Video Transcript

00:11 Scott Harrison: So I'm gonna talk about water and what we've learned and I grabbed the camera to start learning about the water crisis and then finding what we could do about it. So if you came with me this is what you would see. You'd learn that 800 million people, again a number just too hard to fathom. It's about one in eight people don't have access to something that you and I have taken for granted almost our entire lives. And this is what it looks like. It looks like communities drinking from open brown wells that they share with animals. You'd learn about that 80% of disease in the world is directly related to bad water and lack of toilets. It's an incredible stat, 80% of the sick people are sick because of the water that they drink. And all of these diseases -- Cholera, Schistosomiasis, hepatitis, Bilharzia.

01:03 Harrison: You might have met this woman who told me, the biggest problem with their water is there was often bone and hair in it as it came down a ravine from a town, and the town just threw their waste in the river. You'd learn about leeches, again, something I'm pretty sure nobody in this room has ever associated with drinking water. But time and time again you'd see communities outstretch their hands and show you the leeches from their open springs. And they tell you that the big ones aren't a problem. They could always filter them out. They pour the water through their shirts, their cloth to filter it which obviously doesn't take out any of the contaminants. But they'd say these little leeches sometimes get through. They grow up inside them and then they crawl back up to the back of the neck. Two ways communities get leeches off the back of each other's necks. They either take a stick, and they scrape it, or they drink diesel fuel, enough to kill the leech and not enough to kill them.

02:03 Harrison: You'd learn about the hours just inanely wasted fetching water and you'd see the spines of the women and the children just start bending over time as they carry 40 pounds of water. You'd learn that 40 billion hours are wasted just in Africa fetching water. It's more than the entire workforce of countries in Europe. I'll tell a story that I think illustrates the urgency of the problem. I was in Ethiopia three times this year and on the first trip actually that Jane Berentson, international editor joined me. We heard the story of Ledericos and we were way northwest at a $6 a night hotel room and the hotel owner comes over to us and he says, "You're the charity water people right? You're doing a lot of good work here. Let me tell you about this woman I knew who lived before you came. This isn't her photo, but this is about what she would have looked like. She was about 24 years old, she had two kids and a husband."

03:02 Harrison: And he said, "She didn't have jerry can, she had a clay pot that weighed 20 pounds. And he said she walked eight hours a day. Three out and five back, with 60 pounds on her back, the way back. He said, one day, she came back into the village after eight hours and she slipped and she fell. He said the clay pot broke and all of the water ran out. He said she took the rope and she hung herself from a tree in the middle of the village. And he said, "The work you guys are doing is important." And he walked off. It's a serious, serious problem. Here's the thing. It is 100% solvable. We know right now beyond a shadow of a doubt how to get clean drinking water to every single person on the planet. And there's not one solution, there are many solutions. Solutions like hand-dug wells, like drilled wells, like rainwater harvesting systems, biosyn filters, pond sand filters, spring protections, UV, carbon UF. For about $65 you can give a family clean drinking water.

04:14 Harrison: In Cambodia you can take water like this, put it into a home made filter using local materials, and get water like this out that you or I can drink, and I did. For about $10,000, you can build a well for a community. And it's just a lot of digging. It's three months, sometimes pick axes, sometimes jackhammers, sometimes dynamite. And they form the culverts and they form the lining of the well. Then you put on a pump. For 20 grand, you can build and drill wells at schools and clinics. You can tap in to massive underground aquifers with million-dollar drilling machines. And the further down you go the more water you get. This is at a school of over 1500 people. And the water that we're taking out of this well is about 3% of the capacity.

05:11 Harrison: When you can bring clean water into a community, it changes everything. It dramatically changes the health. Kids stop dying of diarrhea. They're healthier. They spend more time in school. They don't have to walk for hours in the morning. They're not missing school getting treated for parasites or worms. The women have all this extra time back. So some of them just spend more time with their kids and they're better mothers. Others will start small businesses and they'll sell peanuts, they'll sell rice at market earning an extra dollar, an extra two dollars a day. What I love about it is it's provable, it's tangible, it's there. You know, the community is drinking dirty water or they're drinking clean water, it is 100% measurable. And you know that you made an impact.

