This week we were invited to join the first Charity: Water UK supporter event at The Barbican, London.
Charity: Water is an organisation which I stumbled upon whilst scrolling through Facebook earlier this year. The founder is ex-New York nightclub promoter Scott Harrison who in 2004 found himself disillusioned with his lifestyle and, feeling morally and spiritually bankrupt, gave up everything to head out on a two-year volunteering mission to Liberia. Whilst performing the role of photojournalist for a hospital ship, he saw lifesaving work being carried out on some of the poorest people by a Doctor who had devoted his and his family’s life to living on the ship and performing these surgeries.
As he built relationships with the villagers he met and photographed, he saw the level of sickness caused by filthy water which each and every man, woman and child drank – water from rivers, swamps and ponds, laced with multiple diseases most of us have never heard of. These people didn’t have a chance at improving their situation.
The sickness and poverty, he witnessed on his travels changed the course of his life and sparked his mission to ensure that all people, no matter where they are in the world, have access to the most basic of needs – clean water. And so upon returning to New York at the end of his volunteering work, he took the first step to making a difference by doing what he knew he could do best, by throwing a party. That night he raised his first $15000 and Charity: Water was born. It’s safe to say he hasn’t looked back!
I watched the 20 minute video which the charity had posted online depicting Scott’s background from a very young child who found himself caring for his mother due to sudden illness, to a party loving and somewhat lost 20-something, to a man desperate to find his way back to the calling he had always felt within him and I found his story very emotional, which is pretty unusual for me.
Like many people, I am inundated with horrific images and sad stories on my timeline every day, I follow and support a lot of charities and try not to shy away from the realities of the harsh world around us. This video spoke to me in a different way however; I was not affected by just how sad the situation was on the hospital ship (although it is undoubtedly devastating viewing) as much as at the inspiration of his journey and the promise this endeavour showed.
I’d had a similar upbringing and felt a desperate need as an adult to help people but somehow always found myself falling short, which was a constant source of frustration for me.
From that moment I was engaged in this charity’s beliefs, their approach and their ethics, I was so excited to have found these people!
I immediately signed up and started a monthly donation to become part of The Spring. A great win for the marketing team, the cynical brain might say. Well yes, an overwhelming victory in terms of marketing by anyone’s standard, but as Scott would later say in his opening speech at The Barbican, this is not an empty ploy to gather gullible followers.
What Charity: Water and specifically Scott strive to do, in addition to ending the water crisis in our lifetime, is to change the charity game. Statistics from his presentation show 46% of people surveyed in America don’t trust charities and the number is probably just as high, or maybe higher, in the UK. I can understand these concerns because sadly there are real issues facing the money-giving public.
All too often the word ‘charity’ is used with no real structure – of course some organisations just simply don’t have the means to do the hands-on work and then also provide the paperwork and regular updates to their keen public, but all too often we hear about abuse of funds and lack of integrity in promotion and fundraising from previously reputable organisations. One bad experience can do real damage in an industry supposed to be fighting for good.
When Rescuemania was formed the overriding intention was to promote unity between different charities and also provide a common ground for all supporters. Regardless of what you are passionate about, we wanted to start something which reminded people that whatever you do to help, it’s all for the good of the big floating rock we live on together, and each good cause can feed the other’s success or failure.
We recognised that a big part of this was enabling and empowering the people running genuine and trustworthy yet under privileged organisations so they could provide the administration and structure needed to allow people to support them in full confidence, but also for the charities to feel comfortable asking for continued help. We wanted to give them the virtual and/or physical means to run their great causes in an optimal way and ensure the supporters have the visibility and trust that they need to part with their time and money.
This is difficult for so many reasons.
Charity: Water’s approach was to create a model which commits to putting 100% of public donations directly into projects – to the extent that they supplement any credit cards fees which would otherwise reduce the donation a person is offering. Overheads for staff, travel and offices are funded entirely separately and whilst Scott is quick to acknowledge that this approach is hard and is not going to work for everyone, I love this refreshingly simple idea; to approach financially affluent people to cover business expenses allowing the charity to actively commit to sending all other funds straight to project work.
These projects incidentally have totaled more than 38,000 water projects in 27 developing countries since 2006 and in the last 13 years the team have worked hard to make the supporter experience balance with the innovation of the projects.
The process starts by assessing the best technology to be used in each area and then hiring local partners to complete the work. They then post the GPS coordinates of the projects they have completed so you can follow your donation, track their diggers online so you can see where they are currently working (some even have their own Twitter account) and most recently following a grant from Google, they have placed sensors on the water sources so they can see if the solution is sustainable and working throughout the years of wear and tear, or if any of them need any urgent attention. They can now even tell if someone left the tap on overnight!
The UK supporters evening was well organised and everyone was very friendly. We were warmly welcomed with free gin and tonic, and there was no dress code requirement, so it felt immediately like being in a room full of friends you just hadn’t met yet. There was live African background music in the heated Garden room and a water walk platform which was a great touch. This allowed guests to try and carry two filled Jerry cans up and down a runway to experience a tiny fraction of what the women in developing countries must endure for up to 7 hours a day, collecting water for their families to drink, wash and cook with. They also provided a VR experience, which played one of the Charity’s powerful films.
The night also included an interview with Scott by supporter, author and broadcaster, Emma Gannon, who has raised over £1000 already for her 30th birthday fundraiser. They even surprised her with a cake while we sang a round of happy birthday! The team were gracious enough to spend time talking to guests during the evening drinks once the auditorium session was over, as well as signing copies of Scott’s book ‘Thirst’, of which 100% of proceeds go to the charity projects.
Scott himself is an innovator, as well as being an engaging and humorous speaker, with stories which will make you laugh and will also pull at your heart strings, and so it was a real privilege to hear him talk about the charity’s approach from a personal perspective. This charity has amazing foresight and drive to improve so they are always working to be faster, better and more productive. It’s great to see the leader of such a forward thinking organisation also acknowledging the need for an ego free work place, with emphasis on visibility and absolute trust for collaborators. Charity: Water are proof that integrity works.
We came away from the night feeling invigorated and proud of what we were a very small part of.
Please take the time to watch the amazing video located on the Charity: Water Facebook page and visit their website to read more about their great work (links below).
Charity: Water is on a mission and they want you to come along. We highly recommend you do!
Website – https://uk.charitywater.org/