When and how did you become a member of ASW?
Scott Harrison: I was invited by Dan Kinder in June 2006 – he was helping us fundraise for charity.
How do you use ASW and what’s your favorite site feature?
SH: I have used ASW to reconnect with people I knew in the club context, but haven’t seen for years. Some of them now support the projects.
You have said that you came to a point where you realized that in New York you were living “selfishly and thoughtlessly.” What brought about that realization for you?
SH: My life was a mess. I was spiritually and emotionally bankrupt, living arrogantly and recklessly. During a long vacation in South America, I realized I’d never have enough of the things I was chasing. I wanted to get off the ride and make my life exactly the opposite. I started exploring faith, did a 180 degree turn and committed to a year of humanitarian service in Africa.
How have your experiences in Africa changed your outlook on your own life?
SH: Three days after landing in West Africa, I took a picture of more than 5000 people standing in a parking lot. They came to see our doctors with unthinkable tumors and cleft lips. Some had parasites, some were totally blind with cataracts. I remember sobbing half the morning, not prepared to see people suffocating to death (www.mercyglobal.com).
Many of those stories ended happily, as lives were saved and faces changed because doctors had flown across the world to serve there. And needed to. In Liberia, there was one doctor for 50,000 people. I’d grown up in a country with one doctor per 181 of us.
I am grateful for the little things now. I wake up now and I’ve got food to eat, clean water to drink and a roof over my head.
Do you have any regrets? If so, what are they?
SH: You know, sometimes I wish I had started charity: 11 years ago instead of nine months ago. But the decade of nightlife promotion and event-planning came in handy. I had a lot of contacts that came in handy – people who are helping the projects now. It’s been great to involve my friends and former clients in the work.
What are the main objectives of your organization, charity: ?
SH: I wanted the organization to do three things: First, we’d tackle issues of extreme poverty affecting the billion people living on less than US$1 a day. We’d use photographs, video, and words to tell stories of the poor and not only educate people here at home, but build and grow this community of compassion. Then we would raise money by selling objects that gave 100 percent of their proceeds to the poor. To do this we'd go to our board and friends to cover the administrative costs, and give 100 percent of the sales away. We’d then use that money and send it to effective and efficient organizations doing exceptional work in developing nations. Thirdly, we’d get out there with cameras and GPS devices and prove the work done.
In the case of our first campaign, charity: water, the issue is the world’s 1.1 billion people without access to clean water. We started with photo exhibitions in the US and now in the UK, and sell a US$20 bottle of water. All the money raised goes to build wells and provide basic sanitation for communities desperately in need.
Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
SH:That when you do it, when you serve the poor, it just works. The inspiration has come with the frequent trips to Africa. When you actually buy a bag of rice for US$16 that feeds a family of four for a month or repair a roof that was leaking on a family of eight for US$20, there’s nothing like it)
You said that by taking photos you are able to give poverty a face. What difference do you feel that can make?
SH: It’s just awesome to see images change lives both here and in Africa. It’s happened many times in the past few years, people moved to compassion as they see the images – then actually leaving jobs to go serve; some, after understanding what can be done, giving significant amounts of money that changes thousands of lives.
I recently took a picture in Ethiopia of a six or seven-year-old boy, digging in a sandy riverbed with a gourd for brown water. It had just rained the day before and he was fortunate to not have to dig too far. The five-gallon oil can he had with him weighed 40 pounds full.
I’ve watched that picture touch both parents and children. Because that’s someone else’s child, simply born in a land without access to clean water.
And something can be done about it. We can give kids clean water, and give them a chance to go to school. True images really have the power to trigger change.
In which direction do you plan to take charity: water in the future?
SH: In 11 months we’ve raised more than $1 million. We’ve got 168 projects in development in six African nations. These wells will give more than 100,000 people clean water. That’s not a bad start, but it is only a start.
We’re currently looking to fund projects in 2008 that will serve people in India, Southeast Asia, Central and South America. One in six people in the planet don’t have safe water to drink. There’s a lot of work to be done.
And what now for you? What fills your days?
SH: Well, there are only three of us at the moment, so most weeks are 80-100 hour ones. We’re all doing about 30 jobs at the moment, but it’s an honor to do it.
Many people want to do their part for those in need, but don’t know the best way to go about it. What would your advice be to them?
SH: I normally say, just go. Just turn up in Liberia or Uganda or Rwanda. There are schools, orphanages and hospices that need your help. Just engage. I love seeing how that experience changes people. If you can’t go, you can give money. But give responsibly and demand accountability.
How can people support charity: water, in particular?
SH: You can sponsor a well and bring clean water into a village. It’s one of the greatest things you’d see. For $4,000 to $10,000 you can change more than 500 lives. And small amounts of money really matter, too. When used to build wells, $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years.
You can also give us your time and volunteer or use your connections to bring charity: water into your business, into your city.
Or you can back us. Help us fund our educational and awareness activities. You can contact us through www.charityis.org
SH: Toss up between NYC and Monrovia, Liberia
SH:Rwanda or Mustique
SH:Hotel Playa Sol, Cadaqués Spain.
SH:Le Grand Colbert, Paris
Museum or gallery?
SH: Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain
SH: Fellini’s 8 1/2
SH: Lately, anything that doesn’t have to do with water or development.
Cause? Which one and why?
SH: charity: water. Have you heard of it?
Historical figure? Why?
SH: Saul of Tarsus I think. Redemption story.
SH: Bar Marsella, Barcelona
SH: Belkin Photo Card Reader for Ipod
SH:The open air clothes market in Cotonou, Benin
Top 3 songs?
SH: Brian Eno – ‘Neroli’
Donny Hathaway – ‘Your Song’
Citizen Cope’s - ‘Karma Police’
—- Laura Jakobovits