Scott Harrison (@scottharrison) pivoted from hard-partying club promoter to life-saving charity founder. His first book, Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World, is out now.
What We Discuss with Scott Harrison:
- Discover how you can get your foot in the door of an industry and claw your way to the top through hustle and creativity.
- Explore how you can expand your thinking and your horizons while divining a sense of purpose if you’re feeling lost or are ready for a change.
- Uncover how creativity and storytelling are the keys to creating an emotional connection with your line of work, product, or business — whether you’re selling overpriced champagne to investment bankers in Manhattan or securing life-saving, clean water for kids in Africa.
- Find out how prodigal son Scott Harrison returned from the self-serving world of nightclub promotion to save lives at the head of an organization that ensures 100 percent of its donations provide clean water to the people who need it most.
- Learn how plain old Scott became Lord Scott Harrison for fun and free upgrades.
- And much more…
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We’re all good at something. But do we use our skills by bettering the world for those around us, or do we selfishly squander our gifts for the glory of personal gratification?
Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water and author of Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World, joins us to talk about how he turned around a vice-addled decade as a club promoter on a fast track to an early grave to become the founder of a charity that aims to provide clean water to 100 million people by 2020. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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More About This Show
In spite of growing up middle class in the United States with what most would consider to be a pretty wholesome set of values, Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World author and charity: water founder Scott Harrison hasn’t always been an example of selfless devotion toward making the world a better place.
Gas company negligence turned his mother from supermom to an invalid in need of constant high maintenance, and his parents did the Christian thing by turning the other cheek instead of suing for millions of dollars they almost certainly would have gotten. Scott just wanted a normal childhood, but he couldn’t get over his bitterness at how unfair the world seemed.
“I was that kid who barely went to high school,” says Scott. “I skipped the maximum amount of classes that I could. My parents actually didn’t know that I was going to graduate until the very last day. I was playing in a rock band, I was cutting school, I was playing pool…and then at 18, with the freedom to actually leave home, I was just done. I wanted to explore the dark side. I wanted to explore everything the church said you can’t do. If my parents were preaching light and virtue, I wanted to sow my oats. I wanted to explore sex, drugs, and rock and roll and see how that felt.”
A fateful introduction to the VIP New York City nightclub life by a friend who knew people in the industry ushered Scott full tilt into the hedonistic lifestyle he’d been craving.
“I just remember thinking, ‘I’m home!'” Scott says. “And that led to this pursuit of nightlife and I couldn’t believe there was a city of New York and there was this job of nightclub promoter where people would pay you lots of money to drink for free! All you had to do was get the right beautiful people inside the right venues.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how Scott and his entire family’s lives were endangered when he was a kid (and his mother’s health never fully recovered) by something 21st century technology has since made an easy fix; the heavy toll on Scott’s own health, sanity, and soul he paid by spending 10 years as a VIP club promoter; what renewed Scott’s earlier values and turned his life around; the skills learned from days of decadence that transferred to building a charity empire that ensures 100 percent of its donations provide clean water to the world’s thirstiest people, and much more.
THANKS, SCOTT HARRISON!
If you enjoyed this session with Scott Harrison, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Scott Harrison at Twitter!
Click here to let Jordan know about your number one takeaway from this episode!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World by Scott Harrison
- charity: water
- Scott Harrison at Instagram
- Scott Harrison at Facebook
- Scott Harrison at Twitter
- The Great Nightlife Venues That Came And Went in the Aughts by Scott Solish, Eater New York
- Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume: The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God’s Pursuit of Man by A.W. Tozer
- Mercy Ships
- The Surgery Ship
- Dr. Gary Parker by Lulu Morris, National Geographic
- The Spring Monthly Donation Program | charity: water
Transcript for Scott Harrison | How to Quench the World’s Thirst with Charity (Episode 106)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer, Jason DeFillippo. Today, we're talking with my friend, Scott Harrison. He is an amazing guy. He went from barely graduating high school, became one of the top promoters in New York City, making at least 200K a year in his early 20s, that's not what's amazing though. He wanted to debt while starting a charity and now runs one of the most well-known charities, helping millions of people in the world get clean water. This is a heck of a story. He's a heck of -- can you say entrepreneur for charity? I think he can.
[00:00:31] Today, we'll discover how you can get your foot in the door of an industry and claw your way to the top through hustle and creativity. We'll explore how we can expand our thinking, our horizons, and try to divine a sense of purpose if you're feeling lost or maybe you're ready for a change and we'll uncover how creativity and storytelling is the key to creating an emotional connection with your line of work, your product or business, whether you're selling overpriced champagne to investment bankers in Manhattan or giving lifesaving clean water to kids in Africa. Really a great story and a great story teller.
[00:01:03] And if you want to know how I managed to book all these great people and manage my relationships using systems and tiny habits, please check out our Six-Minute Networking Course. It is free, it's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And of course, we've got worksheets for today's episode. If you like what Scott has to say, you want to make sure you hammer down those practicals. Go ahead and go to the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast, and you can find the worksheets alongside the show notes right there. Now here's Scott Harrison.
[00:01:31] So first of all, I assume you've done a lot of these interviews and you've been flying around a lot. How did you become Lord Scott Harrison? Let's start with the most awkward detail in the book.
Scott Harrison: [00:01:41] Well, during my club times, one of my best friends that was working at a club with me, was British. And first of all, he taught me about 20 bad words, 20 swear words that I had just never heard before. But he then had this idea that to get free upgrades, one just needed to retitle themselves, which is as simple as calling up American or Delta or United and giving yourself a title. So Lord could work, Duke could work, Duchess could work. So I thought Lord was the most appropriate title. So I called up all the airlines and said, please change my frequent flyer information to Lord Scott Harrison, hoping that this would deliver me a mimosa in seat 56E. It rarely works.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:30] Yeah, I would imagine. They're like, “Oh, let's put this British royalty guy next to the bathroom. So he sees how the rest of us live for once.”
