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  • Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business

  • and life you love. You know, we all have those moments in life where we realize that something

  • is just not working and we need to go in a new direction. And my guest today is a shining

  • example of what happens when you listen to that call and you embrace the unknown and

  • decide to use your gifts in the service of others.

  • Scott Harrison spent almost 10 years as a nightclub promoter in New York City before

  • leaving to volunteer on a hospital ship off the coast of Liberia West Africa as a volunteer

  • photojournalist. Returning home to New York City two years later, he founded the nonprofit

  • organization, charity:water, in 2006. Turning his full attention to the global water crisis

  • and the world’s 800 million people without clean water to drink, he created public installations

  • and innovative online fundraising platforms to spread international awareness of the issue.

  • In 7 years with the help of more than 400 thousand donors worldwide, charity:water has

  • raised over 125 million and funded over 11 thousand water projects in 22 countries. When

  • completed, those projects will provide over 4 million people with clean, safe drinking

  • water. Scott was recently recognized in Fortune Magazine’s 40 under 40 list, the Forbes

  • magazine Impact 30 list, and was recently number 10 in Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative

  • People in Business issue. He’s currently a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

  • Scott lives in New York City with his wife Victoria and son Jackson.

  • Scott, thank you so much for being here on MarieTV.

  • It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

  • So I wanna go back. Back in the day to when you had that moment in your life where you

  • felt what youve called emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. And youre in Uruguay,

  • right?

  • Yeah. Punta del Este.

  • Ok. Tell us what that was like. And I know you had a big revelation when you came back

  • to New York City, but it wasn’t that easy to make the change, was it?

  • Yeah. I guess I have to back up a little bit. So I’d moved to New York City at 18 to rebel

  • against everything. You know, the conservative Christian upbringing. My mom was really sick

  • growing up, so I had the caregiver role as an only child. So it was time to look out

  • for number one and I found that there was this job that existed in New York City called

  • a nightclub promoter and people would pay you to drink alcohol for free and all your

  • friends would drink for free. So that’s the life that I embraced for 10 years and,

  • you know, we would go to dinner at 10, the club at 12, after hours at 5, and it looked

  • very glamorous on the outside but it was a kind of really dark, destroying environment.

  • You know, I mean, if you saw me at noon the day after we’d been partying, it wasn’t

  • pretty. So 10… this trip that you mentioned kinda came at the ten year mark and over New

  • Years we would always go away and the beautiful people would jump on planes and rent houses.

  • And I remember this year’s trip was to Punta del Este and we’d rented this house with

  • servants and horses and I remember we’d spent a thousand dollars on fireworks and

  • there were magnums of Dom Perignon. And I had the girlfriend that was on magazine covers

  • and, you know, the life that I thought I wanted. The BMW, the Rolex, guys around me are playing

  • 10 thousand dollar hands of blackjack. You know, what more could you want? And we had

  • this party that lasted 24 hours and I remember it was the day after New Years and it was

  • like 3 in the afternoon and I just wanted to go to sleep. And there were 100 people

  • on the compound by the pool. And it was like the music stopped, you know, and in some way

  • the veil was lifted that I had gotten everything I thought I’d wanted and I was deeply unhappy

  • and I looked around and nobody else was happy. You know, there was wreckage, you know, many

  • of these, you know, 60 year old guys had ditched their wife and kids to chase 20 year old models

  • around and buy bottles. And, I don't know, I just… I guess I saw that there would never

  • be enough girls, there’d never be enough money, there’d never be enough status or

  • parties. And I started reading this very dense theology book that my dad had sent to me and

  • my relationship with my parents had been pretty fractured over those 10 years as I had, you

  • know, picked up every single vice that you can imagine. And something just really awakened

  • in me. You know, I got to kind of opt back into my Christian faith in a… in a way where

  • it wasn’t being shoved down my throat. And I started asking this question, “What would

  • the exact opposite of my life look like?” You know, thethe opposite of the party

  • boy, you know, out, you know, banging lines of cocaine. You know, what would serving others

  • look like?

