Charity: Water Founder Focuses on NYC
by jill sieracki
With his Soho-based nonprofit, Charity: Water, Scott Harrison has delivered clean water to more than 2.5 million people worldwide
When Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, the apocalyptic images of thousands of New Yorkers without shelter and clean drinking water stuck a chord for Charity: Water founder Scott Harrison. “People see pictures of kids filling our ubiquitous jerricans [yellow jugs pictured] from hydrants and are absolutely shocked,” says Harrison, who volunteered with other Charity: Water staffers to pass out water and supplies in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. “This is what we see in the developing world, but it’s water from a pond or a muddy river. There’s been that kind of tension of, ‘How do we best serve people in our own backyard,’ but also, we’ve made a commitment to 400,000 people [overseas] over the next couple months. The people that we are championing are not on television; they’re silently walking and waiting for people like us to be their voice and stand in the gap for them.”
Charity: Water’s work is concentrated in places like Liberia, Somalia, Kenya, and Rwanda, delivering clean drinking water to more than 2.5 million people in 20 foreign countries, in part using monies raised at the annual Charity: Ball, which will be held this year in Midtown on December 10. “Our goal is to bring clean water to 100 million people, and to do that, we need to raise $3 billion over the next 10 years,” says Harrison, who is currently featured among 12 New Yorkers in the coffee table tome Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World One Nonprofit at a Time (Welcome Books). He adds, “We believe we can do that through small donations.”
Founded in 2006, Soho-based Charity: Water has proven itself an innovator in fundraising through social media campaigns, such as holiday and birthday drives in which people ask for charitable donations in lieu of gifts. One hundred percent of monies raised go to well projects, which contributors can follow on Charity: Water’s interactive website, including GPS tracking of rigs in places such as Tigray, Ethiopia, where they hope to add another 100 wells. Other donors such as actor Ed Norton, Toms Shoes’ Blake Mycoskie, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Daniel Ek of Spotify provide the funding for staffing and operations. “When we were able to report back to people by e-mail and show them the photos and GPS coordinates of projects [funded by their donations], we realized that was really powerful,” says Harrison. “Often when [people] give money to a charity, they don’t really expect to see their impact. Instead we use technology to connect people and small donations to accomplish big things.”
photography by sari goodfriend
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.