Scott Harrison: [00:02:39] Exactly. It was so pretentious and nauseating.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:43] Yeah. But hey, look for fun times. I remember running a credit card for a guy who, and at one of our events at Advanced Human Dynamics and he had changed his name to like Lord or Baron or something. And I thought, “Wow! How often does that do anything?” And he's like pretty much never. And as he said it with like this--
Scott Harrison: [00:02:59] At least he was honest.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:00] Yeah. And he said it with this almost like Southern accent. And I thought, well there's a reason for that. Going to you got to lean into it, man. You can't just do the title with no British accent. I think that might've been the key. You mentioned your club days and we'll get to that in a second because you were kind of one of the premier or the premier club promoter in New York City, which is obviously not what this interview is about. But you did have some overlap with what you learned there with Charity: Water. But I want to start earlier on with your childhood because it's sort of a strange path that you've taken, and I don't think we can get a complete picture without a little bit of your childhood in there. Tell us how you grew up and how that influenced what you're doing now.
Scott Harrison: [00:03:41] I think it starts at four. I was born into a middle class family in Philadelphia. Dad was a business guy, mom was a writer. And then when I was four years old, we moved into a new home. It was this gray drab house, it wasn't very attractive with the outside. A little four bedroom house on a cul de sac that was a good kindergarten down at the end of the block. But unknown to our family at the time, there was a huge problem in this house and the house had a carbon monoxide gas leak. Now this is almost 40 years ago, the detector that we all go to Home Depot now and buy in blister packs, they hadn't even been invented, and we had no idea. So we move into this house, we all start getting sick. My mom, my dad, myself. And on New Year's Day 1980, my mom walks across the bedroom and she collapses unconscious on the floor and you would take her to the hospital eventually and to doctors.
And after a long series of blood tests, they find these massive amounts of carbon monoxide in her bloodstream, and my dad actually had suspected the gas company. He did invited him out a couple times before just to check everything and the gas company said, “No, everything's fine.” So my dad with a plumber friend actually rips out the furnace and they find the leak. And my dad and I had only been sleeping in the house at night, so we got a little sick, but we bounced back and mom never bounce back. She didn't die from the exposure, but her immune system was irreparably destroyed from this point on. So she became unable to process or fight off any of the chemicals or everyday toxins that we're exposed to. So things like perfume would make her deathly ill, car fumes, fabric softener, soap, even the ink from books like that smell of new print would make a really sick.
[00:05:34] So at four years old, as a child, I watched my mom go from this healthy, vibrant, super mom, super wife journalists to complete invalid wearing charcoal masks, connected to oxygen tanks, and then eventually living in a safe room, a room that was covered in aluminum foil and washed with special soap and sleeping on an army cot that had been washed in baking soda more than 10 times. So childhood, Jordan, was just weird. I instantly was thrust into a caregiver role. So dad and I were helping to take care of mom. I was doing the cooking, I was doing the cleaning. I was just helping out around the house doing this stuff that a mom would do. And I was a little surprised later, learning this. But my parents, because of their deep and really authentic Christian faith and decided not to sue the gas company. We believe they could have gotten millions and millions of dollars, but they just didn't want to become bitter. This was after all an accident and I think they took a $1,250 settlement check and just hope for the best. So my childhood was really a virtuous childhood. I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. I wanted to help mom get well and other sick people like her. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink. I played piano in church on Sundays. I was as kind of a good kid.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:56] So you ended up taking care of your mom, of course. And it's strange that, well actually it's not strange that she was the only one who got sick, because she was probably working from home. You were at school all day and your dad was at the office
Scott Harrison: [00:07:10] And it was winter. So the house, it was an energy efficient home that was completely closed up in the dead of winter. So she was getting 24 hours of exposure and we were getting nine or 10, only at night.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:21] All right. And it sounds like you are a little bit of an angry child. I read the book Thirst, my wife did as well. We both loved it. And you kind of, I mean he acted out a little bit, right? I mean that's typical I guess, but it sounds like you had a little bit of extra.
Scott Harrison: [00:07:37] A little extra angst.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:38] Yeah. A little bit extra angst.
Scott Harrison: [00:07:40] Yeah. I mean, I think part of it was I wanted my family to be normal. I wanted my mom to be like the other moms and I felt like I missed out on things as a kid. And this rebellion really started around kind of the late teens and there was a dramatic shift in my life at the age of 18. You have to just understand through this period of time, I was that kid who barely went to high school. I skipped the maximum amount of classes that I could. My parents actually didn't know that I was going to graduate until the very last day. I was playing in a rock band, I was cutting school, I was playing pool. I started to kind of act out towards the end of high school, and then at 18, with the freedom to actually leave home, I was just done. I wanted to explore the dark side. I wanted to explore everything the church said you can't do. If my parents were preaching light and virtue, I wanted to sell my oats. I wanted to explore sex, drugs, and rock and roll and see how that felt.
[00:08:50] And someone took me to a club for the first time in New York City and it was a huge club. I remember there was a line outside, people packed around the velvet rope and the guy was with new people in the crowd parted in the doormen ushered us in. I remember going up to the top of this club. It was two levels and there was a slide that you would wait for and then you would hurl yourself down into this massive humanity with laser lights and loud music and scantily clad girls and guys, and I just remember thinking, I'm home. I mean, this is the opposite of my life. This is the thing to explore. And that led to this pursuit of night life, and I couldn't believe that there was a city, New York, and there was this job called the nightclub promoter where people would pay you lots of money to drink for free. People would actually pay us to drink in public, and all of our friends would drink for free. And the job, just all you had to do was get the right beautiful people inside the right venues. And if you did that, you could charge them extraordinary markup on alcohol. People would pay 20 dollars for a vodka soda. People would pay 800 bucks for a bottle of champagne that costs you 50 bucks. And over the next 10 years, I just climbed up the social ladder of New York, working at 40 different clubs and 10 years later, I found myself with most of the things that I thought I wanted. Most of the things that I had been pursuing that I thought would make me happy and I wasn't.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:34] Yeah, spoiler alert. So this must have made a really strong impression on you walking in, not waiting in line among the other perks, because most people who go to clubs a few times are like, “Yeah, I don't want to stand outside for two hours. It's cold. This is terrible. People are smoking. I don't want to be around this. It's too expensive.” You kind of had that pickups.
Scott Harrison: [00:10:56] VIP experience.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:55] Yeah.