  • Yeah. And so thatso you got home from that trip, you got back to New York, and obviously

  • the physical surroundings were still the same, but something

  • Yeah, nothing had changed.

  • Something in you changed. What were those first steps? What did you start doing when

  • you got back to start to try and make that change not only from within, but on the outside

  • too?

  • Yeah. Well, so it was like the fun had been taken away from it but I still was coming

  • back and I was still working in nightclubs. I mean, I had to work toto pay rent. I

  • remember, you know, it started with spirituality. I started trying to rediscover church, I was

  • reading the Bible again, I was, you know, trying to kind of reclaim this very lost morality

  • in faith. But I was kind of floundering. And then, I don't know, it took me about 6 months

  • and I rented a cobalt blue Ford Mustang fromfrom the Newark Airport, kind of on an indefinite

  • rental, and I grabbed the Bible, I grabbed a bottle of Deurs, and I started heading north

  • aimlessly. I didn't know where I would end up. Went through Connecticut, through Vermont,

  • just kind of trying to, you know, decide what was next. And I wound up inin Moosehead

  • Lake at this internet cafe. It was dialup internet. I remember the

  • Yeah!

  • And I had… I just kind of had this moment where I said, you know, I never need to go

  • back and what would the radical change be? What if I were to tithe or give one of the

  • ten years that I’d pissed away to the poor? So from this internet cafe I started applying

  • to the world’s famous humanitarian organizations. The World Visions and Peace Corps and, you

  • know, United Nations. Thinking that of course theyre gonna love the idea that a nightclub

  • promoter who gets thousands of people drunk every night

  • Right.

  • ...you know, wants to go on some humanitarian mission in Africa.

  • Right.

  • So I actually didn't go back. I kind of, you know, gave up my apartment and sold my things

  • just in faith that one of these organizations would take me. I went to a friend’s house

  • in the south of France just to kind of wait for all of the acceptance letters come in,

  • and I was denied by every single organization that I’d applied to. And on paper, you know,

  • I mustve been terrifying. You know? I remember in some of the applications, like, “Do you

  • drink?” Excessively. “Do you smoke?” 2 packs a day. “Have you done drugs?”

  • Which ones? But I… I’d written these compelling essays, I thought, of, you know, this was

  • my old life, I wanna change, you know, I think I have a lot to bring to the table. So denial,

  • denial, denied, denied. Finally one organization says, “Scott, if you pay us 500 dollars

  • a month, you can volunteer with us.” And I’m like, “This is great. I wanted the

  • opposite of my life. Not only am I not gonna make money, I’m gonna have to pay…”

  • To volunteer.

  • “...for the opportunity of volunteering.” So I said, “Where are you guys going?”

  • They said, “Were sailing this giant 500 foot hospital ship to Liberia.” I, you know,

  • it’s embarrassing now, but I’d never heard of Liberia. You know, I thought Africa was

  • like one big country, not made up of 40 some countries. And I said, “Sure, I’ll go.”

  • Started learning about their work, their mission as I got ready to join. And I learned that

  • this country, Liberia, had been through a 14 year civil war, there was no electricity,

  • there was no running water, there was no mail, there was no sewage. Completely broken as

  • Charles Taylor hadhad decimated this country with child soldiers. So we were gonna go in

  • with these amazing surgeons, doctors who had given up their vacation time and instead of

  • flying their families to, you know, the Caribbean, decided to fly in and use their skills for

  • good. And I had signed up to be their volunteer photojournalist, so I dusted off a degree

  • that I had gotten from NYU and said, “Look, I know a lot of people. I have 15 thousand

  • people on my club list, you know, what if I take pictures, what if I tell stories of

  • the work that you guys are doing?” And it happened very quickly. So from that New Years

  • Eve trip, in the fall I was sailing on this ship intointo West Africa.

