A life of ego is so unfulfilling.
We can get caught up in the comparison game: who has the most money, the bigger house, the best car. It’s never-ending.
At the end of the day, what kind of legacy does that leave?
If we can have a cause that is greater than ourselves, we can find purpose.
That’s why I’m so excited to share the powerful story of a nightclub promoter turned philanthropist: Scott Harrison.
Scott Harrison was working as a nightclub promoter in New York when he became “morally bankrupt.”
He sold all of his belongings and set sail to Africa in an effort to redeem himself. He returned to New York with one goal: to provide clean water to everyone on earth.
Twelve years later, he’s raised over 320 million dollars and provided water to people in 26 countries with his nonprofit charity: water.
Scott now finds worth in how much money he can raise for others, not for himself.
Listen to Episode 700 to learn what makes a nonprofit successful and how anyone can turn their life around find meaning and fulfillment.
Lewis Howes: This is episode number 700, with Charity: Water founder, Scott Harrison.
Welcome to The School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now, let the class begin.
Edmund Mbiaca said, “No matter how disappointing you believe your life currently is, it’s never too late to start reshaping it to become an amazing testimony.”
Welcome, everyone to episode 700! Holy schneikies, I’m so pumped about this! I have been reflecting about this for the last couple of weeks, as 700 has been coming up, and I’ve just been kind of overwhelmed with so much gratitude, because there’s been a lot happening in my life over the last two months.
We launched a talk show, we went through some challenges in our business, but then things really started to take of, after this talk show came on on Facebook, called ‘Inspiring Life’. We had a massive interview with Coby Bryant, that went viral all over the place, ESPN picked it up and about 35 other major platforms picked it up.
We had Rachel Hollis on last week, which has been taking over! If you haven’t listened to that episode, make sure to listen to it. We had Dr Joe Dispenza, which has been going viral as well. We had Marisa Peer, about how your thoughts will either heal you or kill you.
We had some incredible episodes that came out over the last few weeks, which has sky-rocketed this podcast, literally, in the last month, it has gone up so much – the traffic, the subscribers – so, if you’re here, now, and you’re new, then I want to thank you for being here.
We are currently number 25 in the world on all of podcasts, which is mind-blowing, and I’m just so grateful that we’re all here together. This is one of the most powerful and empowering movements in the world, where we bring together like-minded, conscious achievers to help you unlock your greatest potential.
Find that truth that you’ve been looking for, make an impact on the people around you, and really live a purposeful life. And I’m so excited about our episode today. It’s a perfect timing, actually, for episode 700, to reflect on the purpose for your life, and are you making the maximum impact in your personal life and the people around you?
Well, Scott Harrison, after a decade of indulging his darkest vices as a night club promoter, he declared spiritual, moral, and emotional bankruptcy. He spent two years on a hospital ship off the coast of Liberia, saw the effects of dirty water first hand, and came back to New York City on a mission to change the world.
Upon returning to New York, in 2006, having seen the effects of dirty water, first hand, he turned his full attention to the global water crisis. And the then 1,1 billion people living without access to clean water. And in this interview we talk about how, at 28, Scott was living a life of drugs, clubs, and was broken inside, and started to ask if it was the legacy he wanted to leave behind.
Also, we talk about where most of the world’s diseases come from. We discuss his mission of providing clean water to the world, and how it can be accomplished, why it’s okay to start working on something that has no end in sight, and why it’s important for a company to tell a great story.
And if you’re not telling a great story in your life, in your business, in your career, you’re not going to make the lasting change you want. We talked about this with Kobe Bryant; his answer to living a great life was really being a great storyteller.
So, this is going to shape you in a way that you might not think possible. Take a moment to listen, throughout this entire time, listen to the stories that Scott tells. Let it resonate in your heart, in your soul, and see how it impacts you.
And let me know what you think. Send me a message on Instagram story, send me a direct message, tag me on your story while you post this to your friends, let your friends know you’re listening, it’s lewishowes.com/700. Tag myself and @scottharrison, we’d love to hear from you throughout this interview.
And a big thank you to our sponsor today, Fully, which is all about the desks, chairs and things to keep you moving. We have our entire office outfitted with stand-up desks and movable, functional chairs, to really keep your body flowing and moving throughout the day.
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So, get your body moving in your workspace. Go to fully.com/greatness, that’s F.U.L.L.Y. dot com slash greatness. Fully, desks, chairs, and things to keep you moving.
And a big thank you to DesignCrowd. Now, DesignCrowd is a website that helps start-ups and small business owners, freelancers and dentists, to accountants, to photographers, to anyone who is looking to run a business, or consulting or coaching, it helps you outsource, or crowd source custom graphics and logos and web design, from designers all over the world.
The thing I love about DesignCrowd is, you typically receive from 60 up to 100 designs from all these designers. From there you can give feedback on what you like, to those specific designers and only work with the people that you really like.
You can start a project on DesignCrowd from just $99. I use them for book covers, Tee-shirt designs, logos, website designs; you name it, I use them. You can check them out right now at designcrowd.com/greatness, to receive a School of Greatness VIP offer when you start your next project.
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Alright, my friends, I’m so excited about this one! Again, episode 700! Make sure to share it with your friends, lewishowes.com/700. Let me know what you think, over on your Instagram story. Tag me and Scott Harrison.
And without further ado, let me introduce to you the one, the only, Scott Harrison!
Welcome, everyone, back to The School of Greatness Podcast. We’ve got the legendary Scott Harrison in the house.
Scott Harrison: What’s up, brother?
Lewis Howes: Good to see you!
Scott Harrison: Yeah, man! Thanks for having me back!
Lewis Howes: I’m pumped you’re here!
Scott Harrison: I invited myself back on!
Lewis Howes: It’s all good! I’m glad you’re here! You’re always welcome, man. You’ve got a new book out called, ‘Thirst’, make sure you guys check this out, powerful story of redemption, compassion, and a mission to bring clean water to the world.
And you’ve been running this mission organisation, Charity: Water, for twelve years, you’ve raised how much money, now, in total?
Scott Harrison: $320 million.
Lewis Howes: $320 million raised! That’s incredible! That’s a lot of money.
Scott Harrison: Yeah, we can’t even believe it sometimes.
Lewis Howes: Over a quarter of a billion dollars just in donations.
Scott Harrison: Yeah, yeah. From a million people. So it’s really been led by small donations, a million people in over a hundred countries.
Lewis Howes: Five, ten, twenty buck donations.
Scott Harrison: So many of those, so many of those.
Lewis Howes: What’s the biggest donation? That you’re allowed to talk about.
Scott Harrison: There’s one family that’s given over $15 million on the overheads side.
Lewis Howes: For the business?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, so Charity: Water has a unique business model, where, twelve years ago we made a promise to the public, and we said, “100% of public donations, without exception, will only fund water projects to give people clean water.” And in bank account number two we will raise the overheads separately, somehow.
We had no idea how we would do it in the beginning, that now looks like 130 families, entrepreneurs that support our eighty staff, our flights, our office, the Epson copy machine and the toner, so that over a million people can give in this pure way, and know that whether they give a dollar or a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars, all that money is going straight to the project.
So, we have one family, who over eleven years, has given that, over 15 million bucks.
Lewis Howes: 15 million, because you said around ten plus million a year, just to run the overhead, the office, the operations. You’ve got eighty employees in New York; you’ve got six-hundred and fifty around the world.
Scott Harrison: Yeah, that are working on the water project.
Lewis Howes: That are working on building the wells and everything else, right?
Scott Harrison: Yeah. It’s not easy!
Lewis Howes: Crazy, man! So, is your time and energy more focussed on reaching out to the public to get those micro-donations? Or is it, “I’ve got to cultivate these hundred relationships to make sure we’ve got the lights on every day.”?
Scott Harrison: It’s a great question. It’s both. Someone told me, once, that a good CEO does three things: they set the vision for the company, hire amazing people, and then make sure the company doesn’t run out of money.
So, I’m really focused on that one, because, from a business model approach, we can become insolvent with $100 million in the bank. Of the public’s money, right? So, all of the money, all of the micro-donations, all of the birthday campaigns that is coming in, the Spring Subscription, which we can talk about later, we can’t touch any of that to pay our office rent, or to pay…
Lewis Howes: So you could have 100 million, you could have a billion dollars in the bank and then go broke.