Scott Harrison: [00:10:56] When you're in the VIP, it's all different. And I wanted to be the VIP club promoter.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:02] Right, yeah. You want it to be like high end and you got there because 10 years is a long time to go -- that's a long time. Do you ever look at that and go, “Okay, could have done that in three.” That's a long time.
Scott Harrison: [00:11:14] I wish I had done that in three, and you age more than 10 years in the club. So imagine throughout this whole time I've smoked two to three packs of Marlboro Reds every single day. I pick up an insane drinking problem. I pick up a cocaine problem, Ecstasy, MDMA, Special K , marijuana. I've got a pornography addiction. I've got a strip club problem. I've got a gambling problem. I remember once gambling on European soccer games that weren't even televised. I mean, I really descended into darkness and depravity, but my life from the outside, if you just saw me going to dinner at the hottest restaurant at 10 p.m, surrounded by beautiful women and business owners or people in fashion. If you saw us in the VIP at the clubs spraying champagne from the DJ booth, you'd think, “Wow! This guy is living the life.” I mean he's in the VIP.
[00:12:13] And so there were really these two things that my actual -- the condition of my soul, the condition of my heart was rotting inside. And I think that was even more pronounced because it was in such contrast to the spirituality and the morality that I've been brought up under. My parents had given me a foundation. They had taught me kindness and grace and love and virtue, and here I am polluting not only myself, Jordan, but actually polluting others for living. I mean, I make more money the more wasted people leave our club when the lights come on at 4.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:52] You had me at three packs of Marlboro Reds every day. That's just--
Scott Harrison: [00:12:56] Jordan, I kid you not, I liked smoking so much. I would wake up in the middle of the night and on my way to pee, I'd be so happy that I was awake so I could smoke one or two cigarettes in the bathroom. I mean I was a feat.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:11] That is just your body at that point is just not making anything of its own. It's all taking it in externally. All the field goods, chemicals.
Scott Harrison: [00:13:19] Yeah, well, I mean you certainly don't get high anymore. You don't feel anything when you smoke 60 cigarettes a day.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:25] Oh my gosh. Unbelievable. Well, you must have had a tough time shaking yourself out of that, but I kind of want to back up a little bit. A lot of people, not that they want to get into club promoting, but you've got your foot in the door of this by asking somebody what? How can I get into this business? Because I think a lot of people want to get into some business that feels closed to them. Nightclub promoting is a good example of this. Even if it's not something that most people aspire to. How did you get started and get on the right path in that industry, even if it did lead you astray?
Scott Harrison: [00:14:00] Well, it started with a band that I was in, and the band was getting booked at a couple of nightclubs, and at the end of the night, the promoter would throw us like a hundred bucks and say, “Hey, divide this up six ways.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:15] Oh man.
Scott Harrison: [00:14:16] And he wouldn't even pay for gas for our cars to bring our gear out. And the promoter would go home with all the money. So when the band broke up and we broke up A, because we hated each other, and B, because we were doing drugs. At that moment I just said, “Well, why did I jump to the other side?” Rather than be a struggling artist, why don't I actually go and find the struggling artist and make money off the back of them. And it felt like, “Do you want to be the owner or do you want to be the bartender?” And I felt like with the band, I was the bartender and I had this opportunity to be an owner.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:54] And you asked some guy at that point, “Lok, can I work for free and learn the ropes?”
Scott Harrison: [00:15:01] Yeah. So the hottest club was opening up in New York City at that moment. It was called Lotus. The owners were -- there were four owners. They were on the cover of New York magazine, and I really wanted to work there badly. So I just start calling and leaving voicemail messages on the main club number and then I start dialing through to the owners private voicemail messages and they said, “I want to work, I'll do anything.” Finally, I think I just wore them down and one of them, Jeffrey calls me back and says, “Hey kid, I'll give you a shot on our deadest night. You can promote for 150 dollars all night. I'll give you a Monday.” And I had my foot in the door and gosh, less than a year later, I was doing the hottest night, and making a lot, lot more.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:15:50] You're listening to the Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Scott Harrison. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:55] This episode is sponsored in part by MeUndies. You've heard me talk about MeUndies about a million times, which is, yeah, that's why I have a million pairs of underwear. But why am I so actually obsessed with them? Well, when I wake up in the morning, all groggy, which is pretty usual, I get excited to go to my underwear drawer and pick out which undies I'm going to wear for the day. I know that sounds ridiculous. I don't really care. They've got really fun prints. It's like my own little secret. Now I'm wearing a crazy print at all hours and they use micro modal fabric. It's a full three times softer than regular cotton. It's hard to explain how soft something is because you might say, look, it's softer than cotton, which is kind of not really that descriptive, but it's the exact fabric you're going to want down there. Let me put it that way. And they've got fun new prints each month. They've got matching socks, if you're wearing bralettes, they've got bralettes, I'm not even sure what bralettes are, but they got those and they match your underwear. Let me put it that way. And you can get a matching pair with your partner. That's the point. They've also got a hundred percent satisfaction guarantee. So you're going to love the undies, but if you're not into it, you can send back your used undies, slightly used for a full refund. Jason, where can they find that.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:09] You built an email list 15, 20 years ago almost or something like that. So you were early to adding tech into this kind of industry.
Scott Harrison: [00:19:19] We were, and it was expensive to mail flyers or to distribute flyers. And we were early on with email and I remember when we started building that list. I mean email open rates were like 100 percent. Everybody opened every email that came in, and we started to build that, like you said too about 15,000, and we would be throwing fashion parties, we would be throwing store openings. We have parties for magazines. We always tried to keep it interesting. We would throw pool parties where we would rent lifeguard stations and hire people to sit there and go get a hundred beach balls. We would throw parties where we asked everybody to come in their pajamas. We're always trying to find the interesting in the new because it gets pretty boring. I mean, imagine going to the same club night in, night out hearing the DJ play the same songs. It's pretty much the same people. And you're shouting over the din and what kind of conversations can you have? You can have abrupt one to two sentence conversations with no substance, no meaning, and you're just kind of sitting there looking cool drinking into oblivion or doing worse.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:29] Yeah. I can imagine that this started to catch up with you three packs of Marlboro Reds, cocaine, women, alcohol, you started doing Ambien to fall asleep, and you're 28 and then suddenly you can't feel one of your arms or what was going on then? Because 28 is a little young to be falling apart, right?