  • So I know you spent 2 years on that ship and it completely changed everything. And when

  • you came back, you had the realization, from what I’ve read and researched, that you

  • could possibly make an impact in your lifetime to help end the water crisis. When you started

  • thinking about that to yourself when you were back here after those two years, what did

  • you start thinking about in terms of did you know you wanted to start charity:water? Was

  • that in there? Or were you just like, “How can I make a bigger impact?” What was that

  • next step for you?

  • Yeah. I don't talk about this that much, but I think the big piece over that 2 year story

  • was, you know, I am emailing the stories, and we werewe were operating on people

  • with massive tumors, we were digging wells, so I learned about the water crisis for the

  • first time there. But I was emailing these fancy club people who used to come out and

  • buy 500 dollar bottles of Greygoose. And, you know, two reactions when you email 15

  • thousand people pictures of tumors and dirty water. The first was, “Take me off this

  • list! I signed up for the Prada party, not the tumor party or the poverty party.” And

  • then the other reaction was, “This is amazing. How do I give money? How do I volunteer? You

  • know, how do I engage and serve these doctors?” So I think I discovered the power of story,

  • the power of almost an unpolished, raw story. You know, notand the organization had

  • typically, you know, over polished things almost and buttoned it up and then would put

  • it in a mailer. And this wasit was raw. It was almost reportage. So when I came back

  • I was 30, I believed the power of story, I believed that there were all these people

  • that wanted to get involved but didn't trust charities, that they weren't being communicated

  • to in a way that moved them or in a way thatthat was relevant. And I actually wanted to

  • help Mercy Ships at the time and I had so many crazy ideas for them. I mean, were

  • gonna completely rebrand you and all your marketing needs to go and, you know, that

  • I scared them so much they said, “Thank you but no thanks. It’s been a great 2 years,

  • thanks for serving us, thanks for the awareness and money you raised, but you should go and

  • do your own thing.” So really that door was shut and I said, “Ok, well I do have

  • all these ideas, I’ve been able to raise a lot of awareness and money for this organization,

  • I guess I’ll start something on my own.”

  • And so I know one of the things that you knew was what you didn't want. You didn't want

  • an ugly website. That was one of the things that you were clear about. So you had a bit

  • of a vision for what charity:water could be.

  • Yeah. As I was talking to people that I wanted to get involved, I would hear these common

  • objections to charity. The most common one was, I don't know how much of my money is

  • actually going to reach the people. And everybody seemed to have a horror story of the big overhead,

  • the CEOs being paid millions of dollars, you know, the charity that scammed everyone, put

  • 90% of the funds in their own pockets and sent 10. And, you know, I thought if that’s

  • really true, then there’s a huge amount of money that could be unlocked through a

  • new model. So that was one. The second was, you know, people didn't feel a connection

  • to where their money went. And, you know, I thought, well, the technology tools of the

  • day, you know, we can put stuff on Google Earth and Google Maps. Like, you can bridge

  • that gap using technology and say, you know, here’s your well in Cambodia. Here’s your

  • well in Malawi. You know, here’s what the community looks like. Here’s exactly where

  • it is, within 10 feet. And, as you mentioned, the third was charities were so bad at marketing

  • and branding. I mean, they had some of the worst websites, they were, you know, as bad

  • as insurance companies.

  • Yeah.

  • And, you know, a typical charity website would have, like, 100 links in 2 point font and

  • they would expect you to read 90 page whitepapers. You know, I recently read something about

  • The World Bank’s website. I think of all of the PDFs that they’d put on the website,

  • 30% have been downloaded once or more.

  • Wow.

