it stuck. And, uh, we, um, we've raised about 750 million, uh, to help 17 million people across 29 countries. So this has led me to 72 countries and to Africa 55 times.
[00:06:34] And, um, I spent a lot of my time on the road, uh, in the countries where we work or fundraising or speaking, uh, about the work of Charity Water, trying to grow the community and grow the movement. Uh, I worked with my wife for the first 10 years and we lived in Manhattan, both of us for 26 years. And then bounced down to Nashville, Tennessee Post Pandemic, where we have really been [00:07:00] enjoying, uh, living in the south and, and raising kids.
[00:07:03] And, um, you know, don't get me started on the airport. It's a lot more, uh, it's a lot more flights, but it's only 25 minutes from home versus jfk. So, um, that's, that's kind of current, current status. And I'm home for two days. I'm gonna have to go to New York on Thursday. And you're headed back to New York.
[00:07:20] And are the offices offices based in New York? Uh, so we had, uh, we shut down our headquarters during Covid. Uh, we had about 110 people in the New York headquarters and our team has now distributed across 34 states, which has been working remarkably well, uh, for the organization. And it turns out, uh, if you don't force nonprofit workers to live and commute into the most expensive city in America, They don't.
[00:07:45] Mm. A a lot of them don't. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
[00:07:49] Nathan Hurd: Um, yeah. Well, that's not hard to believe. So how was, how was last year in terms of the size and scope? I, I think I Yeah. Read that Charity Water had its largest year, [00:08:00] last year. Like, can you give us a sense of what last year looked like in terms of impact and, and Yeah.
[00:08:05] Scott Harrison: So we actually, the last two years we raised exactly a hundred million, um, which, you know, it's a lot and it's not a lot, Nathan. Um, it's a fraction of what I thought we'd be raising 16 years into this journey. It's a fraction of the potential out there, uh, for an issue like clean water for humans, uh, and with a need.
[00:08:28] So. Great. So as we record this, 771 million humans are drinking dirty water today. A 771 million people, one in 10 people alive on the planet, uh, are risking their life because they don't have the most basic need met. So in light of that, um, raising a hundred million a year feels like a failure, uh, 16 years into the journey.
[00:08:49] But, you know, it's also a tremendous amount of generosity in a, a global community of givers now spanning, you know, 150 plus countries. So, [00:09:00] um, we've got about 2,500 local team members across 22 countries. So across East Africa and West Africa. Wow. Down, down into the South Africa, throughout India, throughout, uh, Nepal and Bangladesh and Southeast Asia, Pakistan.
[00:09:15] And we've got about 110 team members here in the States and in London who are, you know, focused on growth and, and bringing more people into the story and bringing more people into the, the community. And what are you,
[00:09:29] Nathan Hurd: like, what's, what are you looking forward to? What's the goal for 2324?
[00:09:34] Scott Harrison: Well, I am, I'm trying to figure out how to get us unstuck at a hundred million a year.
[00:09:39] When you do the same thing two years in a row, it does not feel good. Mm-hmm. Uh, you know, charity Water has just had such a growth story and, you know, I think, well, there, there are a lot of reasons for that. But, you know, I'm, I'm working with a team on, you know, what are the new growth channels? Um, what [00:10:00] are the, what's gonna get us to have a bigger impact?
[00:10:03] So last year we helped 2 million people get clean water. Okay, well that's, that's a lot of people. Yeah. You know, it's, it's, uh, 50 Madison Square Gardens, actually, no, it's, uh, Madison. It, it's a hundred Madison Square Gardens. Right. Full of people. But, you know, it's a fraction, you know, if it was, it would take us 350 years to solve the problem.
[00:10:24] It's a fraction of what's really needed. And we're four times bigger now than the second biggest water charity in America. So this is an underfunded sector. We're not seeing the energy and the attention and the funding that clean water around the world needs. So I think that is, you know, the animating angst or energy, which is how do we triple this thing?
[00:10:48] How do we five x this thing? And what are the right communities to do it? What are the right products? What's the right message to, to grow charity, water, um, in, in our impact? [00:11:00] Yeah. Amazing. I don't have the
[00:11:01] Nathan Hurd: answers. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well as, yeah, I mean, we talked offline, but I'm, I'm a huge fan. Our family's a huge fan, and, uh, I actually heard your story several years ago with my wife, and what amazed me is where you were at one point before you started Charity Water, and what led you ultimately to discover this huge problem as a, as a, as a new focus area and, um, and, and take on what you've taken on.
[00:11:29] So, if we could, I'd love to go back a little bit and just Yeah. You know, talk a little bit about what's, what was your upbringing like, what was your story like? And I know, I mean, we can go back as far as you'd like, but I know one thing that I read in your book and I've heard you talk about is you had an interesting situation with your mother.
[00:11:47] Yeah. When you were very young. Um, maybe we could start there.
[00:11:51] Scott Harrison: Yeah, so I was born in Philadelphia in a middle class family. My dad was a business guy, my mom was a writer, uh, for the newspaper. And [00:12:00] when I was four, we moved to South Jersey to get my dad closer to his work, uh, and reduce his commute. And I remember he was very proud of his new 22 minute commute, which meant that he could be home sooner and spend more time with me and the big family that they were gonna have.
[00:12:18] So we move into this gray house in the middle of winter, and unbeknownst to any of us, we have just purchased a home with a carbon monoxide gas leak, and we all start getting these weird symptoms and headaches. And on New Year's Day, 1980, my mom walks across the bedroom and she collapses unconscious and she is the canary in the coal mine.
[00:12:40] That leads to the discovery of the gas leak. My dad, uh, inviting a HVAC friend to come over and rip out the heat exchanger and throw it out on the curb. And while my dad and I bounced back, my mom never did, and her immune system irreparably shut down at [00:13:00] that moment and just never recovered. So she was an invalid for the rest of my life, and unfortunately, I never really saw her face again.
[00:13:08] So I am far too familiar with the 3M family of mask products for 40 plus years. Um, so she would wear N 90 fives and charcoal masks, and the simplest way to explain her condition. Was everything in the world made her sick. Mm, car fumes made her sick. Perfume soap. Um, we would've signs on our house, chemically sensitive person, you know, do not enter.
[00:13:36] Uh, if I went out to church and a little old lady hugged me with perfume, I would've to strip naked in the garage, put on clothes that had been washed in baking soda before I was allowed in the house. So, um, mom kind of just lived in isolation. She lived in a tinfoil cover room for many years, slept on an army cot, you know, Washington, baking soda 20 times and just would avoid exposure.
[00:13:59] So, [00:14:00] uh, family planning stopped my dad, uh, being this unbelievably loyal man of faith, uh, who was very devout. He stayed by her and the two of us really became caregivers for her, me as an only child, you know, starting at four. And I did the cooking and I did the cleaning. And I remember I. You know, um, my mom still wanted to read, but ink from books would make her sick.
[00:14:25] So I would dutifully bake her books in the oven to get the smell of the print out and to out gass the books. And then I would take them up to the second floor and, uh, she would open this tinfoil covered door with a rustle, and I would hand her the book and she would greet me with a mask and cotton gloves on, and she would take the book from me and shut the door.
[00:14:48] So those were, you know, those were a lot of my interactions. A lot of interactions, talking to her through a door, a closed door. I, I
[00:14:55] Nathan Hurd: read, I re I re recall a detail in, in your book. And by the way, uh, thirst [00:15:00] is, is the name of your book, right? Thirst. Yeah. Thirst. Yep. I recall, uh, when I read the book, it's, you said something like A toxic level of carbon monoxide is two and 24.
[00:15:14] Is like risk of heart failure. And your mom had tested at a 25.
[00:15:18] Scott Harrison: Yeah, it was some order of magnitude higher than, you know, what is, what is acceptable. Uh, for sure. And okay. You know, I think, you know, I wrote about this in the book as well. What one of the things difficult for me as a teenager was, you know, believing that this was true because I recovered and my dad recovered.
[00:15:34] Yeah. And you know, I thought this was in her head. I mean, maybe this was psychosomatic, maybe she was just trying to make sure none of us had any fun and took care of her. So one of the tests I remember doing, um, she was, she was allergic to radio waves. And I was like, come on. I mean, the radio makes you sick.
[00:15:55] TV makes you sick, electromagnetic radiation. I mean, [00:16:00] come on, you just don't wanna listen. You don't want us to listen to the radio. You don't want us to watch tv. So one night, uh, while she was asleep, I went up to the hallway and I took a radio and I aimed it at her door. But I turned the volume all the way down.