Scott Harrison: [00:20:47] Yeah. I'll say, half my body just goes numb, and I start seeing neurologists and they’re doing brain scans and MRIs and I just don't know what's wrong with me and everything's checking out fine. And now my partner's like, “Well, dude, maybe lay off the drugs and the smoking and the booze.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:11] And you're like, “LOL, bro. Not a chance.” Any other suggestions?
Scott Harrison: [00:21:14] I could cut back a little bit, but hey, it's not that. So this happens for a couple months and then I go on a New Year's Eve vacation as we did. So we hated New York City around New Year's Eve. All the tourists flooded the city. The clubs were awful. It was that we would call it a bridge and tunnel crowd. I mean, all the locals just got out of town that could afford to, and we were catering to people who could afford to. So we would go to Brazil or we'd go to Europe or this year we went to South, to Punta del Este, a town in Uruguay, kind of a party town. And I remember renting this compounds around the pool, and there were servants waiting on us and cooking our food. There were horses walking around in the backyard, and there were magnums of Dom Perignon. So we'd all the champagne that we could drink. We went to the firework store, we dropped $1,000 in cash to blow up some fireworks on our little lawn, and it was it, like this is what you do. We've arrived, there was a mega yacht that we were renting. I think we'd flown in on some guy's private plane. I remember one of the guys at the local casino was throwing down 10,000 a hand at baccarat.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:29] That's insane.
Scott Harrison: [00:22:30] 10,000, 10,000. He actually looked in different, Jordan, to whether he won or lost. If you're playing $10,000, it just doesn't matter to you. And I just had the realization on this trip, it's almost like the game of musical chairs where the music stopped. And for the first time in 10 years, I looked around and I had no place to sit. Something was different. It's like the veil was lifted. As I looked around and I saw people who were richer than me, and I realized that this was an insatiable desire for more, than if I continued to pursue girls, money, fame, drugs, they would never be enough. Someone would always have more, and this was a race to the bottom. It was kind of a race to hell in some way. And I had done nothing with my faith or virtue, any of the childhood foundation that my and parents have tried to build for that decade, and there was something about doing so many drugs in Uruguay and waking up the next morning hangover that I start reading my Bible again. I start reading a book of Deep Theology that my father had given to me at Christmas. And in some ways, when I'm reading about Jesus, when I'm reading some of this theology, I felt like I was reading the exact opposite picture of my life. I mean this was about service to the poor. This was about loving your neighbor as yourself. This was about leading a life above reproach. I always came to discover Jesus differently. He wasn't the religious kind of oppressor, the purveyor of rules, that I had remembered. All the don't do this, don't do that.
[00:24:13] He actually was kind of giving the middle finger to the religious establishment of the day to the Pharisees and the system that oppressed people. And he was going living this life of purity, a life without things, a life of unselfishness, and there was something just so attractive to that. In some ways, it felt like the story of the Prodigal Son where the prodigal, asked his dad for his inheritance and he breaks his father's heart, leaves home, says, “I'm done with this place. This place sucks. I'm going to go explore the world.” Takes the money, squanders it on drinking and prostitutes, and eventually comes to the end of that, of that journey, of that money and says, “Man, I want to come home. Home didn't suck. This sucks.” That the gambling sex, the prostitute sex, three packs a day of Marlboro Reds. The coughing sucks. The hangovers suck. The trying to put yourself to sleep at noon, popping an Ambien after a night of party. This sucks. So I want to come home.
[00:25:17] And what's so amazing about that parable, The Prodigal Son Parable, is that when the son finally made that long journey home, instead of being reproved, instead of being yelled at, instead of being shamed, there was this, there's this picture of the father that runs out to him and embraces him. It says, my son is home and throws his arm around them and throws him a party. There is no words spoken of the past of what he did. He's just so happy that his son has come home. So I wondered whether I could have that kind of radical turnaround, whether I could find my way back to a life of virtue in purity and spirituality.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:55] But you've got to make some radical changes to do that because if every single day you're going out with people who are throwing down six figure parties and you've got models blowing up your phone all the time and everybody that you thought was your friend blowing up your phone all the time, you’re the man, you can't just be like, “Nah, sorry, I'm going to take a few days off.” There's too much temptation. You have to unplug, you have to unplug it and plug it back in.
Scott Harrison: [00:26:19] And that was the problem. So for the six months after that that I came back, my heart had changed, my intention had changed, but my job hadn't, and it's really hard. So what happened, Jordan, I tried to smoke less. I tried to sleep around less. I tried to drink less. I tried to do less drugs and I would have what I call it, a few weeks of sobriety. And then there would be that one night and I'm like, “Oh, I'm out late. I need to stay up.” So what's one hit? What's one bump? And then I would just feel kind of the guilt and shame of failure because now the stuff wasn't fun like I knew that I shouldn't be doing it. It's almost like I got way late on my way home. I didn't go straight home. I stopped along the way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:01]Yeah.
Scott Harrison: [00:27:02] So it took me until the fall of that year and I write about the actual details of this event a little more in the book, but there was a moment in club life that that gave me a couple of weeks to just get out of the city to gain perspective. And I was driving North, I was headed towards main eventually and I just started thinking like, what if I made a change? What would the opposite of my life look like? What could 180 degree turn look like? Not a pivot, not a little redirect, not a do all this stuff a little less. What would the radical life change look like? What would it look like to quit all of this crap? What would it look like to serve others instead of myself? And it in the fall of that year, or actually in the late summer of that year from a dial up Internet cafe in Maine, little town called Greenville. I get the idea that I'm going to apply to the famous humanitarian organizations I've heard of over the past 10 years, and I'm going to do one year of humanitarian service. For my religious upbringing, there was this idea called the tithe, where you give one 10th away, and that was my idea. I'm going to give one of the 10 years that I'd wasted and serve others, try and quit all the crap and see where that might lead me. So I put in all these applications and from that moment, I never go back to New York City. I give up my apartment, I sell almost every possession that I have and I wait, and I wait to see who's going to take me and what opportunity felt like the best.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:37] Okay, so you decide I've got to do some escapism. And what better way to do that than to try to make a hard right turn and do something positive? I would imagine that might be a little tricky because they're like, “What's your level of experience? What have you done in the past?” And you're like, “Here's a bunch of pictures of me drunk and wasted with a bunch of strangers acting the fool. I've done that for the last decade. What else do you need to know about me? Like where do, where do we -- where do we sign up?”