Scott Harrison: And go bankrupt. Bankrupt. And everybody’s cheques would bounce.
Lewis Howes: Wow!
Scott Harrison: It’s a terrifying proposition, when you get to scale. So that’s why I spend so much time, really, on those 130 families. We’ve been blessed. I mean, it’s the founders of Twitter, Facebook, key execs at Apple, like Jony Ive and Angela Ahrendts, it’s venture capitalists, it’s, you know, a bunch of your friends. I mean, you know forty people in that group, probably twenty of them have been on here.
And they love supporting the overhead, they love supporting our staff. They love their money going into a software engineer who’s coding to save lives, or for a hydrologist who’s making sure our projects are of the highest quality. They love that, so, in a way, it’s hard, but it’s not. Once you find those people. We hosted an event last night and someone immediately said, “I want to be family 132.”
Lewis Howes: No way!
Scott Harrison: So it grows, and I spend a lot of time there.
Lewis Howes: What’s the minimum someone can give to be part of the family?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, how the business works in that bank account, is that people give on three-year commitments, between $60,000 a year, up to a million a year. And that allows us to basically plan cash flow. And then our job is to give everybody such a good experience in those three years, and develop such a good relationship, that, not only do they sign up for the following three years…
Lewis Howes: They give more.
Scott Harrison: They give more if they can, if they have the ability. So, we have some people who will start at the entry level even though they might have a much higher capacity, and then we have other people who are really reaching to that lowest level, and then they’ll say, “This is the biggest charitable gift I’ve ever given in my life, but I really want to support the overhead. I believe in this model.”
So, it’s a little bit of a dance. You have to run these things in perfect balance and, right now the water side is growing faster than that side, so I’m spending more attention over here. But there have been times in the past where we got an infusion of cash on the overhead side, and they were like, “Okay, now we have to go figure out how to leverage that and become even more efficient.”
Lewis Howes: Yeah. I guess you could always take a loan out, if you had a hundred million dollars in the bank, you could kind of take a loan out.
Scott Harrison: But you can’t really take a loan out against that, though, because you can never use that money to pay it back. I mean, people don’t know this, Lewis, but we actually, you know, we’re talking about this 100% model, we actually pay back credit card fees, which sounded like a great idea ten years ago, right?
Lewis Howes: But now you’re like, “3% is a lot!”
Scott Harrison: Dude! It’s like $350,000 a year! That’s to AMX, Visa, and Mastercard, so, if somebody went on our website and gave a hundred dollars, with their American Express, we get $97. You could argue, nobody would expect us to send more than $97 to the fields.
Lewis Howes: You send 100%, yeah.
Scott Harrison: So, we repay the 3 bucks that we didn’t even get from their donation, and then we send out the $100 and we track it. So it actually costs us money to raise money. So it’s a fascinating… I talk to most other entrepreneurs out of the 100% model. I’m like, “This was right for us, it was unique to the problem we were trying to solve, but steer clear!”
I think the value that I really most believe in is that people want to know where their money is going, so I just say to people, “Look, just be transparent with your donors.” Donors, as we have proved, are open to many different value propositions.
If I told you, right now, that the biggest challenge for the organisation was a broken copier machine, and I needed $1,350 to fix it, you would write out a $1,350 check, like, you want to solve a problem. And you would say, “Well, what do you need the copy machine for?” and I’d say, “Well, we need it to produce these documents for our local partners in Ethiopia,” or whatever it is.
So, people are open to a lot of value propositions, but I think what’s been wrong with charity in the past is, it feels like a black hole to so many people. You know, your money goes into this pot.
Lewis Howes: You don’t know where it’s going.
Scott Harrison: You don’t know where it’s going, you don’t even know if it’s been deployed. I mean people have come up to me with the horror stories, of the disaster relief, and they find out ten years after the hurricane or the tsunami, there’s a billion dollars still sitting there, from their tens and twenties and fifties text donations.
Lewis Howes: Knowing where your money goes is one of the most important things. I help a lot with Pencils of Promise, and when you build a school, and you know that all your money went towards that school, and you have you name there, and they do a whole video for you, then you’re like, “Okay, I know my money is going towards this community and towards these kids and this family.”
Scott Harrison: But I’d argue, you’d also be willing to pay for the office rent for a month, if you knew where your money was going. “Hey, I’m paying for the New York office, and there’s a bunch of people working their butts off their to provide education around the world.
Lewis Howes: Absolutely.
Scott Harrison: It’s just, it’s the clarity that I think people really want.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, that’s it, and you guys do a great job with that. You track it all, you track it all.
Scott Harrison: We try, yeah, we try.
Lewis Howes: Now, I’m curious, you’ve got this fancy New York City office, tons of…
Scott Harrison: Well, can I tell you the office story?
Lewis Howes: Sure!
Scott Harrison: Okay, so, our first office was an apartment, and I was living in a closet floor at 109 Spring. It was a loft, my old club partner had taken me back in, when I came back from Liberia, and he said, “You can use my couch to run your cute little charity thing that you want to do. And you can sleep on the walk-in closet floor.” Because he had somebody else in the bedroom.
So that was the first office. And I remember just, first of all, man, he was doing a lot of drugs. So, this was, you know, if you’re talking about how not to start a charity, and I wrote about this in the book. And people are like, “Do you really want to tell people that Charity: Water started in a drug den?” I’m like, “Well, it was true!”
So, we had to get out of there, and we couldn’t afford an office, and then, finally, I remember praying for some sort of miracle and, wouldn’t you know, somebody sends me an e-mail and says, “There’s this space you could sub-let.” It was a couple of blocks from where we were, and it was a greasy printing press.
And we walked in, I remember my feet were sticking on the floors, it would of make the sticking sound, from the grease. And so, I’m like, “It’s perfect!” because it’s not the couch, and it’s not a place where people are having late night parties.
So we worked there, we outgrew that, and then I meet this landlord and he takes me into this beautiful space in Soho. It’s completely unfinished, it was maybe 6,000ft2 and he says, “How much do you think you can pay for this space?” And it should have been twenty-five a month.
Lewis Howes: $25,000 a month, yeah.
Scott Harrison: Uh-huh, and I said, “I think I can pay $5,000 a month.” And he says, “Sure!” and then he said, “Well, it’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build this space out. Do you have a budget?” and I said, “No.” He said, “Okay, I’ll do it for you.”
Lewis Howes: Wow!
Scott Harrison: So, we wound up with $8 a square foot, in New York City.
Lewis Howes: What’s the normal rate?
Scott Harrison: Oh, $60? $70?
Lewis Howes: Wow!
Scott Harrison: And then he didn’t change our rent for five years. We outgrew that space. I since had taken him to Ethiopia, so I’m like, “This guy’s got to catch the vision, right? Because he’s been so generous.”
What’s even more amazing about it is, he didn’t take a tax deduction, right? So this was just pure giving. Because the IRS would say, “Well, how do we know you would have rented the space?” So he was just discounting.
So I take him to Ethiopia, he has an amazing trip, as we outgrow it, we go back on the market, because he said, “I’ve got nothing else for you. I’m at 99,9% occupancy, all my other buildings are full. So I go out into, like, $65 market! Imagine going from $8 to, like, $65, in bad neighbourhoods, I mean. And then they were all going to require build out. So this was so far from where we were.
Lewis Howes: Because you outgrew the space?
Scott Harrison: We just outgrew the space. So we wound up meeting the WeWork guys and they were going to give us a pretty good deal doing a build out in a new WeWork, and right before this happened, I was in Rwanda and I was on my Blackberry, and I’m like, “Before I sign the WeWork deal, I should just check with our landlord one more time.”
So, I e-mail him from the back of a Landrover in the Rulindo district of Rwanda, and he writes me back and he says, “Great timing! And entire floor opened up in my Tribeca building, you can have it.” So he gives it to us for less than half market.
So now, this is 23,000ft2 and it’s going to be a really big build out, like, 1,8 million bucks.
Lewis Howes: Eek! Is this the one I went to and visited?
Scott Harrison: No, this might be… We’ve been there a couple of years.
Lewis Howes: Okay.
Scott Harrison: No, I think this is the new one. Anyway, so he says, “Well, I’ll tell you what, I know you’re not going to want to pay 1,8 million, so why don’t I start bringing in the contractors and the plumbers, and you do your thing, you know, show them the photo’s of your work, let’s see if you can make them cry, and we’ll see if they’ll donate, too.”