[00:16:13] So she wouldn't know. And sure enough, she woke up the next morning really ill, and I remember as a teenager saying, okay, okay, maybe, maybe this is, maybe she really is sensitive to these things. Wow. So that was a, um, that was kind of a, a powerful moment for me, I think in, in just believing her. Did
[00:16:32] Nathan Hurd: anything that's, that's, um, that's unbelievable.
[00:16:35] And, um,
[00:16:35] Scott Harrison: did, did like on you, how, what a punk kid. No, I honestly gets worse, Nate. Then it gets a lot worse, believe me.
[00:16:43] Nathan Hurd: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And, and then we can get there. Yeah. What, so what, um, how did that shape your experience in life otherwise? Is there anything else that came from being, I mean, that's a lot to take on as a kid.
[00:16:54] Yeah. Obviously being a caregiver at such an age
[00:16:56] Scott Harrison: and, well, on the positives I was needed. [00:17:00] So I was an essential part of the family. I was an only child, I was a caregiver. And the, the independence and the. You know, the essentialism that came with that I think helped build a lot of self-confidence. Mm-hmm.
[00:17:17] You know, this belief that I could probably go out and do just about anything. Hmm. On the downside, yeah. My mom never really touched me, you know, so there, you know, there wasn't a lot of intimacy. Um, You know, I remember when I was, I was working on the book with, um, with, with a co-writer who was interviewing my parents and, you know, interviewing a bunch of my friends.
[00:17:41] You know, I rewrote my childhood in my mind to say, oh, everything was kind of great. You know, I learned a lot of independence and, you know, this is probably why I became a social entrepreneur eventually. And, you know, she felt so deeply sorry for me. You know, she's like, you endured massive trauma through your [00:18:00] childhood.
[00:18:00] She just had such a different take on it Yeah. Than, than I did. So it, it's still kind of hard for me to maybe accept that part of it, um, because my parents loved me and they always provided for me, and I just had a lot of work to do as a caregiver. And, you know, now, now as I work and, and travel to countries where, you know, kids my age are dying of bad water, you know, I'm like, it's, it's hard to feel sorry for, you know, myself living in a middle class.
[00:18:29] Home, um, you know, with a sick mom and a dad who loved me and loved her. Yeah, yeah,
[00:18:35] Nathan Hurd: yeah. Totally. What a, what a contrast. And so, okay, so then, uh, you, you eventually, you, you grow up, you go to college. Can we talk a little bit about how you ended up as a, what turned out to be a, I think it's a decade or something of, of club being a club promoter.
[00:18:52] Yeah. So if
[00:18:53] Scott Harrison: you'd asked me growing up what I wanted to do, I would've said, I'm gonna be a doctor and I'm going to cure mom. And [00:19:00] people like mom and then 18 rolled around and, you know, I just had this rebellious moment. I had the prodigal son moment and said, mm-hmm. Nah, now it's my turn. Mm-hmm. It's my turn to have some fun.
[00:19:12] And, you know, raising the church. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, I wasn't allowed to have sex. You know, I didn't curse. I'm like, I wanna do all these things. I do wanna drink, I do wanna have sex. Yeah. I do wanna, you know Right. Smoke and see what that's like. I do wanna fly around the world and, you know, I'd love to buy and drive a fast car and have a, you know, $5,000 watch.
[00:19:32] And so I, I think I just said my turn, you know? How about, how about time for me? Sure. And you know, it started out in, in nightclubs and then I realized, wow, I mean, if you want to rebel, you can rebel in style as a nightclub promoter. And if you can get the right people inside the right clubs, uh, you can, you can do really well, uh, both from a lifestyle and, and financially by, by [00:20:00] partying for a living effectively.
[00:20:01] So, you know, to the horror and sh chagrin of my parents, I become a nightclub promoter. And over the next decade, work at 40 different high-end nightclubs in New York City. And, you know, these are the kind where, you know, you've got Jay-Z at Table One and Puffy at table three. And you know, we're sitting at table two with a, you know, bunch of models and thinking that we're, you know, the kings of the world Spring champagne over the crowd.
[00:20:28] Um, you know, while, while the dj, the expensive dj, we've flown in from Paris, uh, has everybody dancing and, you know, I just kept trying to collect more and more markers of success. The girl on the cover of the, the fashion magazine, the bmw, the Rolex, the grand piano in my New York apartment, and all the while kind of leading deeper and darker lifestyle, um, you know, winding up this kind of selfish [00:21:00] sycophantic, hedonistic jerk.
[00:21:03] After 10 years of, of all that, You know, maybe the proverbial pigsty, um, so far from the home and the values and the spirituality and the morality that I've been raised with. Yeah. There's actually a quote in your book
[00:21:16] Nathan Hurd: that that, uh, that I remember you shared that sums it up nicely. But yeah, effectively you said like, I'd become the worst version of myself after about 10 years.
[00:21:25] Scott Harrison: Um, as I recall, you're the worst person I knew. Really? I mean, yeah. All right. So
[00:21:29] Nathan Hurd: to just, just, cause I'm really curious. What's the, I I re, I remember in the research for this, I, I found the difference. There's two D two types of promoters. There's a filler promoter and an image promoter, and there's that, that was significant cuz you wrote about it.
[00:21:43] What's the difference and, and which one were you?
[00:21:47] Scott Harrison: Yeah, I mean the filler promoters would work for us. You know, the, the image promoters, I mean, it's kind of a weird word, but, you know, there's the, the celebrity promoter who is known for getting the right [00:22:00] people inside the room and you have the best time by following them.
[00:22:04] And it's an asset light model. So you don't own the club, you just take a piece of the action. So you might take 15 or 20% of the, the take on any given night of the door or the, the bar sales. But when that club goes cold, meaning when your following gets tired of going to that place and that takes about eight months, eight to 12 months, you just go to the next club and you bring everybody with you.
[00:22:28] So it's kind of as simple as an email list and a phone list. And we would call people and say, Hey, this new club, we're moving there, you're gonna love it. And everybody would turn up on a Tuesday night at 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock and start there. Uh, and. You know, again, it's a pretty simple business model.
[00:22:47] If you ring $50,000 in booze, you can make 10 grand, but you don't have any of the hassle of the HR and the, you know, you kind of turn up, get your, you know, [00:23:00] 200 drink tickets or whatever it is, and do you get to go home?
[00:23:05] Nathan Hurd: So you, so if,
[00:23:07] Scott Harrison: so you, and then the filler promoter brings in all the people who are paying.
[00:23:10] So, so none of our friends would pay for anything. Okay. You know, none of the girls from the modeling agencies would pay for anything. It was the people who wanted to be around, the celebrities who wanted to be in proximity to, you know, models. Um, you know, we would joke it's models and bottles. You know, somebody's buying those bottles.
[00:23:28] Uh, for a absolute, they cost $500, but they actually cost us 18. Right. So we're selling an $18 bottle of absolute right for Kettle One, you know, for 500 bucks for the privilege of proximity to beautiful, rich, famous people.
[00:23:45] Nathan Hurd: Right? Right. And then the, and then the job, we would just pay seller
[00:23:48] Scott Harrison: promoters, you know, 500 bucks or a thousand bucks, you know, to, to bring in a bunch of people that would spend money.
[00:23:53] Okay. Okay.
[00:23:54] Nathan Hurd: So, um, that, that's definitely helps. And as I, I remember re reading in your book too, that, [00:24:00] um, you actually were very savvy and took this very seriously from a business perspective. And I think you built a list, like a really large list of 15,000 people or something, and you were innovative as well, like you were emailing this whole list and you were getting really high open rates at the time, things like that.
[00:24:19] I guess the question is, all of this is fascinating relative to what you now do and have come to do. Yeah. And it's such a huge contrast that I think led you there. But what, where did those instincts come from? Where did the business instincts come from?
[00:24:34] Scott Harrison: I remember as a kid, you know, my parents never gave me money, so I always wanted to make my own money to assert my independence.
[00:24:40] And I would sell Christmas cards door to door. I would, you know, borrow money for a leaf blower to then go charge people to blow leaves on their lawns, uh, so that I could earn extra income. So there was, I was always trying to make money at something as a kid and, and, and therefore continue to assert my [00:25:00] independence of that.