Scott Harrison: [00:29:10] Yeah right. Well, yes. So you don't have to be that smart to realize that that's how it went. So the organizations that I applied to just flat out deny me, what would they ever have to do with a nightclub promoter? I mean, how would I be in any way useful to their humanitarian mission? And finally, only one organization says yes and the terms were fantastic. They said, “Hey, we're going to need you to go live in post war Liberia. This is a country that had just escaped a civil war after 14 years, and we're going to need you to pay us 500 dollars a month. It's not like this is perfect. Not only I'm going to go broke volunteering and I get to go to the poorest country in the world. I mean, I'd never even heard of this country. So the position I accepted was that of a volunteer photo journalist. And I had actually been a pretty good writer as a kid. I used to write for the local newspaper and I was a pretty good photographer, and I said, look, the cool thing is I've got 15,000 people on my club list. So I'm going to be able to write stories and share photos with influential people back in New York of whatever amazing humanitarian work you guys happened to be doing. So I actually thought this was a role that I could be effective in. So they take me in and in the fall, so September of that year, so there's New Year's Eve in January, is kind of six, seven months of floundering. And then in September of that year, I set foot in Africa for the first time in my life. And I joined this medical mission, a group of 350 doctors and surgeons and volunteer crew. They were operating out of a 42 bed hospital on a 500 foot hospital ship. This is a football field and a half, a huge converted cruise liner that had been turned into a hospital. And my job is going to be to take pictures and document the work and tell stories of the people that were going to help.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:05] Everyone on the ship has to pay their own room and board, right? Even the surgeons are shelling out for this. This is not a revenue generating opportunity.
Scott Harrison: [00:31:15] No, it's exactly the opposite. You'd go broke phones hearing. But it was a brilliant business model. They effectively used us as their fundraisers. So we would all either pay our own money or go raise support from friends and family to be able to serve.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:31] Oh, that makes sense, because if they're in charge of finding the money, then it's kind of, they've got to fund donations and it's a huge expense. But if every person--
Scott Harrison: [00:31:39 We were fundraising army, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:40] Right.
Scott Harrison: [00:31:41] We were just fundraising army. It's like 500 a month added up something.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:44] Yeah. Like you can't go unless you can get the money and then it's like, “Hey grandma, can I have five grand or whatever?”
Scott Harrison: [00:31:51] You got it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:52] Yeah. Wow! Wow! So did you have any idea how hard that was actually going to be? Not raising the money? I'm sure that part was something that you had been used to, but I mean taking pictures of somebody with horrible diseases before and after, seeing people. What was the ship environment like? I assume you pull into port and it's just like pandemonium.
Scott Harrison: [00:32:16] Yeah, I mean I'd never seen the stuff that we were seeing. I'll just give you an example. So my third day on the mission, the ship pulls into port, and I learned that the government has given us a football stadium, so big soccer stadium, and we're going to be triaging the patients there. So we would set up different stations inside and the doctors would try and schedule people that we were able to help for surgery, and I knew we had 1500 surgery slots to fill. So I'm all excited. It's my third day on the mission. I wake up at five in the morning. I put on hospital scrubs, right? Looking official. I grabbed my two Nikon cameras and I jump into a convoy of Land Rovers with the doctors and the nurses as we're heading toward the football stadium. And as we turned the corner, I see there are 5,000 people standing outside.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:07] Oh my God.
Scott Harrison: [00:33:09] And I remember it hit me. I mean, I was filled with so much sadness with the reality that, “Oh my gosh, we're going to send home 3,000 people.” They don't know it yet, but we just don't have enough doctors. We don't have enough surgery slots. I later learned that so many of these people had walked for more than a month. Some of them had walked with their children from neighboring countries, just in the hope of seeing a doctor. In some ways we had a velvet rope out. I mean not unlike the clubs, except in this case, we weren't turning away people for another club, we were turning away people often to a death wish, because there were too many of them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:47] Right. So it became kind of a death sentence. If you couldn't get in there, you'd spend all your money, you'd spend all your time traveling with a sick relative or yourself. And it was your last hope, and it was kind of like, sorry.
Scott Harrison: [00:34:00] Well the reason was there's just too many of you, I mean we have a limited amount of slots and we're going to just fill every single surgery slot up. But they were just, the need was so great.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:12] That's unbelievable. Because these people haven't had regular medical care, maybe ever.
Scott Harrison: [00:34:16] Yeah. And, okay, so what we were seeing, we're seeing kids that are suffocating to death on massive facial tumors, like tumors filling their eyes, filling their mouth. I saw people come in with leprosy. People coming that had been burned by rebels during the war with arms fuse together, with legs fused together as the rebels would pour oil on them, as a form of torture. We would see people who are blind with cataracts or waterborne diseases like trachoma.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:44] It's like a mass of people waiting outside. I'm just envisioning this mass of people waiting outside the port, just like you see in those apocalypse movies where zombies have taken over, the government falls and there's like a fence and there's just people waiting by the fence. So how close am I on this?
Scott Harrison: [00:35:00] Yeah, I mean there, it was very orderly until it was a two day screening. At the end of the second day, we shut the doors, we packed up with every surgery slot full and then we headed back to the ship. And that was tough, I mean people were throwing their hands up. They were upset or we couldn't help people. I mean, there was definitely an edge in the air that day.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:24] Oh man, that's not a job you want being the person who decides this is the last person and we have to close the doors now.