So then there’s this parade of plumbers, you know, these guys have hands that are three times the size of mine! And I remember this one moment where I’ve got a bunch of misty eyed contractors, and I’m just selling the dream, you know. “Look, 100% of the money goes… The way that we built this organisation is by generosity from people just like you, who can donate your plumbing or donate your carpentry.”
The architect gave his entire fee back. Samsung gave us $50,000 of TV’s. WeWork gave us furniture from their warehouses, so we wound up getting 1,3 million donated.
Lewis Howes: No way!
Scott Harrison: So you walk into the office, now, and people say immediately, “Wow! This is nicer than Facebook’s office!” I mean, it’s gorgeous. We gave everyone a card that said, “Here are the thirty vendors who donated to make this space possible.”
Lewis Howes: That’s cool!
Scott Harrison: Because if someone walks in they’re just, “It’s too nice!” And that is, actually, another issue that I have. There is a poverty mentality, I think, with non-profits, and I don’t think it’s helpful. I mean, it is hard enough! We’re competing against Facebook and Google and Twitter and Square to hire talent.
Lewis Howes: High quality talent.
Scott Harrison: Right. And we have no equity, there’s no stock to give out. Our comp is a lot lower. There’s no masseuse at Charity: Water, there’s no two star mission chef!
Lewis Howes: Free food!
Scott Harrison: Like, you know, doing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So we at least need an awesome workspace.
Lewis Howes: An environment. If you’re going to be spending all your time…
Scott Harrison: It’s so important.
Lewis Howes: You need to have an abundance mentality, too. I mean, if you’re thinking, “We need to be raising a lot more, and I want to feel good when I’m reaching out to people. I want to feel good when I’m designing something, or editing a video. I want to feel good about the work, not feel crummy,” right?
Scott Harrison: That’s right! And we’re doing tours, so people are constantly coming through the office, and that’s a reflection of our excellence value. It’s all glass, there’s not a single, actually, the only private space in the office is the maternity room. But everybody can see everything and the office is built around our value, transparency.
So, it is a nice office, but it’s at a fraction of the cost.
Lewis Howes: That’s amazing! Do you think you would be able to raise as much money as you’ve raised, being in a different city?
Scott Harrison: No way. New York is so important to us. It’s important for two reasons: one, everybody stops by. I mean, people from Singapore are flying through New York, people from Sweden and Denmark, our donors there, are flying through New York. The connection to London, to the west coast, it’s just this place where everybody’s coming through.
And being downtown, it’s funny, so many people’s favourite hotels, are the hotels that are right near the office. The Greenwich, and the Crosby and so, it’s been really instrumental.
The other thing, for us, is our work is in 26 countries, so there is no better airport than JFK, outside of Europe, to fly. So, if we were flying out of a regional city, it would add so much extra time and money to our programs team.
We calculated it, one year. I think they’re flying to the moon and back, like, three times. This is the team of eighteen people who are monitoring Charity: Water’s partners, and auditing and so New York has been really important for us. Because it’s a long way to go to these places. It’s, like, two days to get to Ethiopia sometimes.
Lewis Howes: Imagine you were in the Midwest for the last twelve years, how much money do you think you would have raised in Oklahoma City?
Scott Harrison: Well, I don’t know.
Lewis Howes: Do you think you could have still had the impact?
Scott Harrison: I don’t know, I don’t know. I think it would have been more difficult. I think New York, L.A., San Francisco, I think some of these, you know, Austin, I think would be a good city to raise money.
But the great thing about New York is, you’ve got finance, you’ve got arts, you’ve got entertainment, and then you have everybody just constantly coming through. So, the office is just, there are 25 visitors a day, it feels like, just people coming through that have connected.
And we have people coming through who give ten bucks a month. They just turn up! They want to see it, like, “Is it real? I’ve been giving ten bucks a month, for two and a half years.”
Lewis Howes: Do they just come in?
Scott Harrison: We do have tours, we set up tours and we do a lot of tours for kids. Like, we’ll give kids a passport and they go to seven different stations within the office. They pump a well with a sensor, they put on virtual reality headsets, they go to Ethiopia, they watch movies, they answer questions and, at the end, they complete their passport, and it unlocks a $30 donation in their name.
Lewis Howes: Wow, that’s cool!
Scott Harrison: So, it’s really been important to us, I think, to be there.
Lewis Howes: Wow! That’s powerful!
Scott Harrison: You’ve got to come check out the new space, next time you’re there.
Lewis Howes: I’m going to be there in a few weeks, I’m going to hit you up. Can you tell the story of how you got into Charity: Water, in the first place?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, it wasn’t the most traditional path, it was by way of drinking, drugs, and nightlife.
Lewis Howes: A lot of clubbing?
Scott Harrison: A lot of clubbing. I had been raised in a conservative Christian family. I was born in Philadelphia, raised in New Jersey. When I was four, my mom becomes an invalid, because there was a carbon monoxide gas leak in our house. And, unbeknownst to us, we all start getting sick, because, effectively, we dying from these fumes that we couldn’t see, couldn’t smell.
This was before the carbon monoxide detector had been invented, so you couldn’t go buy them in blister packs at Home Depo. And my mom, on New Year’s Day, passes out unconscious on her bedroom floor, we rush her to the hospital and, after a long series of blood tests, find the massive amounts of carbon monoxide.
Dad rips the heater out, finds the default himself, in the heater, and mom, from this point, is never the same again. So, her immune system is irreparably compromised. She’s allergic to anything chemical at this point, she’s wearing masks and connected to oxygen. So, childhood was just weird.
Dad and I bounced back to normal health. We were only being exposed at night, when we were sleeping in the house, and she was exposed 24 hours. She was asphyxiated out.
So, childhood was church childhood, taking care of mom, not really feeling sorry for myself, but certainly wanting a more normal life. And then, at eighteen, dude, I just went berserk! Grew my hair down to my shoulders, joined a rock band, moved to New York City.
The band eventually, and very quickly broke up for drugs and just the fact that we hated each other. And then I became a club promoter, for ten years. And I spent the next decade working at forty different venues in New York City.
As we called it, we invented Models & Bottles. These high-end, fashion-week parties, where people would spend $20 on a Vodka soda, and we’d sell Champaign for $800 or $1,000, Champaign that cost us $50 to buy.
Lewis Howes: Crazy! Selling the lifestyle, selling the dream.
Scott Harrison: Yeah, the dream! The velvet rope, you know? “Your life has meaning if you get past the 500 people waiting outside, if you spend thousands of dollars on booze, if you go home with the pretty guy or the pretty girl, you’ve arrived.
I had picked up every vice that you would imagine might come with the territory. I had been smoking two packs of cigarettes for ten years, I had a gambling problem, I had a drinking problem, cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, I mean, pornography, strip clubs, everything short of heroin, pretty much.
And my life looked so glamorous on the outside, because I’d be jumping into black Mercedes with beautiful models doing fashion week in Milan or Paris, but I was this rotten human being on the inside, and I had this moment of catharsis at 28 years old.
I was in South America, on the perfect vacation, and just realised that I was broken. I was emotionally bankrupt, I was spiritually bankrupt, I had come so far, I had betrayed any shred of morality from my childhood, and my legacy, if I actually continued down this path, if I didn’t die, by the time I was thirty-five or forty, my legacy would be, perhaps, one of the most meaningless legacies on the planet.
My tombstone was going to read, “Here lies Scott Harrison, the nightclub promoter, who has gotten ten thousand people wasted.” You know? Who wants that on their tombstone?
Lewis Howes: No one.
Scott Harrison: I had a real change of heart and rediscovered faith in a much different way, I think, as an adult. I became so interested in the idea of virtue and purity and service to others, and one of selling of everything that I owned. I actually asked the question, “What would the exact 180° opposite of my life look like?”
And the only thing I could think was, “Quit everything, sell everything I own, an go serve the poor for a year. Take one year, almost as a tithe, or a tenth of the ten years that you’ve decadently and selfishly wasted, and go see where that leads me.”
So I do! I sell everything, I start applying to the famous humanitarian organisations that I’ve heard of, over the years. I probably put in ten or fifteen applications, and then I’m denied by all of them. No one will take me! Now, they’re like, “We’re serious humanitarians here. You’re some club rat, drunk.” How would I, in any way, be useful to them?
