During a two-year-long service trip to West Africa, Scott Harrison noticed something that left an indelible mark on him: Women (and, yes, the job mostly landed on women) would have to walk several miles each day to get water, which may not even be clean, for their families. Upon his return to the U.S., Harrison vowed to do something to help. In 2006, he founded charity: water, a nonprofit that helps build wells, from which villagers can better access potable water. The organization invested $35 million in water projects in 2017, and has helped provide greater access to clean water to 8.2 million people in 24 countries around the world. As it turns out, doing good is also attractive to employees. The New York City-based organization has been named one of Inc.'s 2018 Best Workplaces. Here, Harrison describes why it made the list.
--As told to Brit Morse
Recently we posted a job for a receptionist and nearly 1,000 people applied. We posted a job for a graphic designer and over 500 people applied. It's a time in the world when people want their work to matter. People come to charity: water not because they want to get rich, and not because they want to climb any sort of social ladder. They come here because they care about humans and human beings suffering around the world. Charity: water now gives 3,500 people clean water every single day of the year, so by the end of the year we'll have helped 1.3 million people.
A lot of people leave tech companies and often take half of their salary to opt into a nonprofit. They'll walk away from stock options because they really want their work to matter. They know that everything they do here--in any department--directly impacts the lives of women and children around the world, many of who are walking eight hours a day for bad water. Or they're watching their children die of water-borne diseases or going blind because of trachoma, a contagious bacterial infection.
We've formed great friendships, and people are kind to each other here. We have these things called "isms" that are unique to charity: water. One of them is that there's no swearing in the company. It sounds so weird if you're coming from a tech company, but everyone has to opt in to that. So if swearing is really important to you, then you don't take a job here. It feels safe. You're not hearing f-bombs being dropped, you're not hearing caustic language being used in conversations about someone else, or at all.
There's also a "no white lies" policy. We highly value the truth, so you'll never hear a receptionist saying that somebody is out who isn't. They'd be terminated immediately. If you lie in the small things, then you lie in the big things.
We also do hack-a-thons. Everyone quits what they're doing for two full days and works on creative projects that are often unrelated to the business. People in finance will work with people in creative. People in our water programs will work with engineers. We do a bagel breakfast every Monday. We do Friday beer and pizza. We commemorate birthdays and anniversaries; we offer updates on the organization, discussing whatever we need to talk about to bring the team together.
I think building a good workplace begins with visiting a bunch of really great ones. When I started, I visited the Airbnbs of the world, and the Squares, and the Ubers and talked to whoever designed the office and asked that person what's working, what's not, what the best features are. You get really good ideas. None of this is incredibly original; we just borrowed from things we liked.