Scott Harrison: [00:35:32] No, and you know what? I think the way that I got through that day was I really tried to focus on the hope. I try to focus on the people we were helping. I mean, we were able to help 1500 people get scheduled for surgery, 1500 people and we were able to remove tumors and save people's lives and we were able to remove cataracts and allow people to see for the first time in their life. It was a really -- then kind of for me, I just started focusing on like, “Okay, let's tell stories of hope there 1500 stories that we're going to be able to tell of transformation.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:12] Yeah. That is incredible. How long does it take to do 1500 surgeries? How many days is that?
Scott Harrison: [00:36:17] It was four months.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:19] Wow! And then the ship just runs out of supplies and it's got to go.
Scott Harrison: [00:36:22] Then the ship moves on to its next place.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:24] Oh wow. How come you don't just stay in one place for like a year and just do as many surgeries as you can?
Scott Harrison: [00:36:29] It takes about four months to do 1500 surgeries. And because Liberia was just opening up for the first time in 14 years. We did four months in a country called Banana, and then we sailed up to Liberia. Typically, the ship, we'll do an eight month outreach. So it'd be able to do about double that many surgeries.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:50] Wow! And then it just runs out of supplies or something like that and you got to go?
Scott Harrison: [00:36:54] Moves onto the next country. The ship dry docks in South Africa. It was really old. The ship was 52 years old at that point. So it could do about eight months of active service. And then it would be off for four months, which would also give the doctors a break and people would go home and see their families.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:37:12] You're listening to the Jordan Harbinger Show with our guests, Scott Harrison. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:17] This episode is also sponsored by One Fix. Most diets fail. Surprise! Said nobody. Nobody should be surprised by that. They make you change way too many foods all at once. That's one reason why they don't work that well. And would you want to fix how you eat? You actually have to do the opposite. You have to make one change and do it slowly and let it stick. And that's what I like about One Fix. It's an app, and a nutritionist will analyze your meals. You literally take a picture of your food, which most of you are freaking do in any way. You know who you are, but you send it to a nutritionist instead of sending it to the world on Instagram, and the nutritionist finds one thing that's causing your body to store extra fat or whatever your goal is and they'll give you One Fix and you do that One Fix every day for one month and if you're just doing One Fix, it's actually pretty easy and when it becomes a part of who you are, then you can begin the next fix. So if diabetes or heart disease run in your family an extra 30 pounds, that can literally kill you, not even 30 pounds can literally kill you. You should be worried about that. Diets are a terrible way to lose weight when you want to make it permanent. Do One Fix at a time. Jason, tell them where they can get One Fix.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:38] I got to say Jen and Glen my brother in law, I've been using it and they're digging it. It's cool. There's like a chat. A nutritionist gets back to you right away and it's like, “Yeah, this looks good. Are those potatoes or is it sausage?” It's like, “Okay, it's potatoes.” “Great, okay. Try to cut down on this, add a little more of that.” “Oh, if you're still hungry, add some this.” It's pretty cool. It's great to have expert advice in your pocket like that.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:05] Yeah, it’s not Ai. No, I have strongly suspect there's an office full of people looking at a lot of food all day, yeah.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:39:10] Thanks for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers is what keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit Jordan harbinger.com/advertisers. Now for the conclusion of our show with Scott Harrison.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:25] I read that you bought a lot of losing team gear. So like if a team loses the Super Bowl, that gear all goes to I guess buyers in Africa. I didn't know that was really, I thought that was an urban legend.
Scott Harrison: [00:39:38] No, we didn't. But we would see that in the markets as we traveled around. So it was fun buying clothes in Liberia because you would just see stuff from Ohio turn up there. You'd see stuff from St. Louis, and often we would see the winning, sorry, not the winning team, but the losing team. And we'd be like, “Wait a minute, they didn't win that Super Bowl,” and then you'd look and see that, “Oh, they were the loser of that Super Bowl.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:03] A lot of lion's gear. Yeah, that's funny. Wait a minute. Where did this come from? I didn't realize that that happened, but it does make sense that they print up all the t-shirts, make all the hats, and they're just inboxes probably at various outlets or shipping outlets or something like that, waiting to be, maybe even loaded in a truck ready to go and the game ends, and it's like rip open the right box and the rest of it just goes back to wherever.
Scott Harrison: [00:40:30] Right. But it's not like anybody in Detroit wants to wear a shirt that has a team that actually didn't win, declared the victors.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:38] Although, that is kind of cool. Swag, like wait a minute. Especially if you're wearing it the day after the Super Bowl champs, it's like, “Wait a minute, I saw that game. They didn't win.” Well, you don't look like anyone else. Everyone's got the winning team on and you're like, “Eh, I'm going a little contrary in here.” Water didn't mean much to you in the beginning. Well, it didn't mean much to you in the beginning. How did you begin to realize the significance, the significance of clean water? Where did this come about?
Scott Harrison: [00:41:05] My first part of the time in Africa was mainly spent in the operating theater, was spent documenting these surgeries, was spent in the city. But I signed up for a second tour, so I did this first year and then I went back to Liberia this time for an eight month stint, the full eight months stint, and I got off the ship and I spent more and more time in the rural areas, more and more time out in the bush really, in these remote villages. And it's there that I came face to face with a problem with something that hadn't even occurred to me before. And I saw people drink dirty water, I saw kids drinking from green algae filled swamps from ponds, from disgusting brown, viscous rivers. And I learned that 50 percent of the people living in the country at that time, 50 percent didn't have clean water to drink. So it was like an A-ha moment. Well, we have thousands of people turning up sick, standing in fields, standing in parking lots outside stadiums, but yet half the people in the country, their most basic need isn't even met. And I started telling the doctors and surgeons in the operating theater what I was seeing out there. I started showing them some of the photos and they began just to encourage me. First of all, they were like, “Duh! Yeah, we know.” Half the disease throughout the developing world is actually caused by bad water and lack of sanitation, lack of hygiene. We know that water makes people sick or bad water makes people sick. And then they said, “Well, why don't you go work on that?” I had a mentor on the ship, a guy named Dr. Gary Parker. And he had this amazing story, Jordan. He signed up for three months of service and when I got on the ship, he'd been there 21 years. He just never left. And this guy, for me, became a picture of a living out faith with the most humility. You're living it out through passionate service. This guy came from California. It could have been a surgeon, a plastic surgeon to millionaires ,living in a giant house and driving expensive cars and instead he lived in a tiny cabin on a ship for 21 years.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:21] My God!