[00:25:01] Um, I think I was a new media guy. I was always interested in innovation and technology and, you know, wired Magazine was more interesting to me than the economist. Hmm. Um, or, you know, foreign affairs. Um, so, you know, I also got bored easily, Nathan. So the, the, the most brutal thing about working at 40 nightclubs or, you know, 10 years is you're kind of having the same conversations over and over again.
[00:25:30] With, you know, a different group of people and the intelligent, the, the conversations are not that interesting because you're yelling at the top of your lungs over a dj. You know, these are surface level conversations. Mm-hmm. So I would always try to just make our parties a little more interesting by theming them.
[00:25:47] You know, we would throw beach parties and we'd tell everybody, you know, turn up in a swimsuit and we're gonna have 500 beach balls flying around in the club. And some guy on a lifeguard station, you know, blowing a whistle or, [00:26:00] um, you know, white parties or, you know, whatever the, whatever the theme was.
[00:26:05] Just trying to make it a little more interesting than, you know, really the, the rinse, wash and, and repeat, you know, come into a club, get drunk and try to hook up with a pretty boy or pretty girl and then go home. Yeah. Just gets, gets, gets really boring all the time. Yeah, totally. But I think what I learned was, you know, the successful promoters told a story.
[00:26:25] They told a story that if you got past the velvet rope, if you were chosen to come in and if you spent a lot of money with the right people, then your life had meaning. Mm-hmm. You've made it. Yeah. I mean, so, you know, for the last 17 years I've been telling a radically different story that if you care about others, if you are asking how you can use your time and your talent and your money to end needless suffering in, you know, in your local community.
[00:26:56] In your global community, then your life has more meaning. You [00:27:00] know, if you are a generous, high integrity, compassionate person, you know your life is gonna have more meaning, but it's still a story. Mm-hmm. It's still, you know, it's still a story. And you know the difference with the 750 million raised with Charity Waters, I don't get to keep it.
[00:27:17] You know, the, the money goes to help humans get clean drinking water, uh, around the world. Right. But it's, it's, it's still inviting people in, um, not to a club in this case, but into a story where in the end, the whole world gets clean water. Yeah. And it is, it is really a celebration. Yeah.
[00:27:37] Nathan Hurd: And so those, those, those skills that you acquired during that time were really tr, really translated well to this, this period.
[00:27:44] I mean, you were, you were a very good club promoter, I think one of the top club promoters at the, at the end. Yeah. They were like, there were
[00:27:49] Scott Harrison: eight or 10 of us running New York City.
[00:27:51] Nathan Hurd: When did you realize, because being good at something oftentimes can feel really good, but in this case, obviously, it, it, it, it hit a point where it wasn't, [00:28:00] that wasn't enough because you weren't feeling fulfilled.
[00:28:02] When did that start to dawn on you and how did that, uh, change, evolve in you?
[00:28:09] Scott Harrison: I think there was a growing discontent over time, you know, with the, you know, rinse, wash, repeat, or whatever. Just, you know, it was another girlfriend that I didn't love, who didn't love me. It was another trip to Paris Fashion Week.
[00:28:22] It, it was, you know, you just realize you're kind of getting older and you're doing the same thing and the thing doesn't really have any lasting meaning. My specific kind of first wake up call moment was in, uh, I guess I was 27 and half my body inexplicably went numb one day. And I remember running my hand under hot water and not being able to feel like the scalding hot water.
[00:28:54] And I was convinced something was terribly wrong with me, you know, a brain tumor, [00:29:00] um, you know, some terrible disease and I was gonna die. Yeah. And, You know, I had been living Nathan, like, I'm gonna live forever. I mean, I've been living like I was an immortal,
[00:29:12] Nathan Hurd: well, you're up all night and you're sleeping during the day
[00:29:14] Scott Harrison: and Oh, and the destruction to the body.
[00:29:17] I mean, you know, dinner at 10, the club at 12, the cocaine joint at five, and then a bunch of Ambien to come down at noon and then wake up at 7:00 PM and do it all over again. Mm-hmm. So just really kind of brutal. So yeah, if you're listening, no wonder half my body goes numb after two packs of cigarettes a day for 10 years in excessive drinking and drugging.
[00:29:39] Um, but the doctor couldn't find anything wrong with me. So after CT tests and MRIs and, you know, they couldn't find anything wrong with me, but that was really this first, maybe chink in the armor is, well, you know, first of all, like spirituality, you know, do I believe the heaven and hell stuff? Uh, because if I believe any of that, I'm pretty sure where I'm going.
[00:29:58] Mm-hmm. The way I [00:30:00] have lived for the last 10 years. Um, you know, and I'm not being welcomed by, uh, Peter or Jesus Yeah. At the Pearl Gates. Yeah. So that kind of led a, you know, a renewed interest in faith and spirituality and, you know, going and looking at the stuff I was taught as a kid and, and looking at it with fresh eyes as an adult.
[00:30:20] And then, you know, the second thing was just like legacy. Like if I died, my tombstone was gonna read here lies a man who got a million people wasted. Yeah. That's the only thing you would've been able to write about my career. And I didn't want that on my tombstone. Uh, you know, very different than here Lies a, a kind doctor who tried to help his mom and others like her.
[00:30:44] Right. So, You know, this all kind of culminates about six months later. So I, you know, I start trying to go to church and I'm like, oh, the church kind of suck in New York. And I start praying again. I start trying to smoke less, trying to do less drugs. But [00:31:00] this was so difficult because my environment didn't change, right.
[00:31:03] And my environment celebrated all those things. So, you know, I have this moment, maybe six months later, where I fire somebody at a nightclub for stealing, and the guy comes after me with a gun the next night. Um, and, and our lives are threatened all the time in nightlife. You know, you don't let someone into the club and they threaten to come back with a gun and shoot you, and, you know, they, they never really do.
[00:31:23] Until they do. But, um, you know, it's, it's, it's very rare, you know, that those threats ever turn anything in. But this, you know, this was serious enough. And I remember getting out of town for a couple weeks and just saying to my club partner, Hey, you run the clubs. Um, I'm just gonna, I'm gonna take a little break.
[00:31:40] And I rented a, uh, I remember I rented a Cobalt Blue Ford Mustang, and I just started heading north. You know, if you'd asked me where I was going, I was going north and I wound up in Maine, and I just got this clear idea. Um, at the time I probably would've said I got [00:32:00] this idea from God, like, um, what was next?
[00:32:03] And the question I'd asked was, what was the opposite of what would the opposite of my life look like? I realized a pivot or a course correction was not what was needed. You know, a much more extreme change was needed. And I thought, what if my, what if I started life over at 28 and the opposite of my life would look like?
[00:32:23] Tithing, you know, giving 10% of the 10 years that I'd wasted mm-hmm. In service to others. Hmm. And I thought I'd love to volunteer in the poorest country in the world and see if I could be useful. So I had this moment where I sat down at a Dialup Internet cafe in Greenville, Maine on Moosehead Lake. And I started applying on the websites of the most famous charities I'd ever heard of, the Red Crosses and Oxfams, and saved the Children's and Doctors Without Borders and, you know, UNICEFs to see if anybody would take me as a volunteer.
[00:32:56] And I said, I'm never gonna go back to New York. So I actually went to the [00:33:00] south of France. Um, which was, uh, a friend of mine had a little place there and I was waiting for these application responses to come in. And then I was denied by all these groups. Maybe no surprise, because it turns out the Red Cross is not looking for nightclub promoters.
[00:33:17] Doctors without Borders, they're looking for doctors, not, uh, you know, not people who, who go to work at midnight and, uh, go to do cocaine at five in the morning. So, I, I remember being so, uh, discouraged because I was ready to go. My intention was there, um, and nobody would take me. And then, you know, one organization wrote me and said, Hey, listen, if you're willing to pay $500 a month, because all of our volunteers have to pay their own way, they're room and board.
[00:33:51] And if you're willing to come live in the poorest country in the world, We have a role for you. And the role was a photojournalist and I'd actually, uh, [00:34:00] gone part-time to New York University and gotten a degree in communications cuz it was easy. Um, I'd also been a pretty good hobby photographer, so this actually made sense.
[00:34:09] This was in the skillset and I had a guest list of 15,000 people who I could bring along on my storytelling journey. And the, the medical mission was going to a country I had never heard of at the time called Liberia. And I said, this is great. I mean, this is the opposite of my life, poors country in the world just come out of a 14 year brutal civil war that ended.