So, I’m turned down by Save the Children, but I think even the Peace Corps turned me down, bro!
Lewis Howes: Everyone! They wouldn’t take your free labour, yeah!
Scott Harrison: So, finally, one organisation writes me back, and says, “Scott, if you’re willing to go live in post-war Liberia, and if you’re willing to pay us $500 a month, you can volunteer.” I’m like, “This is great!” I mean, what’s more opposite that paying to go to the poorest country in the world?
At the time, Liberia had just come out of a fourteen-year civil war. So I was all in. I gave my credit card details, and weeks later, I sailed in on a giant hospital ship, a 522ft converted ocean liner that they had turned into a 42-bed hospital, with state-of-the-art operating theatres.
And we sailed in with doctors and surgeons, to West Africa, to help people who had not access to medical care. Nobody believes this, but I actually thought Africa was a country, not made of, like, fifty four [countries]. I mean, I couldn’t be more ignorant about the developing world and when I saw extreme poverty for the first time in my life, it really broke my heart.
I mean, I was in a country with no electricity, no running water, no sewage. I was watching children, with 4lb tumours, suffocate to death, on their face. I was seeing sixty-year-old women who had cleft lips and cleft palates and foot and water was spilling out of their mouth, because they didn’t have access to a $200 surgery.
People who were blind with cataracts, who needed $150, simple procedure to give them their sight back. So I spent two years volunteering, and one of the cool things was, I was immediately able to redeem the decade of nightlife, because I took my list with me.
So I rolled into West Africa on this humanitarian gig, with 15,000 emails of some pretty influential people in New York. And open rates, back then, were almost 100%, so everybody just got your e-mails.
And I turned on a dime, and they went from getting e-mails from me about the Prada store opening in Soho, New York, to pictures of leprosy, and pictures of extreme suffering. And I realised that the stories and the images actually had the ability to move people to action, to greater compassion and empathy.
People would write me back and say, “I’m sitting here at my desk at Chanel, in bright lights, tears are streaming down my face, and I had no idea that this kind of suffering existed! How do I give money? How do I help?”
So, that was a two-year journey, and among all of the things that I’d seen, the one thing that just didn’t sit right with me, the one thing that wasn’t okay on my watch, was the fact that people were drinking dirty water. And I learned that 50% of Liberia was drinking from swamps and from ponds and from rivers.
And I learned that the health implications of this, many times our doctors would turn up and their would be more sick people that we could help. And we turned thousands away. Imagine, like, the feeding the 5,000 or something, right? Like, we’d be like, “We only have a little bit of food, so you guys all have to go.”
That was what it felt like, just constantly turning people away. I learned that so many of these people were sick because of the water that they had to drink. So I found my issue, came back at thirty.
Lewis Howes: The root was what?
Scott Harrison: The root cause of so much sickness and, in fact, 52% of all sickness throughout the developing world, is because of bad water and a lack of sanitation. It’s water and toilets. Half of the sick people could be made well, in all of these countries, where people are suffering, if they just had the most basic need.
So, the problem at the time was 1,1 billion.
Lewis Howes: People who didn’t have clean water.
Scott Harrison: One out of six was. I found some of our early artwork, and we would have six humans, and one of them we would fill up with dirty water, and the other five figures would have clean water. It was such a staggering problem.
But I’m like, “I’m going to solve this in my lifetime! I’m going to come back and work to make sure that a billion people get access to clean water, and that we see a day on Earth when everyone has clean water.
I think the contrast, for me, around water was so stark, because I vividly remember, in our clubs, we would sell Avast water, you know those tall bottles of water?
Lewis Howes: For, like, twelve bucks.
Scott Harrison: Yeah. Ten, fifteen bucks, and people would come into the club, and they would order bottles and not even open them. They would, like, order $250 of water. It would just sit there. They’d drink Champaign or vodka.
So, like, we live in a $12-a-bottle world, and a billion humans, simply because of where they’re born, are drinking from swamps and risking their lives, and children are dying of diarrhoea. Where our kids get Pedialyte, it’s just so foreign to us that children would be dying of diarrhoea, in their mother’s arms.
So when I saw this, I just wanted to do something about it. So that was kind of the big idea. The mission was going to be clean water for everyone in my lifetime.
Lewis Howes: Wow! A billion people!
Scott Harrison: A billion at the time.
Lewis Howes: What’s it at now?
Scott Harrison: 663.
Lewis Howes: 663 Million people don’t have clean water?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, one in ten. So we’ve made a lot of progress.
Lewis Howes: You’re getting there.
Scott Harrison: Not just me, I mean, gosh, there’s so many people.
Lewis Howes: You’re getting there. There’s a lot of organisation going into that.
Scott Harrison: So many people are working on this, and there’s actually been more awareness. Twelve years ago, when I started, people would look at me like I have seventeen heads, when I would tell them about the water crisis. America’s always had 100% water coverage, for as long as they can remember.
And I think this issue has become more important to people, and you have issues like Flint, Michigan, and it’s a little more top of mind, now, “Oh, wow. Maybe everyone’s water isn’t clean all the time. Maybe this isn’t something that we should just take for granted.”
So, a lot of progress has been made, but still, one in ten! Too many!
Lewis Howes: It’s a lot. But it’s been how many years now, twelve years?
Scott Harrison: Twelve years.
Lewis Howes: 300 Million, is that what is was, 400 million almost?
Scott Harrison: I think 500.
Lewis Howes: 500 Million, so six hundred and something…
Scott Harrison: Yeah, right.
Lewis Howes: Wow! I mean, a billion people was the original vision, right?
Scott Harrison: It’s just everybody. Like, just make sure that no one on earth is drinking dirty water.
Lewis Howes: There’s billion, 1,1 billion people. What do you say to people when you said, “I want to impact one billion people’s lives.”?
Scott Harrison: Well, you got to start somewhere! So, we started with our first well, really, you start with you first water pipes.
Lewis Howes: “Let’s do one well.”
Scott Harrison: “Let’s do one well.”
Lewis Howes: Start small.
Scott Harrison: That’s right.
Lewis Howes: How much does a well cost to fund or whatever?
Scott Harrison: Ten grand.
Lewis Howes: Ten grand to fully develop a well, build a well?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, to get it into the community. And now it’s thirteen different technologies. So now it’s wells and springs and rainwater systems and gravity systems and solar systems. Wells are still a big part of what we do, and drilling wells. When there is groundwater, it’s an amazing solution.
But yeah, it started with a party and, “Let’s do one.” Actually, at a party in a night club, for my birthday, that was day one of Charity: Water. My 31st birthday I got 3,700 people to come out, because I lured them with a bar, and then I said, “On your way in, though, you have to donate $20 in this.”
I remember there was a plexi bucket there, and people would just walk in and drop 20 bucks in, and we raised the $15,000 and we took it to Uganda, and then we sent the photo and the GPS of where that money had gone, to all the people that came to the party. And we said, “You did this! People are drinking clean water in a refugee camp in Uganda, because you came to a party and gave 20 bucks, and here’s where 100% of that money went.”
And we had this proof of concept within hours. The e-mails coming back, “This is amazing! I never expected to hear from a charity! Charities normally take money and just ask for more money. How can we do this again? How do we do more?”
And twelve years later, it’s now 29,000 water projects. So the ‘one’ is now 29,000. From 8,5 million people from that first village. And it’s funny, I just got to go see the first well, recently.
Lewis Howes: That you built?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, in Uganda, for my birthday, I saw it my 31st birthday. I just turned 43 on Friday, so it’s twelve years old, it was still pumping water. So, over a decade later.
Lewis Howes: People are still using it?
Scott Harrison: Dude, it’s ugly! It was all banged up, it was gnarly, they the metal was all sheared.
Lewis Howes: Are people using it still?
Scott Harrison: They are! And what’s cool is, the refugee camp, that had 31,638 people at the time, is now down to 500/600 people. And they’re still using that well.
Lewis Howes: Amazing!
Scott Harrison: So, they’ve been resettled, but there’s still a group there around it, and our water program guy that was with me said, “You know, we think that well has been pumped 50 million times, that handle has been up and down.”
So that was really cool! That was a really special moment, I wrote about that in the book. Just being able to go back and see it.