Scott Harrison: [00:43:22] Using the thing that he was best at, to serve people who could never pay him. So Dr. Gary really encouraged me to consider focusing on water. You really want to help people get, well, Scott, you really want to end sickness and suffering in the world. Why don't you just make sure people have clean water to drink?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:41] How many people does dirty water kill versus other things that we actually worry about, like terrorism and things like that?
Scott Harrison: [00:43:48] Kills more people than all violence in the world every year, including all the wars and all the conflicts. At the time it was 4,500 kids dying every single day. So that's a stadium, that's a basketball stadium every three and a half days.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:05] Oh, wow!
Scott Harrison: [00:44:06] Dead, not sick. Just for comparison, people have been talking about Flint, Michigan, recently. Flint somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 children were exposed to lead. That amount of kids are actually dying every three days. It was an astronomic astronomical statistic for me to just think of the, I'd never thought of water before, Jordan. I mean, I used to sell Voss water for 10 bucks in the nightclub, those big, tall glass bottles, and people would buy 10 bottles sometimes just let it sit there. They wouldn't even break the seal. They wouldn't even open it. They're drinking champagne or vodka instead.
[00:44:47] So it just never occurred to me that a 10th of the world was living without clean water. I'd always had clean water. I took long showers. I would mow lawns that were well-watered growing up. And I knew pools and just golf courses. Water was everywhere, except it wasn't for one of the 10 people and it wasn't for 50 percent of the people living in Liberia. So I became really interested in water and that became the one thing. All the other things that I'd seen that I said, I am going to focus on this, not on my watch. This is just not okay. That a guy like me could sell 10 dollars water in a nightclub, could ring 50,000 dollars in booze and could sell 10,000 dollars of champagne to someone who comes in and yet attend to the world doesn't have this most basic need. So that's how I became interested in water.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:45] So Dr. Gary tells you how to help, actions not words. What action steps did you then take? How did this become not just, well, someone should do something about that, but I'm going to do something about that.
Scott Harrison: [00:45:58] When I was 30 when I came home to New York City and my life looked nothing like it did before. So my friends, I think a lot of people Jordan were watching, they were getting these emails, because I'm blasting my 15,000 person club list with dirty water pictures, with tumor pictures, with pictures of leprosy. Certainly, a couple of people were like, unsubscribed. Dude, take me off of this thing. Most people that were actually deeply moved by these stories and would write me back saying, I didn't know this kind of suffering existed. I need to do something about this. How do I give money? How do I volunteer like you and make a difference in the lives of others?
[00:46:36] So the thing that I learned most over that two year period with Mercy Ships was that I still had a gift for promoting. I had been promoting this idea for 10 years, that if you got past the velvet rope, if you got past the throng of people lined up outside the nightclub, if you got in and into the VIP and if you spent all your money drinking, and you went home with the right beautiful people, then your life had meaning, you had arrived. And I deeply believe that was the wrong message, that was a destructive, unhelpful message. And what I got to do with the two years in Mercy Ships is I got to still promote but promote something that was just so opposite. I got to promote the stories of these humanitarian doctors, stories of selflessness, stories of radical empathy and compassion. I got to invite people to be a part of something truly redemptive, something that really helped others.
[00:47:34] So I tried to apply all of those things that I'd learned to water, which was going to be my thing now. I wasn't going to go and build hospital ships or recruit doctors. I wanted to end the water crisis. I wanted to help usher in a day on Earth where every single person alive had clean water to drink, regardless of where they were born. I was born into middle-class privilege. It never occurred to me that I would have to drink dirty water in my life. And now at 43 years old, I still never have, I've been to 69 countries. I've been to Ethiopia 30 times. I can afford to buy bottled water and put it in the back of my Land Rover. I can afford to row into a village with a water filter that can clean a dirty river so I don't die of some terrible disease. I wanted to make sure everybody alive had this basic gift.
[00:48:21] So I'm 30, my friends have now seen that I am different. One more thing I should say, before I walked up the gangway of the ship, I quit everything. I quit smoking and never smoked again. I quit gambling and never gambled again. I never looked at a pornographic image again. I never touched coke or X or any of that stuff again. I believed I had to walk so far in the other direction. I had to completely change my life, not 45 degrees, not 90 degrees, 180 degrees. And there was something symbolic or prophetic about walking up the gangway of a ship and sailing away into a new life and leaving all of that crap, all of that, the past vices unsure. So it was a radical moment for me.
[00:49:11] I remember going out with a bang, and it's been funny after writing the book, like all these stories of surface now of people's impression of me that first day, and the night before I smoked the final three packs of cigarettes. And I drank like seven or eight beers and I turned up to report for active duty on the ship with a terrible hangover, and apparently smelling like alcohol, like smelling, I'd hit a bar that morning.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:36] Oh, they must've been like, this guy is not going to make it.
Scott Harrison: [00:49:40] Euro chic guy who just turned up from a bar, I think I was wearing Prada, bro. I mean.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:47] And they're like, “Ah, you're not going to need that in Liberia, in the engine room or whatever.” Like you're sleeping there and you had that last hurrah. I know you actually kind of got on the ship on a little bit of a downswing. You did sort of have a detour at a casino before getting on a boat. You want to tell us about that?
Scott Harrison: [00:50:06] I did. I had it few last hurrahs. I gambled one last time and of course that went terribly and I lost all my money. And it was actually a great reminder that there is no joy in this stuff. Even if I had won it, I just needed to leave it all behind. So I had my last taste of everything and then I wasn't obviously doing cocaine the night before prefer the ship. I kind of had that one last hurrah. I remember walking up the gangway of the ship, determined to stop smoking, that I would never smoke again and I had a Nicorette patch on my arm and I was chewing the gum just like, just trying to make sure that I could actually survive. And by the grace of God, somehow I was able to just never do the stuff again and not miss it that much.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:56] How did your nightlife experience and unconventional skills help you with Charity: Water? Because after Mercy Ships and you starting Charity: Water, you have to market a charity, you have to run a charity. Did this parallel your nightclub promotion life in any way? Because business is business in a lot of ways, even if it's charity or nightlife.