[00:34:32] Yeah. And I gotta pay $500 a month. So I signed up and, and my life so radically changed in a matter of weeks as I set foot in Africa for the first time. So
[00:34:45] Nathan Hurd: before we leave this chapter of your life, was there anything you learned as a club promoter about what it is to be rich and what it's not? Like through all the people that you met, through all the craziness that you saw, like through that whole world and that dark environment.[00:35:00]
[00:35:00] Scott Harrison: Well, club promoters are the worst kind of rich, cuz we're actually not rich and whatever we made, we spent more, and then you spend other people's money. So you look like you're living this multimillion dollar lifestyle, but you're not. Um, it, it's other people's money. And I think, you know, so there's, there's maybe a little bit of an indignity there that nobody ever really wanted to like, I never wanted to admit that we weren't doing as well as we thought we were doing.
[00:35:28] You know, as it looked like we were doing. I think there was also such a, there were these moments of clarity on how sad it was. So I remember having customers who were 60 and these guys were rich and they would chase around models in their twenties. And you know, I'd be in Buzios, Brazil or Punta Uruguay, you know, for New Years watching one of these guys, you know, his, you know, hairy chest, kind of [00:36:00] bulging, you know, a 20 year old model on his arm and he's playing $15,000 of hands of blackjack.
[00:36:06] Like he just doesn't care. You know, the money is meaningless and whether he wins a million or loses a million, like, it just doesn't matter. And then, you know, I happen to know that that guy's daughter was older than his girlfriend and hates him. Mm-hmm. And won't speak to her father because he ran off on mom and is chasing, you know, 20 year old girls.
[00:36:26] So there was a lot of darkness, you know, even in the lifestyle of a customer who would follow the party around the world. I mean, good things, Nathan typically don't happen at 2, 3, 4 in the morning. Totally. I mean, you know. Mm-hmm. I remember this one time, it was noon, I was taking Ambien to come down and, um, I was in soho on Houseton Street.
[00:36:49] I remember looking out the window and I'm like, I gotta get this place dark to sleep. I'm stuffing comforters, you know, bringing down the window so that I can jam a comforter up in there. And I'm looking [00:37:00] out the window and people are on their lunch break, you know, they're going to like sweet green for a salad.
[00:37:05] And you know, here I've been doing blow all night and, you know, my teeth are chattering and I'm gonna take, you know, two ambient just to try to sleep for a few hours before to do it. I'm like, this is so unhealthy. I mean, this is a disgusting lifestyle. Yeah. Now I'm only speaking for me. Uh, and, and no one else.
[00:37:22] It was really unhealthy for me and, and some of the people in my inner circle. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:37:29] Nathan Hurd: All right, so the, the, uh, the, the ball of scotch, the cobalt blue Mustang, I know you read about that and then you end up on this hospital ship in Liberia. So, What was that experience like? I mean, you've, you know, it's, there's so much vivid, uh, detail that I know you've shared, but can you talk a little bit about it?
[00:37:47] Scott Harrison: Yeah. Well, the, the, the ship was a floating hospital, 522 feet. So think of this as an old cruise liner, you know, not a carnival cruise liner. This thing was 55 years old. Um, [00:38:00] it was actually a beautiful ship that used to take people from, uh, Venice to the Far East, and it had been gutted and converted and turned into a 42 bed state-of-the-art hospital.
[00:38:09] And it was a very simple idea by this charity, let's bring the best doctors and surgeons in the world, um, on their vacation time to offer free medical care to people who can't afford it. Mm-hmm. So, in advance of the ship coming into the Port of Liberia, of Monrovia, uh, a small advanced team had posted flyers saying, Hey, if you've got a cleft lip or a cleft palate, if you've got cataracts, if you have a facial tumor, if you have flesh heating disease, Turn up on this day and our, our doctors will screen you.
[00:38:39] We'll triage you and we'll be handing out surgery slips. Appointment slips. My third day in West Africa, um, I remember that we had 1500 available surgery slots to fill and I woke up at five in the morning and I put on hospital scrubs and I jumped into this convoy of white land rovers in the darkness.
[00:38:59] And we [00:39:00] snaked through the city, headed toward the football, the, the soccer stadium that the government had given us, uh, for the place of triage. And I'll never forget, you know, this was my third day in Africa. My third day on the mission, we round the corner and there's 5,000 people standing in the parking lot.
[00:39:18] Well, you do the math, you know, 5,000 and 1500 means we're gonna send 3,500 people home without hope, without that surgery slip. And I later learned many of these people had walked for more than a month with their children from neighboring countries. They'd come from Guinea, from Ko Deir, from Sierra Leone.
[00:39:39] Just hearing that there were these doctors from the West who might be able to save the life of their child and they weren't gonna get seen cause there were just too many of them. Oh my God. So that was such a huge moment for me. And you know, Dr. Gary, who was the chief medical officer, said, you know, I think he said, focus on the hope.
[00:39:59] [00:40:00] You know, let's focus on the 1500 people who were gonna be able to help. Yeah. And you know, that seems so simple, Nathan. Then I'm like, okay. And then, and then also kind of get to work. So my actual job was photographing 15 sick people with deformities and unthinkable tumor. And missing noses and missing ears and missing faces, you know, from the war.
[00:40:21] Many who had been burned by rebel soldiers, like just um, un unfathomable sickness and disfiguration. And I've gotta photograph all these people up close for the medical library. But then I got to document many of their surgeries, and I was in a room for 11 hour surgeries, eight and a half hour surgeries, you know, uh, and watching these doctors work miracles with their hands.
[00:40:49] And then I got to see the after and photograph that patient, uh, before we released them down the gangway, back to their family, back to their village. Uh, many of these people had been [00:41:00] written off for dead, uh, many times. You know, their family thought that they were cursed. Yeah. You know, they had done something to offend the gods, you know, that's why this volleyball size tumor, you know, was growing out of their mouth.
[00:41:13] Well, they just didn't have access to medical care. They just needed a doctor. Yeah. Um, so that was, that was unbelievable. Um, being a part of such kind of inarguable progress, you know, inarguable good use of time. Mm-hmm. A doctor, eight hours with a scalpel saves a life. I remember this woman in her twenties, Margarite, and she was blind.
[00:41:39] She had cataracts. You, you looked at these cataracts. I mean, I'd never seen anything like it in my life. Um, but she wasn't born blind. So just something about the equatorial sun, you know, no UV ray band protection. Um, that she just got these massive cataracts and was completely blind in her early twenties.
[00:41:59] I remember [00:42:00] meeting her, you know, before surgery and then documenting her surgery, and I remember, I think it took 20 minutes. 10 minutes an eye. Mm-hmm. I remember thinking like, oh my gosh, I could do that. I mean, he just slits the side of the eye, sticks into tweezers, pulls out the old lens, sticks in a new lens, and those are up.
[00:42:18] Like, this is easy. I could do cataract surgeries like, you know, with an hour of training. It felt like, um, I, I'm, I'm obviously being facetious, but it, it seems so unbelievably simple. Yeah. And, and it cost a couple hundred dollars or something if, if not less. But then a couple days later, I was there when they removed the patches.
[00:42:35] Mm-hmm. And I just remember watching this woman who could see and then went blind, um, and then she could see her daughter for the first time. And, uh, you know, she was screaming and dancing and she tackled me and was hugging me and she tackled the nurse. It was just a wonderful place to be and it was a wonderful experience to be a part of and to [00:43:00] document.
[00:43:01] And then I was trying to share, These experiences with the 15,000 people on my club list, you know, with, with every single person I had ever met in the 10 years of partying, I wanted them to see Marguerite getting her sight, or Alfred getting his tumor removed. Um, or, you know, Beatrice going home, um, no longer as an outcast, but being accepted back into her family and community and celebrated with a new face.
[00:43:29] Nathan Hurd: So, so they, they, the, the people that were on your list who had been used to you sending them information about where to go party, were now receiving unsolicited information about this experience you were having
[00:43:41] Scott Harrison: and That's right. And there were definitely a few unsubscribes. Remember these people had signed up to go to the Prada party.
[00:43:47] Right. Uh, you know, or, or the new hot club in town. But, you know, others began to sponsor surgeries and others began to ask about how they too could volunteer. Um, there was, there was a real [00:44:00] interest. I mean, I think this is so other, you know, I mean, if you're, uh, I don't know, you know, if you're, if you're doing your podcast and, you know, one day, I don't know, you're like on an oil rig, you know, in the middle of Nordic Seas.