Lewis Howes: And you talk about it in the book, your first section is about getting pure. Because you said you wanted to become pure, purified of everything that you’ve done for the last 25 years of your life. What does that mean, to be pure, though?
And I love how it’s like, pure water, pure life, but what does it mean?
Scott Harrison: Yeah. I’m pretty extreme, so I had to just quit it. I had to never smoke again and never touch [cocaine] or any of that again, and never gamble again. I had to have the off switch for all of that.
There was something, it was funny; I remember going out with a bang! Like, before I got on the ship, and before I surrendered my passport, and became a part of the mission, the night before I had, like, eight beers, smoked three packs of cigarettes.
I knew that I had to walk away from it. And there was something almost prophetic, or symbolic, about walking up a gangway of a ship. Imagining the gangway being pulled up and then sailing away to my new life, and leaving all of the c**p, all of the detritus, on the shore.
Lewis Howes: In New York City?
Scott Harrison: No, I actually met the chef in Tenerife, which was an island off the coast of Africa, and then sailed in to West Africa.
Lewis Howes: But it’s something about a ceremony like that, that allows you to leave one part of your life behind and move forward.
Scott Harrison: Yeah! And there were times, believe me, where it was easy to slip back into some of those bad habits, and I always felt like there would be grace and there would be forgiveness, but why mess it up? Why stop the roll?
The new story of my life was so much more joyful. I mean, I was a slave to myself, I was a slave to the pursuit of money, the pursuit of girls, the pursuit of status, and I just realised, this is a never ending pursuit of more, that doesn’t end well, it ends in a bad way, because someone always has a better car, someone always has a better watch, someone always has more money or the plane. It truly never ends.
Lewis Howes: The comparison game is a bad game to play.
Scott Harrison: So, now the work is in how do we help as many people as possible, that’s also a never ending work.
Lewis Howes: 1,1 Billion people is a lot of people.
Scott Harrison: It’s a lot of people, and I think my favourite quote these days, that I’ve been ending some of my talks on stage with is, I found it from an old Rabbinic text, and someone had sent me a picture of this passing a deli in New York. And it says, “Do not be afraid of work that has no end.”
Don’t be afraid of work that has no end. And in the context of our work, our work is to end the needless suffering of people, right now, with water. It’s to serve people, it’s to build a movement of generosity and compassion and love and giving. That never ends.
When we solve the water crisis, when we actually see a day when no human is drinking dirty water, we’re not going to just drop our mic and go become millionaires, right? We’re going to then take our community, which might be a hundred million people, at that time, we’re going to take everything we’ve learned, and focus on another issue.
Maybe it’s the fact that nobody should go to bed hungry. Maybe it’s the fact that nobody should go to bed without shelter, without a roof. Maybe it’s education, the fact that everybody should have access to an education.
So, it’s really a never ending pursuit, but if the pursuit is not in selfishness, if the pursuit is a pursuit of the benefit of others, it feels different. You can find a real joy and a release in that.
Lewis Howes: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the last twelve years, giving your life to service, and being on this mission to end suffering with the water crisis?
Scott Harrison: It’s been, a lot of people feel like it’s a big sacrifice. “Bro, I know you got offered that big job at Facebook. Do you ever think you should have taken it?” Like, “Bro, you’re driving a Kia Sorento. You can’t pay for piano lessons for your kid.” There’s this empathy that a lot of people will have, because I haven’t tried to get rich. I haven’t gone after the money and they feel like sometimes I’ve made this big sacrifice.
And I haven’t made the sacrifice at all! Think about it. Today we will raise enough money to get 3,800 humans clean water for the first time.
Lewis Howes: Just today?
Scott Harrison: Today. And then we’ll do it again tomorrow and then we’ll do it again the next day. So were filling stadiums about every four to five days. So, from Monday to Friday, Madison Square Garden, we’ve just filled with people that are getting clean water for the first time and then emptying it out. And then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we just did it again.
That’s an amazing thing to be able to do! One person every fifteen seconds? As we sit here? Not because of me, because of the community. Because of a million people around the world who have jointed Charity: Water, who have rejected the apathy that would be so easy to embrace with a paralysing global issue like this and said, “I can do something. I can donate my birthday, I can give $30 a month. I can build one well. Our family can give up holiday gifts.”
I mean, we have kids doing lemonade stands, all over the country. I love the lemonade stands! There was a little girl in Vancouver, Lewis, she came across one of our videos online, was so offended by the fact that people are drinking dirty water, that kids don’t have clean water to drink. So she does twelve lemonade stands.
One of them in the rain, just undeterred, and at her last lemonade stand she convinces a local band to perform on the sidewalk, next to the lemonade stand.
Lewis Howes: To attract an audience.
Scott Harrison: To attract an audience. She sells $5,600 of lemonade, builds half a well. So these stories keep us going. There was a little girl named Norah who was six, again, saw one of our videos and goes up to her room that night, and she says, “Should I give or should I not give? Should I keep my allowance? Should I give my allowance.”
And it’s this internal debate. She comes down the next morning and she drops $8 and 15c on the kitchen counter and draws a picture of herself next to a well in Africa with clean water coming out. And [she] writes us a note and says, “Dear Charity: Water, my name is Norah, here’s my $8,15c. I don’t want kids to die of dirty water.”
So this arrives in the mail, and we were so inspired, we actually sent a camera crew down, interviewed this astonishing little girl and on World Water Day we asked everyone we knew to give $8,15c, and raised, like, 80 grand in her honour. To build eight wells. So, it’s an amazing thing to be able to do.
Lewis Howes: Did she go to Africa?
Scott Harrison: She hasn’t yet, but we should totally take her when she’s a little older, to see where that goes. And the way that I would love for billions and billions of dollars to flow through my hands, you know, our hands, I mean the way of keeping score is money for others, not money for ourselves.
My greatest ambition, really, about money, is to actually to write a million dollar check, personally, to a charity someday. Because someone did it for me, at a really, really important time, and it changed the game for us.
It was way to much money. Right? Normally what happens with charities is, there is an amount that people are giving. This is a charity that people are giving ten grand to, or this is a charity that people give a hundred dollars to. Well, this person came in when we were a charity that people gave ten grand to, and they gave us a million dollars. On the overhead side.
Lewis Howes: What was the biggest donation before that? Fifty, maybe? Or something like that?
Scott Harrison: Maybe, yeah, something like that.
Lewis Howes: Then they give a million. It’s almost too overwhelming.
Scott Harrison: It was a year. It was a year of capital. I tell the story in the book, so I won’t ruin the drama, but it was at a moment of desperation, and this saved the organisation from insolvency, basically.
Lewis Howes: You needed a payment in the next couple of weeks probably…
Scott Harrison: We were unable to pay our staff, but we had $881,000 in the bank we couldn’t touch. And we were unwilling to compromise by either borrowing against it or borrowing one penny. So I was going to shut the organisation down, and say Charity: Water didn’t work.
Lewis Howes: Oh, man!
Scott Harrison: This is $320 million ago, or this is $318 million ago, I mean, this is…
Lewis Howes: This is year one? Year two?
Scott Harrison: This is a year and a half in. We had raised a couple of million dollars for water projects, couldn’t keep the lights on on the overhead account, just couldn’t tell our story, and I had been praying, if I’m honest, with very little faith, with no faith that anything would happen, for a miracle.
I’d be, like, “God, I need a miracle, like, would the sky part, something needs to happen here.” And a complete stranger walked in off the street, sat with me for two hours and said, “Cool, I’ll give you a million dollars into the overhead account.”
Lewis Howes: Crazy! And you’re like, “There’s the miracle!” Wow!
Scott Harrison: So, I want to do that for somebody, at some point. So the ambition is not a house in the Hamptons, or to drive a Mercedes, or anything like that. But I’d love to be able to actually give more generously.
Lewis Howes: But you’re not making a big enough salary to do that yet? Because you make a charity salary, right?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, and we’re benchmarked. I mean, for years the board has always tried to pay me more, because the benchmark in New York is higher than I’ve taken, and I’m like, “Yeah, but I’m just going to give more away.”
So, anyway, at some point it would be fun to… Maybe it’s a side hustle, the charity side hustle!
Lewis Howes: Of course. You talked about a story, you weren’t telling your story that well. How important is it for any business owner, or charity, to be able to tell a story really well? And what is the key principle of telling a great story?