05:59 Harrison: The UN came out with an 88-page report that said, not only does water make people healthier, it makes them dramatically richer. In fact, you get a 12-times leverage. A million dollars equals 12 million dollars as you lift people out of poverty with time savings and improved health and improved education and ability to work. Helen is a great representation of what water means to a woman. Our team was trying to sneak in to her village at the end of a long day, they didn't want the whole fanfare and the party, when these communities know you're coming. It's hours sometimes, it's popcorn, and they bring out all of these food, the best that they have. She was just trying to sneak in and see the well being naturally used. Well, Helen got wind of her and stopped that from happening. In the middle of the road, Helen was cheering, Helen was dancing.

06:54 Harrison: Becky walked off to the side and said, "Helen, tell us how the well has changed your life." And Helen said, "Well before, I used to get two Jerry cans a day. And I had a husband and two kids. So this wasn't enough for four of us." She said, "I would have to make choices everyday. Do I cook, do I clean, do I garden, do I wash my husband's body, do I wash his clothes, do I wash my kid's bodies, do I wash their school uniforms?" She said, if she'd send them to school with dirty uniforms, they'd get sent home. And she said, "There was never enough water. So I had to make choices." And she said, "My family always came first." She said, "Now, with the clean water in my village, I can take six Jerry cans a day." And she said to Becky, our water program director, she said, "Now I am beautiful."

07:46 Harrison: And it struck us. We made someone feel beautiful because she could wash her face, she could wash her clothes. Water was able to restore dignity to this woman. And, of course, she always was beautiful, but now she felt it. So what was I gonna do about it? I'd come off a decade of getting wasted, getting other people wasted, two years taking pictures. I just decided to go for it. I said, "Before I die, I probably have 45 years to throw at this. What if I could end the water crisis? What if I could see a day where every man, woman, and child had clean water to drink?" And I also thought, "What if I can help to reinvent charity?" Because I thought I was broke and my friends, they weren't giving. They had all these excuses. They'd say, "Charities are black holes and they're opaque, they're inefficient. If I give money to a charity, some warlord is gonna drive around Africa with a Lexus. Somebody's going to buy a new office building."

08:49 Harrison: That wasn't a great time to start a charity, I was $30,000 in debt from running up my credit cards serving mercy ships. And I was living on a friend's couch, no place to live. I said, "I'm gonna go for it." I had three big ideas about how to reinvent charity and then maybe solve the water crisis. One, was to solve the money problem. The biggest problem people had was they didn't know how much of their money would actually go to help the people. I said, "Well, let's make it easy. Let's make it 100% all the time." People said, "Well, how will you pay for your staff, and an office, and how will you fly back and forth to these countries to do the work?"

09:26 Harrison: I didn't know. But I thought it was a great idea, so I opened up two bank accounts with $100 each. And I said, "We'll figure it out, and maybe we can find board members and sponsors and private donors who like paying for staff, who like paying for things that other people don't, who don't need their name on walls, who aren't disenchanted, and we made a promise to always use 100% of the public's money for projects, and we would even pay back credit card funds." So someone gave $1000 and we got $960. We would separately raise $40, put it back with the $960 and send of $1000.

09:59 Harrison: The second thing we would do was use technology to show people where their money went. And this was so easy to me, GPS devices were 100 bucks. We could turn them on, we could take pictures of the projects, and we'd know where they were within 10 feet, anywhere in the world. And we made all that information public on Google Maps and Google Earth from day one. And the third thing I wanted to do is build a brand. I thought, if we're gonna solve a problem this big, we can't just be any charity. We got to build a brand that's Apple worthy, that's Nike worthy. A brand people can trust, a brand they can aspire too. Nick Kristof had said in The Times that there are people out there peddling toothpaste with more sophistication than all the world's life-saving causes. Well, I thought this was broken. And really to build a brand you just need a good taste and a couple of talented people.

10:53 Harrison: So six years ago, it started with a birthday party. It was the only thing I knew how to do to raise a little bit of money. And I got my friends to donate the club, I invited everybody I knew. I told them to bring their friends, 700 people came, I gave them open bar and I said, "Throw in $20 at the door." We raised $15,000 and we immediately took it to Northern Uganda to a refuge camp. We built three wells. We fixed three wells, and we sent those photos in GPS back to those 700 people that came, and they were blown away. Their money hadn't gone into a black hole. 20 bucks, a group of people coming together doing something small, had changed the lives of people living in a refuge camp. And then we said, "Let's just keep doing that until the problem is solved. Let's just repeat it."