[00:44:13] Like, everybody's like, what happened to Nathan? Like, tell me about the oil rig. What's it like to live in the Nordic seas, you know, in the dead of winter and oil r I mean, I think it was just so other and so bizarre that people stayed along for the ride, most of them. Sure. There's a curiosity
[00:44:27] Nathan Hurd: element there,
[00:44:29] Scott Harrison: and so
[00:44:30] Nathan Hurd: I, I think a lot of people, I, I would imagine there's a lot of crazy stuff going on in the world and people worry about all sorts of different things and there's a lot Yeah.
[00:44:38] That's worth worrying about. What did the whole concept of finding or focus on the hope, have you carried that with you since then? And would you, like, what would you say to anyone listening about any lessons you've taken from that idea, which sounds like it started there.
[00:44:53] Scott Harrison: Yeah. Well, I think the biggest challenge with anyone working on a paralyzing global issue, [00:45:00] like humans without water, you know, or in our, in our case, a 10th of the world without water is, is apathy.
[00:45:08] I mean, it's easy just for someone to say like, what the heck could I do about that? You know, whether it's hunger or shelter or lack of access to healthcare. You know, these things feel so big and so daunting and you know what you can do about it. And you know what I did about it was I built my first, well, I just said I can give one community clean water by donating my 31st birthday and throwing a party.
[00:45:35] And instead of charging people to come in, I'm gonna take a $20 donation. And, you know, that was day one of Charity Water, 17 years ago. Um, I raised $15,000 and built our very first, well, And then there was a second, and then there was a third, and now there's over 120,000. But it starts with one, it started with one person, you know, and now it's [00:46:00] almost 17 million people.
[00:46:02] So I, I, I think it's the starting. And, you know, I also think we have been very careful as we built the Charity water brand to focus on hope and opportunity and inspiration versus shame and guilt. Yeah. So rather than the, you know, the Sally Struthers commercials from the eighties with the flies on the kids' faces and the sad eyes and slow motion as they lock with the camera.
[00:46:34] And the 800 number that that comes. Yeah, that works. It's called poverty porn In our, in our sector. It, it works, but you don't want to tell your friends about that charity or that movement. Yeah, and you know, I've been very intentional about trying to build the Apple or the Nike or the Virgin of Charities, you know, the, the whimsy and the Fun.
[00:46:58] Virgin has, [00:47:00] um, the irreverence, the design aesthetic that Apple has, the, the storytelling of Nike. You know, if, if Nike were an old school charity, they would tell people that they were fat and ugly and lazy, and that they needed to go run and exercise where they were gonna continue to be fat and lazy and ugly.
[00:47:21] Well, I mean, Nike actually does the exact opposite, right? Mm-hmm. They tell stories of people overcoming adversity, right? You know, Nike believes greatness is inside everyone. Now, if you don't have, if you have one arm, you can win the shot, put competition with your other arm at the Olympics, right? Yeah. If you've got no legs, you can climb Everest.
[00:47:42] And, and people are like, well, I'll rise to the occasion. Maybe I could go run a quarter of a mile. Maybe I could turn off the tv. Maybe I could, you know, put away the bowl of Cheetos and, and try to exercise and get fit. So, y you know, I think we were very intentional about taking inspiration from brands that called forth [00:48:00] the best in people.
[00:48:01] The, the three, the first three letters in the word fundraising are fun. You know, it's, I love that it's an idea of joy. Not shame raising, not guilt raising. Um, So that's just kind of core to what we do now. We, we don't shy away from talking about the harsh reality. That is the, the real life situation of 770 million people.
[00:48:26] I mean, it's an almost unfathomable amount of people. It's two Americas in full of population. But we really focus on the solutions and the hope and the transformation that the intervention brings, and we celebrate that. You know, we, we celebrate that story. Yeah.
[00:48:47] Nathan Hurd: Yeah. I love that. And especially in a world where you have an information economy that is so slanted towards like shock and awe and negative stories and all of that.
[00:48:59] It's con, you [00:49:00] know, it, if you're involved in consumption, which most of us are at some level of, of all of that, it can feel overwhelming. And so focusing on the actual progress, so as an example, how many people were. Facing dirty water when you started 17 years ago versus a billion.
[00:49:17] Scott Harrison: A billion. A billion. And we've made a lot of progress.
[00:49:19] Most of that progress was made in the cities and towns. So now 82% of the people left live in rural areas. So this is, this is more last mile. It's harder work that needs to be done now, but sure. We went from one in six in the world to one in 10 in the world. Yeah. And, and we are making progress, you know, far too slow if you ask me.
[00:49:38] I mean, we're also looking for water on a planet more than a hundred miles away, a hundred million miles away, you know, without, um, gathering the collective will to say, shouldn't we try to give every human the most basic need for life? Like, what, why don't we do that
[00:49:52] Nathan Hurd: here now? Yeah, yeah. Here, here on, on earth, you know?
[00:49:56] All right. So on, when you were on the ship, I, there's just a couple other, [00:50:00] uh, points that I wanted to ask you about. The doctors. Is it right that they were there? Like these are very prestigious doctors that are there volunteering and paying. And the like. Did what, what impact did that have on you, and then how did you ev end up connecting the dots with the water being a, a big issue that you wanted to focus on?
[00:50:22] Cuz it sounds like some of the stuff that was coming into that stadium and probably others, other experiences was, was related to war and other things. So, so
[00:50:30] Scott Harrison: the doctors were all paying, um, most of the doctors were paying, you know, and, and, and they might spend 500 bucks in, in room and board for a month as they, you know, flew in from Berlin or from Amsterdam or, you know, from Detroit.
[00:50:43] Um, yeah, that was, you know, my second year. So I did a year and then I signed up for a second year because I just didn't know what was next. Um, and I loved it. I just didn't want the experience to end and I spent more and more time off the ship in the rural areas and I, I [00:51:00] really learned two simple things, Nathan.
[00:51:01] I learned half the country was drinking bad water and half of the disease in the country was because people were drinking bad water and didn't have access to sanitation and hygiene. So, Yeah. I mean, could 5,000, could half of the people been sent home if they just had clean water? Yeah. We think the answer is yes.
[00:51:20] Hmm. And I remember sharing the pictures and, and what I was seeing with the chief medical officer, Dr. Gary Parker, and he said, yeah, we know. Why don't you go work on this? If you really care about health, why don't you just, you, Scott, you 30 year old, Scott, why don't you go back to New York and try to bring clean water to everybody on, on Earth before you die?
[00:51:45] And I don't know, Nathan, it sounded pretty simple. Okay. Been here in Africa for almost two years. Seen a lot of stuff, uh, was with a group of doctors who had far less resources than the need. Why not go jump to the root [00:52:00] cause of half the sickness? Yeah. And go work on that. And, and I, I came back, you know, with a very clear.
[00:52:08] Idea of what I wanted to accomplish in the world. And you know, 17 years later I'm telling people the same thing. You know, this morning I'm trying to bring clean water to everybody in the world. Same thing I would've said 17 years ago. So it's, it's a very simple mission and idea and it really hasn't changed at all for almost two decades now.
[00:52:31] Nathan Hurd: So, okay. So when I first heard the list of ailments and problems and challenges that all are related to water, I really was floored. I mean, I hadn't even considered some of what I heard you say the first time I heard you speak. Could you just take a second and talk through some of what is actually correlated with
[00:52:53] Scott Harrison: Yeah.
[00:52:53] Well, a lot of disease, so 26 different diseases, uh, related to bad water. So cholera is probably the worst. I can kill you within, [00:53:00] you know, two days or less. Tre coma that'll make you blind, uh, schistosomiasis parasites in your stomach. They can just rip up your insides. So a lot of disease with water, um, it's a women's issue.
[00:53:15] So I've been to 72 countries now. I've been to Africa more than 50 times. It's always the women and the girls who are tasked with getting the water culturally. Um, and the amount of time wasted is staggering. So when I, you know, these walks for water, and I know that sounds like a foreign idea, but when I started, I remember the statistic was, women in Africa alone waste 40 billion hours a year walking for water.
[00:53:44] And that's not even water that's clean. So that, that adds up to more than the entire global workforce of France. You know, the entire, uh, you know, g d P of France wasted, [00:54:00] unrealized, um, by women, you know, who are doing something that's not even. They're just wasting, you know, six hours, seven hours, sometimes eight hours a day.