Scott Harrison: Yeah. That’s a great question. I would say, if I had to pick one factor for our success, it would surprise people. A lot of people think it would be brand and design. Others would think it’s the 100% model, or transparency, or proof, or technology, or all this stuff.
It’s storytelling. We built a culture of storytellers. And people don’t respond to facts and statistics. You know if someone watching or listening to this, thinks of the number 663 million humans, it’s just a numbing nothing number. We can’t imagine 663 million units of anything, let alone people without clean water.
But if I tell a story of a thirteen-year-old girl who is walking eight hours every day with a clay pot of water on her back, and one day she slips and falls, and she breaks her pot and she spills her water, and instead of going back for more water, she hangs herself from a tree. And the village elders find a thirteen-year-old girl’s body swinging from a fragile tree, right?
That is a different resonance, right? And sorry, [that] was one of the 663 people. Where if I talk about all the statistics of the benefits of water, and 52% of disease, and water makes people healthier and wealthier, and one dollar invested in water sanitation yields $408, I could throw more data around water than people could even handle.
But if I tell a story of a woman named Helen Apio, in Northern Uganda, who, for the first time in her life, gets clean water close to her house, and doesn’t have to walk hours any more. And tells us that, for the first time in her life, she feels beautiful, because she has enough water to wash her face and her clothes and her body and keep clean.
We learned, after talking to her, that she’d been making sacrifices, and putting her children and her husband first. So, all the water she would walk and collect, she would use for them, because she thought it was more important to keep her kids clean and her husband clean, and their clothes clean. So she sacrificed her own sense of beauty and wellness.
We’re a culture of, just, we love telling stories. One of my favourites is, one of the things we also do is, we tell unlikely stories. So, for me, the stories have to always speak to the values. What are the values that you are trying to convey or to personify or to put out in the world?
So, I’ll give you an example. We crowd funded a drilling rig for a million dollars, six years ago. And about 10,000 people gave a hundred bucks, on average. And we called it, ‘Yellow Thunder’, we painted the thing Charity: Water yellow, we put a GPS tracker on this rig, and we gave it a twitter account.
And it started driving around Ethiopia, just drawing lines on a map. Four years later, I learned that our rig crashed, and it’s wheels-up somewhere. I mean, this is a huge, huge machine; the wheels are up in the air!
And our partner had crashed the rig, and it was going to take them about a month to fix it and then put it back in operation, so it wasn’t totalled. But they were kind of sheepish, so the world gets to me via the grapevine. It’s one of those things where, you know, you crash your dad’s car, you fix it first, and then you tell him you crashed the car?
Lewis Howes: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Scott Harrison: You’re like, “By the way, Dad, I crashed it, but I used my money and I did the right thing, so it’s okay.” But you don’t tell him when the car’s crashed.
So, anyway, I hear about this, and I’m like, “Story, story, story!” I try and send a camera crew to capture photo’s and videos of the crashed rig, and I am going to send the pictures and the video back to the 10,000 people that funded it and say, “We crashed your rig!”
That was going to be the headline: “We crashed your rig!” And I knew, and deeply believed that this would be one of he best pieces of communication to them. And, if I peel back a layer a little bit, what actually happened was, our partner was trying to reach some of the most remote villages. They were on roads they shouldn’t have been, but the story of that would speak to the value of tenacity in our partners.
Our local partners are not drilling wells by the highways, okay? They’re not just rolling on the paved roads, they’re trying to reach the most marginalised people, they are taking risks. And, you know what? They miscalculated that road.
And we’ve all been in accidents, right? We’ve all screwed up. So I think that just speaks to the vulnerability of the human condition. Anyway, they had fixed it by the time we made it happen, so I never got to send the e-mail.
But, sharing failures is something, I mean, I talk a lot about this in the book. There are stories of guns and lawsuits and failed drilling. There was a time when we raised money very publicly, for a well, and we just kept drilling dry holes. And we broadcast the story via satellite to all the people and said, like, “We blew your money. We didn’t get a result here. We left this community no better than we found it,” because it was just true!
It wasn’t good news, nobody wants to hear.
Lewis Howes: How do you spin a story that’s not good news?
Scott Harrison: Well, you don’t spin it. You just tell the story and say, “Hey, we’ll be back. We’re going to keep trying. If somebody was building a school, and ran into local pressures, you wouldn’t want him to lie to you. You’d want them to say, “Here’s it, it’s delayed,” or, “We went over budget,” or, “We hit a problem.”
So, I think, we’ve told hundreds and hundreds of stories over the last twelve years, and that’s one of the things that I think, you know, what is a good story? A story has to take you there, you have to feel it, you have to visualise the emotions of the moment.
What would it be like to be the head well driller, looking at a crashed rig? Is it shame? Is it terror? Is it, “Oh my gosh! I’m in trouble!”? All that stuff would just make that moment really rich. Are you arguing with the guy in the cab? Like, “I told you this road was not big enough for this rig!” and the other guy’s, “No, but we have to get to this village, because have you seen the water that they’re drinking?”
Lewis Howes: So tell that story. Yeah! You’ve had incredible success over the last decade, plus two years, what’s been the biggest challenge, once you kind of hit critical mass, and it started building this momentum and started getting all this tension, and Will Smith’s doing videos, and celebrities, and everybody who’s getting involved?
What’s been the biggest challenge since you kind of hit that growth spurt? Which is probably around year four, five, or six, it really started to kind of grow.
Scott Harrison: Yeah, I write about this in the book, but I burned out. I burned out in year nine.
Lewis Howes: Three years ago.
Scott Harrison: Three years ago.
Lewis Howes: Burned out, just like, doing the same thing?
Scott Harrison: I was ready to give the keys to somebody else.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, how do you stay inspired?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, well, what’s funny, Lewis, is that everybody was saying, they started warning me of burnout in year three. They’re like, “Nobody can work 80-hour weeks,” and, at the beginning, you know, I was single, we were all. It was a start-up, you fight for your life.
I’m not advocating 80-hour weeks. I mean, I probably work 50, now, and I’ve got young kids, and it’s a very, very different flow. But in the beginning it was all seven days a week, you’re working all the time, you’re birthing this thing, you’re fighting for oxygen. I was just flying around like a maniac. I mean, it’s 96 flights in coach.
Lewis Howes: In coach, yeah!
Scott Harrison: Dude, we’ve never bought a business class ticket in twelve years, for myself or any other executive. We have never used donor money, and you could argue…
Lewis Howes: What if a company wants to fly you out to speak?
Scott Harrison: Oh, Google’s flying me to London this week. Absolutely, I’ll take it! And I’ll take the free upgrades from Delta, but a lot of it was just really brutal. I mean, doing fourteen hour flights to Ethiopia, and then internal flights.
So, I was going really hard, people started to worry about me, and I’m like, “Still here!” Year five, year six, “Haven’t burned out!” Year seven, “Haven’t burned out!” And what happened is, we had eight years of consecutive growth. So the line was just up and to the right.
Lewis Howes: So it’s exciting!
Scott Harrison: Yeah, like, “Two, six, nine!” and, “Thirteen, twenty-six, thirty-three, thirty-five, forty-five!” It was just growth like crazy! And what was cool was, at this time of growth, charitable giving was negative. So, giving, in America, was actually declining.
I remember there was a three-year period where we were up 490% and giving was negative 8%. Negative 8! So we were, like, “We’re crushing it!” The value of the 100% model is working, transparency is working, charity in a digital age.
I mean, we were the first charity to get a million Twitter followers, and the first charity to use Instagram. It felt really good. We were getting people clean water, we had a year when we got 1 million people clean water in a single year, and it just felt awesome!
Our ninth year, we have our first down year.
Lewis Howes: By how much?
Scott Harrison: 25%
Lewis Howes: So you were at?
Scott Harrison: We were, like, 45 to 36.
Lewis Howes: 36 million in donations.
Scott Harrison: And what happened was, in our $45 million dollar year, there were two huge gifts. One for 5 million from a company and one for 3 million, on the water side. For stock market and business reasons, both of them paused the second year.
Interestingly, both of them have been back for a million since, but we had a year where it was, “Okay, you know, our stock, our company…” The one donor’s stock was down 40% or something, and they just said, “We love you. We’re going to pause.”
So, we couldn’t replace those.
Lewis Howes: That, 8 million.
