THIRST by Scott Harrison
A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World
100% of the author’s net proceeds from THIRST will fund charity: water projects around the world
“If you’ve ever dreamed of changing careers or changing the world, read this book.”
—Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg L.P., former mayor of New York
“Thirst is a story about all of us. In sharing his own remarkable journey, Scott shows us how to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, how to find hope in despair, and how simple acts of generosity can transform everything from what we believe about ourselves to how we connect with each other.
In the end, Thirst is about what matters most. Love.”
—Brené Brown, Ph.D., author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Braving the Wilderness
Scott Harrison has helped to improve the lives of 8.5 million people—and yet his inspiring story begins with drugs, alcohol, gambling, debt and everything in between. In THIRST: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World (Currency, Hardcover, October 2, 2018, $27.00), Harrison shares his unbelievable journey and reveals how his fledgling operation grew into a world-renowned organization that has disrupted the traditional philanthropy model and inspired a new breed of social entrepreneur. It’s a riveting account of how to build a better charity, a better business, a better life—and a gritty tale that proves it’s never too late to make a change, no matter how dramatic your course correction.
Harrison is the founder and CEO of charity: water, a nonprofit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. The largest water-focused nonprofit in the United States, charity: water has funded nearly 30,000 water projects serving 8.5 million people in 26 countries. It has been name-checked by President Obama; garnered support from the founders of Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify; and Bill Gates has called charity: water an “innovative and transparent organization making a huge impact.” Harrison has been recognized on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list, Forbes’s Impact 30 list, and Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.
In the last 12 years, charity: water has galvanized more than 2 million social media followers and originated a social-fundraising website model that’s raised $300 million from over 1 million donors, channeling 100% of all public donations toward water project costs. And yet, as Harrison describes with great vulnerability in THIRST, his life—and company—easily could have gone a different way.
Harrison grew up in New Jersey, an only child in a conservative Christian family. When he was four, his mother suffered from an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning that damaged her immune system, forcing her to spend her days in isolation and her nights in a tinfoil-covered safe room. Harrison became his mother’s dutiful caretaker. But at 19, he completely rebelled, moved to New York City, and plunged headfirst into nightlife.
By 28, Harrison was a superstar promoter at high-end New York City nightclubs, partying with models, celebrities, and fashionistas who thought nothing of spending $1,000 on a single bottle of Champagne. He went from naïve suburban kid to king of the night. But after a decade of indulging his darkest vices—smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, porn, strip clubs, you name it—Harrison was spiritually, emotionally, and morally bankrupt.
“You don’t just leave nightlife and become a successful doctor or lawyer or banker. I felt trapped,” Harrison writes in THIRST. “So every night, I’d snort another line of cocaine and pass the rolled-up bill to another pretty girl and think to myself, This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be. This is not how I thought my life would turn out.”
After a dangerous run-in with a gun-toting bouncer, Harrison gave up nightlife and vowed to make a 180-degree turn, spending a year in service to others. At first, he was turned down by every charity he applied to. But then he got a surprise call from Mercy Ships, a floating hospital clinic, which sent him on a photojournalist assignment in West Africa. The experience changed his life, and ultimately, the lives of millions of others.
During his two Mercy Ships tours, Harrison came to discover the global dirty-water crisis. At the time, over 1 billion people lacked access to clean water and were forced to drink from rivers, swamps, and mud puddles filled with parasites and bacteria. The result: half a million deaths a year from cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and other diseases; 4,500 children dying daily; and severely diminished quality of life for the women and girls who spent hours every day walking to collect filthy water.
In 2006, Harrison launched charity: water the best way he knew how—he threw a party in New York City. It was his 31st birthday, but instead of gifts, he asked friends to give a $20 donation at the door. With the help of celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and Joaquin Phoenix, they raised $15,000 in one night and funded charity: water’s first projects, six desperately needed wells at a refugee camp in Uganda.
In THIRST, Harrison recounts the twists and turns that built charity: water into one of the most admired nonprofits in the world. Knowing that one in three Americans say they have no confidence in charities, Harrison vowed to earn back the public’s trust by hewing to a 100% model—meaning every single dollar from the public goes toward building water projects in the field. The 100% model almost tanked his fledging charity. But with Harrison leading the charge, and through charity: water’s dedication to “action, not words,” its bold transparency in showing donors exactly where and how their money is spent, and its imaginative branding and storytelling, they have disrupted how social entrepreneurs work, inspired millions of people everywhere to give selflessly, and helped reestablish the public’s trust in charity.
THIRST is full of riveting stories, fascinating characters, and uplifting messages, including:
- Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to rise up: After 10 years as a hedonistic club promoter, Harrison prayed for a way out. His angel turned out to be a bouncer with a gun. Renting a cobalt-blue Mustang, Harrison leaves the city and travels up the Northeastern seaboard, and ultimately makes the decision to give a year of his life volunteering. One year turned into two.
- Discovering the water crisis—and finding purpose: The root of many of the ailments Harrison was seeing on the ship went unaddressed. Once he learned that more than half of all the diseases in the world are caused by dirty water—and that it killed more people every year than violence and war—providing clean water became Harrison’s mission.
- Getting pure: Growing up, Harrison grumbled about having to don scrubs and wash himself clean to be sterile and not aggravate his mother’s illness. Yet years later, Harrison would thoughtfully follow the same ritual in order to join patients in the ship’s O.R.
- A women’s crisis: Water empowers women and girls, many of whom must spend hours every day walking for water. When a community gets clean water, women and girls get their lives back. They go to school, start businesses, improve their homes, and take charge of their own futures.
- You can’t help everyone, but you can try: On the third day of his trip, Scott realized the ship had 1,500 surgery spots, but there were 7,000 patients in line, some of whom had walked a month to get there. After witnessing so much suffering, Scott vows to say, “Yes,” to anyone who needs his help.
- Letikiros Hailu: A spilled pot of water leads to the tragic suicide of a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl. Her story reminds Scott—and will remind the reader—that the water crisis is grave and urgent.
- Gary Parker, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Mercy Ships: Scott’s charismatic mentor is a skilled doctor who volunteered on the ship for a short time—over 30 years ago. Dr. Gary married a shipmate and raised two children onboard, never turning his back on the needy.
- Rachel Beckwith: When a nine-year-old girl inspires a movement of generosity among strangers around the world, it fills Scott with hope through his darkest times and keeps charity: water on the right path.
- Reinvent giving to disrupt philanthropy: From the start, Scott runs charity: water like a start-up, insisting on the use of positive story-telling, beautiful branding, and innovative technology to prove and monitor the success of water projects around the world—all so that donors can see exactly where and how their money is used, connecting them to their impact on a human scale.
- Scott’s new drug of choice: authenticity: Americans are known for being generous, yet one in three say they have no confidence in charities and no idea where their donations go. Harrison believes that innovation, inspiration, and radical transparency are key to earning donors’ trust.
- Lessons in radical transparency: In his obsession for authenticity, Scott pushes his staff—sometimes kicking and screaming—to live-stream a failed drill in the Central African Republic, create sensors that can monitor broken water projects, and share all the dirty details with donors when things go wrong.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SCOTT HARRISON is the founder and CEO of charity: water, a non-profit that has mobilized over one million donors around the world to fund nearly 30,000 water projects in 26 countries that will serve more than 8.5 million people. Harrison has been recognized on Fortune’s 40 under 40 list, Forbes’ Impact 30 list, and was ranked #10 in Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. He is currently a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.