  • 70% have never been downloaded once. Something crazy like that. So I thought, you know, there’s

  • a new way to tell stories, we could use great design. Nick Kristof had written in the New

  • York Times thatthat peoplehe said people peddle toothpaste with more sophistication

  • than all of the world’s life saving causes. And, you know, Doritos can spend hundreds

  • of millions of dollars marketing junk food, you know, Crest can market. Why aren’t the

  • greatest needs or the greatest causes in the world  able to bring that same design aesthetic

  • or design relevance to their issues? I didn't know how to design beautiful things, but I

  • had pretty good taste and I thought, “We just need to find talented designers who would

  • rather work on bringing the world clean water than on, you know, Clinique?”

  • Yeah. I mean, that was one of the things

  • I hope Clinique’s not a sponsor.

  • No, Clinique’s notwe don't actually have any sponsors for that reason, because

  • I like to be able to say anything I wanna say when I wanna say it.

  • Great.

  • And it was one of the things that I was so impressed with when I first learned about

  • your organization because I was drawn in because I appreciate great design and I love branding

  • and marketing. I think it can be such a powerful force for good in the world and it just

  • so when people go like this towards it, I’m like, “No, no, no. It’s a beautiful tool

  • if you leverage it in the right way for the right purposes.” And with charity:water,

  • I just wanna let you know, it’s made such a huge difference to so many people and I’ve

  • shared it just saying, first of all, the work that you do is incredible, but just being

  • able to bring a fresh face, a new model, making it cool, making it fun, making it beautiful

  • to engage with has been incredible.

  • That’s all my wife.

  • Yes. And I remember when I first stumbled across your website, our creative director,

  • I said, “Who does…? Whatever theyre doing, that’s it.” It’s so hot, it’s

  • beautiful, it’s gorgeous. She’s amazing. She’s absolutely amazing.

  • And she has a great team, as well.

  • Yeah. So the other thing that I love about you guys is, of course, the focus that you

  • have because of the work that you do on women and girls. Let’s talk about a recent trip

  • that you made, and I believe that one was to Ethiopia.

  • It’s heavy.

  • I know it’s heavy.

  • We talked about this.

  • But it’s important.

  • Yeah. So, you know, just top line, the issue. 800 million people don't have access to clean

  • water. You know, it’s something I took for granted my entire life. I used to sell 10

  • dollar bottles of Voss in the clubs. You know? No one I know in my circle of friends has

  • ever had to drink dirty water. So it’s really almost a tough issue to get people to understand

  • because it’s not in our face. You talk about cancer, everyone has been touched by cancer.

  • You know, you talk about, you know, dying of bilharzia or, you know, trachoma through

  • dirty water, no one’s been touched by that here. So 800 million people, it is absolutely

  • an issue that touches the women and girls because, unfortunately, throughout the developing

  • world it is the job of the women and girls to get the water, which is not clean. So it

  • is not uncommon for women to walk 5, 6, 7, 8 hours a day, which is, again, just so hard

  • for us to imagine. Like, that is the entire work day and it’s 3 hours out, you know,

  • with the empty pail or the jerry can or the clay pot, 5 hours back. And, you know, I mean,

  • I’ve seen so much now. I’ve been to Ethiopia 23 times over the last couple of years and

  • one of the great things about this job is that I’m able to go and meet the people

  • and spend time in these communities where were working. I think of all the stories

  • over the last 8 years of charity:water that move me the most were the kind that put the

  • point on how human this issue is, was the story of Ledikiros that I was telling you.

  • I heard… 2 years ago I was in a crappy hotel, 6 dollar inn hotel in Ethiopia, and the hotel

  • owner comes out and says, you know, “Youre the charity:water people. It’s amazing what

  • youve been doing here. You know, water is so important. Let me tell you a story about

  • a girl who lived in my village 10 years ago and she used to walk 8 hours a day for water

  • and she would have this heavy clay pot on her back that she would tie a rope around

  • her shoulders and attach the pot to. And she would walk 8 hours.” And he said, “She

  • wasn’t getting clean water, but she came back one day and as she was entering our village