Scott Harrison: That 8 million. And then we basically ended there, down 8,5 or so. So I’m like, “I have failed.” We gave 800,00 people clean water that year. So imaging going from all you know is growth, and growth is not money for me; it’s not the bigger house, it’s not the nice third car or the vacation; growth means human beings are not dying.
So, growth is always good when there are other people on the line. So I actually felt like I had let down 200,000 people, personally. As the leader. I start calling my board and said, “Time for a CEO. Time for a professional CEO. I’ll stay with the organisation, I’ll fundraise, I’ll speak, but let’s find a real leader, who can take this to the next level.”
And it’s funny, because I tried to do this in cue format. So many unwise things I’ve done over the years, but, I try and do this in cue form, the down year. It was like, okay, I saw the writing on the wall, there was nothing we could do to save this.
And my team was, like, “Bro, you’re not starting a CEO search in November! In the fundraising season? Why don’t you take a month off, you’ve had no sabbatical or anything like that. Take January off, go with your family out to California and just see how you feel about everything. And just pause. And if you come back, we’ll go through a process.”
So I take the month off. A donor gives us this house on Shasta Lake, outside of Redding, and it’s this beautiful house, up on a cliff, it’s like a retreat centre. Maybe eight bedrooms, and you’re looking down at this extraordinary lake and mountains and pine trees.
So I go out with my wife, and my [son], he would have been almost two, at the time, my first son, and we roll in to the beginning of January. And it’s not raining, it’s hailing!
Lewis Howes: Like ice balls just coming down, yeah!
Scott Harrison: So, that month, for my sabbatical at the house on the cliff, it gets more rain that it did in 25 years, and it’s here in California. The house starts leaking. So we’re in this gorgeous house, and we’ve got buckets everywhere, it’s hailing, the pool is just, all the umbrellas are down, getting blown off the mountain. It was like a symbol of my life.
We find out we’re pregnant with our second, on day two. My wife goes into full grumpy mode, because at least we were going to be drinking good wine in this cabin, if have to winter, you know? So she’s like, “Well, now I can’t drink for a month,” and the two-year-old is running around, breaking stuff in the house.
So it was this awful time!
Lewis Howes: And it was supposed to be relaxed and enjoy it, but even more stress.
Scott Harrison: And I had a lot of time to think and I was going to church, I was praying, I was trying to kind of meditate on what would be next.
Lewis Howes: You called Rob Bell up for advice.
Scott Harrison: Absolutely, I called my dad, and we were talking about business. He’d just been a middle class business guy for thirty years, worked at the same company for 25 or so. And he’s like, “Scott, not everything goes up and to the right. I hate to break this to you, but not all growth curves are up and to the right forever.”
And he said, “Did you compromise your values in any way last year?”
“Did you do anything your weren’t proud of ?”
I said, “Well, Dad, actually, outside of the revenue, in so many ways, it was the very best year. We innovated in sustainability, and we put sensors on our wells, and we had the best employee retention, and all of these other metrics. It was great, except the top line fundraising, and the people with water.”
Long story short, I basically said, “It’s year ten. I can’t quit in year ten. I’ve got to come and finish out the decade. And rather than whining about it, why don’t I actually try and solve the problem? What’s the problem? The frigging problem is, the Charity: Water starts over at zero every January 1.”
So, great, we raise 45 million dollars, but the ticker starts at zero, you’ve got to go re-climb the 45 million dollar hill, and then grow. Which we didn’t do. And then I started looking at some of the other business models. Spotify doesn’t start at zero on January 1.
So I call Daniel Ek. It was like, “Hey, can you help me think through a subscription model?” Netflix doesn’t start at zero. Dropbox doesn’t start at zero. HBO doesn’t start at zero. New York Times Magazine doesn’t start at zero.
So, I just said, “Well, what if we could create a subscription program for pure good, where we get a bunch of people to commit, not just to the one time gift, not to the one time birthday. I mean, you have the perfect example. You did one very successful birthday campaign, right? And you’ve done them for other causes, but I have to keep finding new Lewises, right?
Lewis Howes: Right.
Scott Harrison: And then I have to find Lewis and a half next year. So we saw the birthday campaigns and the fundraising campaigns raised over 50 million dollars, but nobody repeated. It was, like, “I ticked that box.”
So I would have much rather had you give thirty bucks, like, from the time I met you.
Lewis Howes: Ten years ago, every month.
Scott Harrison: Exactly! So, we came back and I concepted this program called, ‘The Spring’. And I like the name. It’s the double entendre between clean water and the sense of new birth. And Spring is just a time that makes people smile.
And I said, “Let’s make a ten year anniversary video. Let’s run the greatest hits of the ten years. Let’s say, ‘Here’s what we’ve been able to do, the first quarter of a million, the first six and a half million people with clean water. And here’s our vision for the future. And our vision for the future, we need more than drive-by philanthropy. We need more than your one time gift. We really need to sign you up for a commitment to see the end of the water crisis.’”
So – you’ll appreciate this – I come to my team and I’m like, “Okay! I have an idea! We’re going to do a 20-minute internet video.” People are, like, “Dude! No one’s going to watch more than two minutes! Have you seen the data? People’s attention spans are less than bumble bees, or insects at this point.”
So, I’m like, “Well, we can’t tell our story in three minutes. We can’t take anyone on any emotional journey.” I think my first bid was a 30-minute video. So I wind up, for the first time ever, and [they] have made over a thousand videos in house, I wound up hiring Jason Russell, from Invisible Children, and his wife, to kind of consult on, how can we tell the ten year story?
Lewis Howes: A movie.
Scott Harrison: Yeah! Like a cinematic, a short film. And we wound up making this thing, it’s nineteen or twenty minutes. We put it out on the internet, and wouldn’t you know, I think 17% of people who watched the whole thing, joined The Spring and became subscribers.
Lewis Howes: That’s pretty big.
Scott Harrison: And it starts spreading, and we hit our goal – I think we wanted a thousand members – within a few weeks we get there, the thing starts growing.
Lewis Howes: Paying thirty bucks a month, right?
Scott Harrison: Well, it’s an average. So, $30 gives one person clean water. We had people giving a hundred a month, we had people giving 300 a month. We have college kids giving ten bucks a month. We have kids giving the ten of their allowance to their parents.
So it’s kind of anchored around if people can give $30 a month, with that, every month we can give someone clean water. So this thing starts to take off. The video now has ten million views.
Lewis Howes: Wow!
Scott Harrison: So, I’m like, “Okay, guys, it’s as long as it needs to be,” right? If the content is good, and now – we were talking about this before we started – now we’ve got 30,000 members in a hundred countries, giving, actually, an average of $30 a month.
Lewis Howes: 30,000 paid members. Huge!
Scott Harrison: Yeah, and now it’s coming up on a million dollars a month, now. So we’re not starting [at zero every year.] So, it’s still a small part of the whole.
Lewis Howes: That’s twelve million, that’s a fourth?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, it’s…
Lewis Howes: So it’s huge!
Scott Harrison: Yeah, it’s huge! And we have people writing these amazing stories. We have people in their nineties giving their pension. We have people cancelling HBO, cancelling other subscriptions, saying, “You know what? I’d rather have people get clean water. I’ll take ad based content instead of the ad free content and give that difference.”
So, it’s been amazing to see what The Spring has been doing. And then, what we’ve been doing is promising that 100% of those donations go to the field, we pay back the credit card fees, and then we’ve been sending stories of impact. We’ve been doing unique video content, and a locked video series, just for those Spring members.
So, they can see where their money’s going, they can see the people around the world who are being impacted. I’m super bullish on The Spring, and, you know, “What if we could get a million people, giving every single month?”
If a million people, around the world, were giving thirty bucks a month, we’d be getting a million people clean water a month, instead of a million and a half a year. So that’s really the vision, I think.
Lewis Howes: The goal.
Scott Harrison: So, that led to a 40% growth last year. So, imagine going to the down year that next year we rebounded, built The Spring, that was the eleventh year, it was 12% growth, because we only got Q4 of The Spring, because we launched it in September. Last year it was 40% growth, this year it was up 40% again.
Lewis Howes: Holy cow!
Scott Harrison: So, I Googled S-curves once, on the internet, and this is what happens to a lot of businesses. What takes you there, you have to re-innovate, and then that can get you to the next level.