[00:54:10] That puts 'em at risk of rape. It puts 'em at risk of attacked by hyena or lion. Um, you know, all sorts of things, you know, when it comes to kind of violence against women. Um, and then there's just the, the, the healthcare, the, the toll on the economy when it comes to health. I remember what surprised me a lot is people would talk about their children dying of diarrhea in a village.
[00:54:35] Now, diarrhea is very preventable. My kids get diarrhea and I go to the Walgreens and I buy Pedialyte. And the way to cure diarrhea is you rehydrate, but if you don't have any clean water to rehydrate your child, and the only thing you're giving them is a brown, viscous swamp water, you know, a river water well, the child dehydrates in your arms and [00:55:00] dies and.
[00:55:02] You know, often the, the drugs or the clinic could have saved the life of the child, but the taxi fair to the clinic is too expensive. That could be a month's wages for someone so the child dies in the village. Even if they got to the clinic, the drugs, drugs are subsidized and they would cost nothing.
[00:55:20] Yeah. But it's that travel. So I mean, gosh, I've heard of, you know, women giving birth. You, my, my wife is pregnant at the moment. Um, we were joking about this earlier with our very unexpected third. Um, there was not a part of the plan. But, uh, here goes, um, you know, if my wife was living in one of the villages where we work, she would, she would give birth at the river.
[00:55:47] And, you know, you know, imagine a woman, you know, under a, a, a narrow moon, you know, hearing coyote, hows hys because they're sharing that same water, but she needs the [00:56:00] water. To give birth. So, you know, sometimes women will spend seven days, 10 days at that water hole waiting for their water to break. Um, so it's just, it's a, it's a massive problem not having it.
[00:56:13] Um, I mean just, you know, everybody listening, if you just take a second and imagine there was no water in your life. There was no water to brush your teeth with no water in your sink, and you had to go walk six hours and then carry that dirty water back. I mean, your life would be so immeasurably different every aspect of your life.
[00:56:33] And that's the reality, you know, facing a 10th of the world. Yeah. Simp simply because of the circumstances they were born into. Right. Right. And through
[00:56:42] Nathan Hurd: no fault of their own. And a lot of this water's like highly contaminated with animal excrement and all
[00:56:47] Scott Harrison: kinds of stuff, right? I mean, we can, we can link to, you know, I mean, uh, our, our team was in Sierra Leone this week and I got a video back.
[00:56:53] Um, somebody stuck a camera in the water and just, you know, when you actually see worms and parasites that, you [00:57:00] know, people are ingesting, I mean, it's shocking. I've seen children drink from a river and drink and then vomit and then just keep drinking and then, and then vomit, you know, on on. Cause they need to try to get in some, try to get it in somehow.
[00:57:12] So it's just, it's all that's there. So
[00:57:16] Nathan Hurd: there's also, I, isn't this also related to like, um, kids dropping outta school and just the, a sense of like, People feeling beautiful or not like it
[00:57:26] Scott Harrison: just, yeah, there's an education piece. So one in three schools in the world doesn't have access to clean water or toilets.
[00:57:32] So you can, you know, imagine the, uh, the, the unwillingness to send your 14 year old daughter to school four or five days a month if the school has no bathroom and no water. And this is one of the top reasons why teenage girls will drop outta school. Um, and then there's also enormous social pressure on them to go get the water, to go get the firewood, um, to, you know, to help around the house.
[00:57:57] So it's a huge impediment education. And then on the flip [00:58:00] side, when we bring clean water to a community and a school, and whenever we bring water to a school, we're also building toilets, separate toilets for the boys and the girls. Um, I was, I was in Uganda last week and visiting a school and after the water project, 150 new girls enrolled.
[00:58:20] Hundred 50 girls enrolled in the six months after the water project. Wow. And that's just at one school, um, in, in northeastern Uganda. So we, we have, you know, there's, there's kind of anecdotal, just common sense stories. Um, and then there's myriad data now behind this. We were at a, a village in Nepal where we went and we did a baseline survey of all the waterborne diseases at the local health clinic.
[00:58:46] Two years post-intervention, 82% reduction in those visits to the clinic. 82% of the disease went away in the village. So, yeah, it's, it's a really [00:59:00] compelling, uh, common sense thing to do, Nathan. Yeah. Which is bring humans clean water, which brings them better health, uh, more time back, uh, empowers women better education and then impacts the lower the, the local economy in a positive way.
[00:59:16] There was a data. Big study, 88 page report outta the UN that found every dollar invested in water and sanitation, made communities four to eight times richer. So you got a four to eight x economic bang. And the big one was that lost time, previously lost time turned into productive work and income and income generating activities.
[00:59:42] Well, you mentioned the, the story of Helen. Yeah, Helen, yeah, please. Um, was a woman who got clean water for the first time, um, through a charity Water Point. And we asked her how her life was different now that she had water. And she said, for the first time in my life, I am beautiful. And we're like, Helen, of course you're [01:00:00] beautiful.
[01:00:00] You know, you're a very beautiful Ugandan woman. She goes, no, you don't know what I mean. She goes, the first time in my life I have enough water to wash my face and my body and my clothes every day. And I'm clean and I'm looking so smart. Look at me. Don't I look beautiful? And we, you know, we learned that because of her big family, she was making sacrifices.
[01:00:19] She never had enough water and she always put her children first, washing their school uniforms, washing their bodies, making sure the house was clean, uh, gardening, uh, making sure they had food, you know, from, from her garden. And she always went last. And now she finally had enough water that she didn't have to go last.
[01:00:38] Yeah. She had enough water for herself that she didn't have to pick and choose. Yeah.
[01:00:43] Nathan Hurd: Well, You know, one of the things that I love so much about this cause is all the downstream effects that you've talked about. And I just, I wanna openly say that like, I have really enjoyed my involvement, our family's involvement with Charity Water, and, you know, there's [01:01:00] something about that, there's another part that we haven't talked about yet, which is the transparency that is, I think, part of your intention with Charity Water.
[01:01:08] But I certainly see it in the readout reports that we get about the projects that we funded. But can you talk a little bit about the transparency piece of it and, and why it's important to you?
[01:01:18] Scott Harrison: Yeah. We have a unique business model now for 16 plus years, where a hundred percent of all donations go directly to fund water projects now across 22 countries and in a separately audited bank account, we raise all the overhead separately.
[01:01:35] Um, and it's, it's no mystery how we do that. It's very difficult. Um, but there are 131 families. Who raise their hand and say, we've got it. We are gonna contribute to the staff, the operations, the flights, these running costs, these essential operational costs so that millions of people in the public, you know, every dollar you, you and your family has ever given has [01:02:00] bypassed any salary, any admin, and gone directly to Cambodia, to Sierra Leone, to Malawi, to Ethiopia, to Bangladesh, to to, you know, India.
[01:02:10] Um, and that is really unique. I mean, that kind of, you know, one out of 10,000 charities, you know, or so would try that model because it's very difficult. Um, I'm always trying to get the group of 131 to grow to 135 and 140. So that is just an inherent tension in our business model, is making sure we have enough people who are willing to give in that sacrificial way to grow that.
[01:02:35] But it's been very powerful. Um, we, we have, we believe so much. In the integrity of that a hundred percent promise that we pay back credit card fees, which believes me when you're really small, sounds like a great idea, you know? Oh yeah, we'll pay back that Amex Visa fee. You know, this year it's three quarters of a million dollars.
[01:02:55] So when a, when a donor gives a hundred dollars on their Amex, we get 96. [01:03:00] I wish we got all hundred. Believe me, we've asked. Um, but we make up that $4 from our 131 overhead families and we put it back, and then we send the entire a hundred dollars to the field. Um, and then in, in many cases, we track it and we show the donor exactly where the money went.
[01:03:18] All right. So
[01:03:18] Nathan Hurd: where did that come from? Like where did you, what made you decide to
[01:03:22] Scott Harrison: go that route? Well, when I started, you know, I was talking to everyday people, and again, I'm 30, I'm living on a closet floor for free rent in New York City, having come back from two years in Liberia. And I just realized people didn't trust charities.
[01:03:36] My friends were cynical, they were skeptical. Um, where does my money go? How much of my money's actually gonna gonna reach the people who need it? And I'd come across this billionaire hedge fund manager guy called Paul Tooter Jones. And he was so rich that he started a charity and said, I'll pay all the overhead.