So, we just realised what worked for the first ten years – the birthdays, the fundraising campaigns – it had also become commoditised. I mean, every other charity, bro, is asking for the birthday now. Heifer International wrote me an e-mail, asking whether I, Scott Harrison, would donate my birthday to Heifer.
I’m like, “I invented that, eleven years ago!” You know? Like, would I give my age in dollars or something? So that actually felt great, for the birthday idea, which I felt we’d shown could be really successful, to spread to the Pencils [of Promise] of the world, and the World Visions and the Save the Childrens and the Oxfams .
Everybody is doing that now. Facebook is now taking this across the entire platform, and it’s raising hundreds of millions of dollars for a lot of great causes.
Lewis Howes: What took you here won’t get you there, necessarily.
Scott Harrison: Yeah, so you won’t hear me talking about birthdays now.
Lewis Howes: It’s a good way of starting out.
Scott Harrison: It’s a good way of starting out, and some people will still actually come across that, and they’ll do it. But then, when they end their birthday, we want them to join The Spring so that we can build that long-term relationship with them.
Lewis Howes: Where can people go to join The Spring?
Scott Harrison: charitywater.org/spring.
Lewis Howes: And you can make any donation you want there.
Scott Harrison: Ten bucks a month, up to anything.
Lewis Howes: Up to anything, there you go!
Scott Harrison: Yeah, we started at ten just because of the fees and we wanted it to be enough
Lewis Howes: Charitywater.org/spring, go sign up. I’m signing up today.
Scott Harrison: Awesome! I’m a member as well, my wife’s a member.
Lewis Howes: We’ll all be members, go join today. This is powerful man, make sure you guys go get the book as well, it’s called, ‘Thirst’. This is 100% donated to Charity: Water as well, I believe, right?
Scott Harrison: Yeah, I’m not making a penny, gave it all away.
Lewis Howes: All the royalties, all the advances of this book. Go get a copy, you’ll learn some powerful stories about Charity: Water, about Scott’s life, and about, really, how you can take your vision to a whole other level and make a bigger impact in the world.
So make sure you guys take a look at this book and get a copy for a friend, as well, give it away as a gift, and, again, you’re just giving back to helping people with clean water. Go to The Spring, charitywater.org/spring, make sure you give a donation monthly, it’s going to be a powerful donation that you’re going to feel real good about.
Scott Harrison: You got to come with me! March, I want to take you to Ethiopia!
Lewis Howes: Let me know! Put me on the e-mail list man!
Scott Harrison: It’s the next trip!
Lewis Howes: Get me on the list! I want to come! I went to Ghana.
Scott Harrison: I think you actually have some birthday wells in Ethiopia. It’ll be cool to get you to see them five years later.
Lewis Howes: I’d love to, man! I’m in! A couple of questions left for you. One is called The Three Truths. So, imagine it’s your last day on Earth, many years from now, and you get to choose the day. You’ve done everything you want, you’ve ended the water crisis, everyone has clean water; you’ve supported other charities; you’ve given a million dollars to another charity; you’ve done it all, seen your kids do whatever they want to do, lived the life.
Scott Harrison: This sounds amazing!
Lewis Howes: It’s amazing! Right? You’ve lived the life!
Scott Harrison: Just speak it! I receive that, Lewis!
Lewis Howes: I see it! I already see it happening. And it’s the last day. But, for whatever reason, your book and all of your work, you’ve got to bring with you, you’ve got to take it with you, so it’s not available for anyone else. All the things you’ve said, speeches, they’ve got to go with you.
But you get to write down three things you know to be true about your life, the three lesson that you’ve learned, that this would be the only thing that people could really have access to, are these three truths, or your lessons.
Scott Harrison: And all of our minds are racing!
Lewis Howes: What would you say are your Three Truths?
Scott Harrison: My Three Truths. Faith has been a really important part in my life, personally. The organisation is not a religious organisation, never has been, but, for me, a huge part of my new story has been coming back to faith, to a life of prayer and virtue and believing that the greatest way I can serve God is by serving others.
So, I would say, for me, it was back to a Christian model, which led to a life of service, and really, that other than myself. So, faith was a big part, for me, and just encouraging people to explore that. I mean, I just rejected it, and I was the god of my life, and it just didn’t work.
Lewis Howes: Wow.
Scott Harrison: I think second, I would say, I think so much more important than what anyone does, is how they do it. So, I think, doing things with integrity, doing things with honour, being willing to make the hard decisions that allow you to sleep well at night. I would really hope to teach my kids that.
There were so many opportunities we had to cut corners, to take the easy way out and, I mean, I write about that in the book, and I’m really glad we didn’t. I think, of all the values, I think I put integrity above all else as a value.
So, I would say, a life of faith, a life of integrity, and then, just to find the radical, bleeding edge of giving. I believe the more you give, the more you give. And I want people to get caught up in the idea of giving their time, giving their talent, giving their money, and just wanting to do more.
And giving because it’s a blessing, and it’s a joy. Not out of shame, or debt or obligation. I hate the language ‘giving back’. It’s like, I take something from you, like, “Give it back!” Why don’t we just frame it in the positive? Not giving because we’ve finally done so well, we’ve pillaged and plundered to such a degree, it’s finally time to throw some scraps to the poor.
But giving out of abundance, giving out of our privilege. I mean, we didn’t choose to be born into a world where you and I have never had dirty water. I travelled Africa, I can afford to buy a water filter, I can afford to bring it.
So, how do we give, using our influence, using our privilege, using our gifts, to end the needless suffering around the world, and then how do we teach that to those around us? How do we instil that culture in our companies, in our families? So that the giving becomes contagious.
So I would say faith, integrity, and then radical generosity, radical giving.
Lewis Howes: That’s powerful! I want to acknowledge you for a moment, Scott, for your ability to recognise that a life of ego and service to only one human being was not the life to live, and to actually reflect, go on a journey, and create something that is impacting millions of people.
And hundreds of millions of people now, and hopefully a billion, point one, very soon. So I acknowledge you for your consistency. Twelve years in this is not easy. Two years in this is not easy. And the fact that you’re continually re-inspired, at least still, after twelve years, is really inspiring for me to see, because people can get burned out very easily after a couple of years of working hard.
So, your foundation, your sense of gratitude, your sense of family and faith, I think, is really powerful to see, because I’ve known that’s what is supporting you in continuing everything. So, I acknowledge you.
Scott Harrison: Thanks, friend!
Lewis Howes: Yeah, this is awesome! Make sure you guys get the book, sign up for The Spring, as well. And the final question is: What’s your definition of greatness?
Scott Harrison: A life lived in the service of others.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, it’s a good one. My man! Appreciate you very much!
Scott Harrison: Thanks, man!
Lewis Howes: Thanks, brother!
There you have it, my friends! Seven. Hundred. Episodes! Oh my goodness! I am so grateful, so humbled, and so appreciative of all of you listening right now and your support, over the last, almost, six years, but 700 episodes.
It’s amazing what you can create in your life, in your business, in your career, when you do something consistently, every single week, and you work to improve it every single week as well. And, again, I want to thank you guys for all that you do to help me get this message out to more people.
Without you listening, and without you texting a few of your friends, every time you listen, or posting it on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, this community would not be as large and expansive as it is. We would not be changing the world together.
And I love seeing the messages over on Instagram or on e-mail, of people telling me something specific about an individual episode that has transformed their life. So, if there has been a moment, that you have heard a podcast that has transformed your life, brought you healing, brought you peace, brought you freedom, brought your wealth, brought you relationship, gotten you in better health, then please let me know.
You can send me a direct message, you can e-mail us any time over on the contact page at lewishowes.com. We’d love to hear from you, as we always appreciate you for listening.
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Again, a big thank you to our sponsors, and a big thank you to you. As Edmund Mbiaca said, “No matter how disappointing you believe your life currently is, it is never too late to start reshaping it to become an amazing testimony.”
Right now, ask yourself, “Am I living a purposeful life? Am I doing something in my life, in my career, that brings me joy, and helps those around me?” Ask yourself the question. What could you be doing more of that would make yourself proud, looking back at your life. “That I did something more meaningful with my life.”
It doesn’t mean you have to change everything right now, but what’s one little change you could do, that would make a bigger change to the people around you? Think about that, and let me know.
As always, I love you so very much, and you know what time it is: It’s time to go out there and do something great!
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