[01:03:53] And I remember writing him a letter saying, I love that, you know, would you help me pay my overhead? And he never wrote me back, [01:04:00] but I thought, what a clean value proposition. And I wondered if I could bootstrap it. So, you know, I think I had a few hundred dollars in each bank account. And we opened these two separate distinct bank accounts.
[01:04:12] And you know, to this day, KPMG audits two different bank accounts and charity water separately. That roll up to the same charity and, and it's, it's, it's a real church and state. It just seemed like a simple idea, Nathan, and a way to speak to a cynic to speak to, you know, an objector. Yep, totally. And say, that's not your problem.
[01:04:31] That's just not your problem. Like, none, none of your money spent on marketing that piece of, um, collateral that maybe you saw in the mail, you didn't pay for that, nor is your donation gonna pay for that. Uh, we went to other people. Totally.
[01:04:44] Nathan Hurd: And it's definitely one of the biggest criticisms you hear, or skepticisms you hear about donating from people that have skepticism about donating is w how much of the money is actually going to the cost.
[01:04:53] So it's, uh, yeah, it's really innovative. Um, so one other question about the, [01:05:00] the kind of the projects. How long did these projects take and how do you, more importantly, with so many people, 700 million plus people, how are you prior prioritizing the investment
[01:05:09] Scott Harrison: dollars? Well, we, we know we're all 771 million people live and.
[01:05:17] They live in about 55 countries. So we have focused on rural, not urban. So we take out that 18% and then we take out conflict zones, and then we take out governments who really don't want any help, um, or make it, or very hostile to any sort of, you know, outside intervention. That leaves us with 45 great countries to work in.
[01:05:38] And then we start at the very bottom of the development charts. We start at the poorest countries, lowest G D p lowest per capita income. And that has led us to the 29 countries where Charity Water has been working for, for 16 years. Um, as we grow and add to the portfolio, we go up that chain of command.
[01:05:58] Um, it would be [01:06:00] Burundi over Peru. You have a much more developed economy in Peru, you know, still some people without water there. Um, it would be, uh, Laos over, um, let's say Brazil. You know, uh, a much more mature, uh, economy as well. So we are working in, we're active right now in 22 countries, and, you know, we've got about 2,500 local staff right now across those 25.
[01:06:28] That's amazing countries. Yeah. Um, through 55 partner organizations. So we've, we've onboarded 55 implementing partners. They're owning and operating drilling rigs. We're building, um, in, in Cambodia, um, where your family just sponsored a project. It's the largest bios sand filter program in the world. So our partners are going in there with motorbikes, teaching locals how to kind of make a giant Brita the size of, of a refrigerator for a family where dirty water, of which there's surface water everywhere there goes in the top.
[01:06:59] And it takes out [01:07:00] 99.5% of all the contaminants in Stan India, um, in the th desert where the hottest recorded temperature, uh, was recorded one year. Um, we can't drill for water. Um, there's not surface water, but it rains really hard for about six weeks. Mm. So there we're working with the communities to build underground cisterns that capture those monsoon rains and allow 'em to live for more than a year off the grid, capturing that water and protecting it.
[01:07:27] Oh, amazing. Um, I was just in Madagascar where we're building, you know, million dollar, uh, massive solar powered systems, which are connecting villages, um, using pipes, you know, over hills and over mountains and big gravity fed systems. So we're, we're solution agnostic and that's really the range, a $65 solution for a family to a 1.8 million solution to a whole network of communities and, and thousands of families.
[01:07:56] Yeah. To cost us $40 on average to get one person clean water. So [01:08:00] every 40 do 40 million. We move 1 million people from dirty water to clean water. And that's actually something I've been working on right now is, um, it's, it's a campaign called 1 million Lives, where we're going to people or companies who have the means to do that and saying, great, why don't you personally take on a million people and let's do it over 10 years.
[01:08:21] And, uh, wouldn't that be cool to tell your family that your kids, your grandkids? You know what, one thing we contributed to our time on this planet is that we gave a million people 50 Madison Square Gardens full of people access to clean water. Mm-hmm. Um, and in the most transparent, um, tactile, measurable way.
[01:08:42] I love that. I love I got one person to say yes. Did you? All right. Well, hopefully you'll get some more actually. Actually, 2, 2,
[01:08:48] Nathan Hurd: 2. Um, and the crazy part is that aside of the, it's, I mean, it's amazing to hear about some of these other innovative solutions, but a lot of times the water's right underneath the village and they just can't, they don't [01:09:00] have the tools or the resources or the dollars to in, to drill down deep enough to get to it.
[01:09:04] Right. Yeah, so amazing. That's absolutely true. Um, so I guess the, I'm just really curious, given everything we've talked about, like your life went from everything you described as a club promoter and selling $10 bottles of water, I've heard you write about and talk about, and I mean just the, the absolute opposite of what you've now done and invested your time and energy into today.
[01:09:34] Um, like how has this journey changed your perspective on life and like, more importantly, you said you have another child on the way, like what have you learned through all of this that you wanna impart on your own kids, for example?
[01:09:49] Scott Harrison: Well,
[01:09:53] I don't know. I mean, you know, Nathan, this is just kind of what I do and I, I think I. [01:10:00] Because the vision was clear or because the objective is so clear. I don't know. I'm just kind of turning up 17 years later, like, here's where we are and you know, we helped another 2 million people get clean water. It's not enough.
[01:10:15] How do we do more? How do we grow? You know, I, I, I think recently I settled on kind of a personal milestone where I'd like to personally help a hundred million people get clean water before I die. Hmm. Um, and, and know that we've contributed to the sector and, you know, dozens of water charities have been started by people we've mentored or have, you know, we've met along the way and but a hundred million people, I'd like that to be, you know, my leadership contribution.
[01:10:46] Well, we're at 17, so that's a long way to go, bro. 17% of the way there. And you know, I'm 48 years old and, you know, hopefully, uh, um, have some more good years to, you know, to throw [01:11:00] at this. And the, the longer you show up, the more you stay the course, the, the more good things really happen. Um, you know, it's interesting, I'll, um, I, I don't want this in any way to, you know, disempower the, the giver who might say, well, I could give $40, or I could give $40 a month.
[01:11:20] Um, because so much of our core and so much of our growth is actually tens of thousands of small gifts around the world. But when I was, when I was pitching this idea to a, you know, a very wealthy entrepreneur, um, who I've known for a bunch of years, and who came to the field with me once, I said, Hey, um, why don't you just pay the 10 million overhead?
[01:11:39] You know, I can have a 10 million gift and I'll, I'll put that into the machine and I'll try to get 40 million. So you'll kind of underwrite a million people. Mm-hmm. And I did this beautiful proposal and it was, you know, bespoke, it was for him and his wife. It was, it, it was, you know, it spoke to the way that he had, um, you know, built his [01:12:00] kind of fortune, um, in a really thoughtful and, and honoring way.
[01:12:04] And, um, he, he gets back to me, you know, a couple months later and he says, Hey, we got the proposal. He said, I have only one question. He said, why'd you ask me for so little? Mm-hmm. He said, tell you what, I'll do the 40 million instead of the 10 million. Let me directly help a million people get clean water.
[01:12:21] And that really led to this kind of, you know, maybe more expansive thinking, you know, and then have I been asking for too little for 16 years? Like, you know, then there's a little bit of like, wow, you know, I wish that happened earlier. Um, I might have been bolder. I might have, I. You know, raised a whole lot more than 750 million bucks and, and given 17 million people get clean water.
[01:12:45] So I think that kind of helps animate me knowing that there's so much more potential and that we really can get this done. I mean, we really know how to solve this problem. We don't know if we're gonna be able to find water on Mars over a hundred or make [01:13:00] water on Mars over a hundred million miles away.
[01:13:02] We do know definitively how to get every human being on this planet clean drinking water. Mm-hmm. So it's just such a concrete mission to kind of keep moving forward towards. I love that. I
[01:13:14] Nathan Hurd: was actually just, we were talking about this before, but I was in Jordan, uh, last week with my family and there's a place there called Wadi Rum Desert, which is literally like Mars.
[01:13:21] It's where they film all the movies Yeah. That are in Mars.
[01:13:24] Scott Harrison: Like the tattooing stuff, right. The, yeah.
[01:13:26] Nathan Hurd: And there is not a lot of water. It doesn't seem like to be found there. So I certainly, uh, appreciate
[01:13:32] Scott Harrison: that. So, Can you
[01:13:35] Nathan Hurd: just speak for a second to the person who's feeling some sort of numbness like you described.
[01:13:42] So that's what I'm really curious about, like your life now. What, what have you gained through this exploration, through this evolution that you never would've gained if you had stayed where you were? Right. And that maybe that couldn't have been possible, but like to the person who's feeling numbness or has, who's looking for [01:14:00] a, a bigger commitment.
[01:14:01] Like what I'm hearing is you've taken a stand and that stand now pulls you forward. And, uh, my fr there's a, I had Lynn Twist on this, um, yeah, on the podcast as well, and she wrote a book called Living a Committed Life about taking stands and the this is that. And um, so what, what would you say to, to anyone who's feeling a sense of numbness or lack of fulfillment or what you've learned on along the way from that
[01:14:22] Scott Harrison: standpoint?
[01:14:23] I think for me it started with inspiration. I was inspired by Dr. Gary Parker, um, cuz I learned that here was a guy who was a surgeon from California. Who heard about this ship and said, I can be useful for three months. And then he went for three months and he stayed for 21 years. And now he's actually been there over 35 years and he just committed his whole life to it.
[01:14:44] He never went back to the Santa Barbara plastic surgery, you know, office or life in the life of the bmw. He has sailed around the world using his hands and using his time and his talent to end needless suffering for others. So I think it started with, you know, an inspiration and a picture of [01:15:00] what that could look like.
[01:15:01] And then, you know, would I rather be Dr. Gary Parker or a nightclub promoter who's 50 and looks a hundred if I even would've lived a 50. Right. You know, without snorting the wrong thing in some, you know, disgusting bathroom somewhere. So I think I just have had such a clear vision for finishing well. And you know, now, now that my kids are getting a little older, it was really cool getting to take them for the first time to villages that didn't have clean water where they saw the water and then they went to, how did they, how did they react?
[01:15:35] It's hard to know. You know, it's hard. It's hard to know. I mean, they, you know, they said all, all the things you would expect them to say. Um, you know, then they went to villages that had access to clean water. You know, they were taking notes and making observations. Mm-hmm. Um, but, but it became very real for them, you know?
[01:15:54] And like, we're in a village and, you know, there's a celebration and people are dancing and clapping and [01:16:00] welcoming us, and you see the well there and you see people drinking clean water, you know, and, you know, I'm telling them, okay, hey kids, like, you know, we've done this 120,000 other places in the world.
[01:16:12] Yeah. Um, and it's kind of like, it's kind of mind blowing even for us because in, in a way, Nathan, like, it's all worth it for that one community. Totally. You could work a year. To transform 500 exceptional, extraordinarily warm, generous people's lives. Mm-hmm. And, you know, we're lucky we get to do that for 2 million people a year, and I wanna do it for 3 million a year and 5 million a year and 10 million a year.
[01:16:36] So that's, that's what really kind of animates the, you know, and, and things take time. I remember seeing the 27 year stock chart of Amazon, and in the first 20 years, 7% of the company's value was created. Yeah. And in years 21 through 27, the additional 93%. And it was just a commitment to keep showing up and trying things and [01:17:00] reinvesting and reinvesting and telling investors to wait and staying the course.
[01:17:04] And, you know, we're in year, we just started year 17, so I don't know that our, our our chart, uh, growth chart would look like that. But I do know that things take time.
[01:17:14] Nathan Hurd: Totally. Yeah. And it's, you know, the, even as a, as a, as a donor, um, the projects we've sponsored, it takes, you know, six months, 12 months, 18 months to, to have the project completed.
[01:17:24] Yes. But what I love is you're sharing the actual g p s coordinates of the site, all sorts of information about the, the, the village that was affected, the people involved, and you know, how ultimately how much water is being pumped out of said, um, site. And, and that's just incredible. Yeah. You know, to feel that.
[01:17:44] So, alright, last question before we Yep. Before we wrap this up. Um, if there was like, is there like a value or a message that is near and dear to you now that if the whole world [01:18:00] knew it or understood it, the world would be a better place? Like, is there anything that you live by that you hold closely that,
[01:18:06] Scott Harrison: that you wish Yeah.
[01:18:06] I, I would toggle between generosity and integrity. You know, those are kind of the two things that are most important to me. I think, you know, way more important than what you do is how you do it. And just, you know, honor and truth telling in, in all things. You know, if there's a, if there's the tiniest crack in the foundation, it just spreads and the thing becomes rotten.
[01:18:31] Um, so that is actually the number one core value at Charity Water on a, on a personal level, I just love generous people. And I think the more you give, the more you give. And it's like a muscle that needs to be, you know, the more you say no, the more you say no. And I love seeing people who just get addicted to giving, who get addicted to saying, yes, yes, I can help.
[01:18:53] Yes, I'll give, yes, I'll give to that. Yes, I'll give more to that. And it's, it's, it's, it's far too [01:19:00] rare. But those people have more joy, more peace. Um, they just have a different experience. Generous people have a different experience in the world than than people, than people who are trying to accumulate, uh, than the scarcity mentality.
[01:19:17] Ah, totally.
[01:19:18] Nathan Hurd: And I'll just to just, let me just tell you a quick story on that. My wife and I, a few years ago, were sitting at the dinner table and it was a tough month. Like, like we had investments that had gone down and it was just a tight month. We had a bunch of expenses that came in financially, it was the tightest month of the year, and we were sitting at dinner talking about it, and I looked at it and I was like, this is the month we should sponsor a whole project.
[01:19:38] Yeah, yeah. This is the month. That's beautiful. And so now we've have kind of adopted that mentality. So every year, wherever we feel the most, you know, the most stressed, the most stressed around money, like this is the time. And I, and to your point, it reinforces that there's, there's more than enough.
[01:19:55] Scott Harrison: And it's a beautiful kind of opposite reaction.
[01:19:58] I mean, it's very cool. Mm-hmm. Yeah, I, I [01:20:00] get that. I appreciate it. Yeah.
[01:20:02] Nathan Hurd: Well, listen, man, I, I so admire the work you've done your life, and I so appreciate the vulnerability, the transparency, the way you talk about your whole story and how everything's evolved. If anyone is listening that wants to get involved with Charity Water, or wants to hear more from you, uh, what's the best place to, to find
[01:20:19] Scott Harrison: out more?
[01:20:19] Yeah, there's, there's two ways you can go on charity water.org and we've got a lot of resources and people can give there. Um, you could sponsor a project like, like your family's been doing, so you can sponsor a whole village and see the coordinates and actually choose where that project is. Um, and then we have this community called the Spring, and that's kind of the Spotify or Netflix or H B O Max for clean water where people give whatever they can every single month and a hundred percent of that money goes and we're communicating with stories of impact.
[01:20:51] And that's been really, really, Key to our growth. And we have a lot of people that give 40 bucks a month, and just every year another 12 [01:21:00] people get clean water. Well, you know, you think about that. If a million people did that just every year, $40 at a time, another 12 million people are getting clean water.
[01:21:09] That's so I think in, in some ways, you know, yeah. It's an, it's amazing when a, when a family could give 40 million single-handedly. Um, but it's almost more exciting, you know, to do that through a million sacrificial givers mm-hmm. You know, around the world. So I think both are, um, yeah, we'd, we'd, we'd love to invite people into the community and just to learn more about the organization.
[01:21:33] We've made over a thousand videos. There's a, on the spring.com there's a video that's gotten a hundred million views, which is a pretty good telling of, uh, of the mercy ship story. And, and you could see Dr. Gary Parker in it and, and hear from him and, um, and, and see some of the things that I described. So yeah, people are invited to check that out and to join us.
[01:21:53] Nathan Hurd: Well, thank you so much, Scott. It's been such a pleasure. And, um, I wish you well. I'm, I'm gonna keep, uh, doing everything I can to [01:22:00] support the cause and,
[01:22:01] Scott Harrison: and, uh, fight the good fight. Sweet. Well, thank you for, uh, for your family's support and hopefully one day you're able to, to go see it in person.
[01:22:09] Nathan Hurd: Thanks Scott. Thanks for checking out this video. Make sure you hit subscribe. I'm Nathan Herd, also known as the Rich Life Guy. You can follow me at the Rich Life Guy. Also, check out Rich Life Lab, which is the podcast available everywhere. And leave a comment and let me know if this video landed for you or what else you'd like to hear from me in the future.
[01:22:28] Thank you so much.