Scott Harrison: [00:51:16] And I think storytelling is storytelling and what good nightclub promoters have to do is they have to tell a story. They have to keep things interesting. They have to keep things new. So we would try and theme our parties. We would try and get the best DJs and, and always create a sense of excitement, the sense of exclusivity, the sense of scarcity. And effectively we were inviting people to a party, we were inviting people to a celebration, and when I started Charity: Water as I had the advanced -- so on paper, I'm uniquely unqualified to start a charity. I'm uniquely unqualified to go and raise money. My only experience was 10 years of getting people drunk at 40 clubs and then running around as a photojournalist following a bunch of doctors, and learning about an issue, the water crisis.
[00:52:07] So I tried to use that to my advantage by saying, “Well, I guess I get to start with a clean slate of paper.” I don't have any of the trappings of institutional philanthropy or big charity. And as I started talking to everyday people, Jordan, I realized that my friends were not giving to charities. They were not giving to the Red Cross' of the world. The Salvation Army’s, they didn't trust charities. They thought charities were black holes that sucked up their money. They thought charities were bureaucratic and inefficient, and everybody seemed to have a scandal or a horror story they get pulled out of their back pocket and talk about a charity that had done the wrong thing. And I realized there was data behind this, 42 percent of Americans identified as distrusting charity.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:56] Sure.
Scott Harrison: [00:52:57] And 70 percent of Americans that were pulled by a NYU stern school, 70 percent of Americans said, “They believed charities either wasted money or badly wasted money.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:10] That’s their idea.
Scott Harrison: [00:53:10] That's 30 percent of the people, 30 and come on, who is more generous than Americans? I don't think there's a country on Earth with a reputation of, of being better neighbors at least as we give to the poor, I mean there's a culture of giving. So I saw that as a huge entrepreneurial opportunity, a huge opportunity to disrupt maybe traditional philanthropy with the new business model and just listen to people.
[00:53:38] So as I started talking to people, I'm like, “Well what kind of charity would you want to give to?” They’re like, “Well, I'd want to know exactly where my money goes.” Okay, and said, “Well, I’d want to know the people they helped? I'd want proof. I'd want to see it.” So just started putting this business model together that wound up really with them with four pillars. And the first was we made this public promise that 100 percent of all donations we would ever take in, every single penny ever given to Charity: Water would directly fund water projects that would give people clean water. We opened up a separate bank account for the overhead and I said, “I'm going to raise that overhead separately from a very small group of people and entrepreneurs and families who will pay for our office costs in our flights and our staff salaries in our 401K, if we ever even got there.” But 100 percent of the public's money will only and always go to water projects.
[00:54:26] The second pillar was let's just tell people what we did with that money. Let's prove every project. So we had good timing, we started the same year as Google earth and Google maps. And I said, let's just put up every water project on Google where people can see the actual satellite images of these projects. They could see the pictures, photos, the GPS coordinates, sometimes even video of clean water flowing. And then we said, “Okay, well let's also try and build an epic brand. So many charities, I think they use shame and guilt to peddle their wares, to guilt people into giving. And you guys remember some of those commercials, the leftovers from the ‘80s and the sad looking kids with [indiscernible] [00:55:11] face.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:10] Yeah, Sally Struthers and stuff.
Scott Harrison: [00:55:12] Sally Struthers, you got it. And the 800 number would slowly crawl across the screen and you'd say, “Oh, that's just awful.” And some people would give, but you don't tell your friends about that charity. You don't wear that charity’s t-shirt, to meet with be as if Nike told people that they were fat and lazy to turn off the stupid TV and go run, go exercise. And people wouldn't, they wouldn't do it, and they certainly wouldn't want to go buy the clothes from a company that spoke to them like that. And in fact, Nike's success has come from telling inspirational stories over decades. Stories of people overcoming adversity. So stories of people who beat impossible odds. And Nike says there's greatness within you. We believe you have the power to achieve far more than you ever thought. And someone like turns off the TV and says, “Maybe I could go for a jog,” and you want to tell your friends about the company, you want to wear the logo of a brand that believes that about you. And charities just didn't behave that way. So I thought, let's build the knight here, the apple or the virgin of charities. Let's build an imaginative, inspirational charity that focuses on hope and opportunity. Let's invite people into the story.
[00:56:24] You hear this term all the time now, giving back. I’m so sick of this language, charities. My company has a program where we're giving back. That language, that language implies debt. It implies obligation. It's like we pillaged and plundered to such extent that we should finally throw some scraps down to the poor. Here's the leftovers. Let's give a little back. It's like if I walk up to you and I grabbed the phone out of your hands, you're going to say, “Give it back.” Right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:53] Right.
Scott Harrison: [00:56:53] Why don't we drop back? Why don't we talk about a pure culture of giving?
Just “Hey, we build a culture of giving in our family. We build a culture of giving in our company, giving the best of ourselves, giving because it's a blessing and a joy, giving out of the abundance, giving out to the privilege that we've been blessed with, giving our time, our town, our money in the service of others.” So I just had all these ideas about branding Charity: Water in a counterculture way.
[00:57:21] And then the fourth pillar was just, let's not send any Westerners, anybody with my skin color over to Africa or India or Southeast Asia to go and drill Wells. I believe that for the work to be sustainable, it had to be led by the locals in each of these countries. For the work to be culturally relevant, the locals must lead their communities in their countries forward. So our role would be to get every day, often apathetic people to care about an issue that that almost feels paralyzingly big, move them to action through this new business model where they can trust again and then make sure that the locals were the ones taking that money and turning it into clean water. And they would be the ones getting the credit and they would be the local heroes. So that was the business model. And today, when I say these things, it sounds so not innovative in a way. I mean, it sounds so common sense. It's not like we're landing rockets on platforms, in the middle of oceans. But it was so unique at the time and the organization just took off.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:24] The a hundred percent model of having a separate overhead account that pays for everything and then having the rest of the money go directly to charity or to the cause must have been a game changer because I think that really does solve the trust problem that most of us have. I know we were speaking before about certain people, celebrities especially not wanting to get behind something because then you find out later, “Oh a the person who runs this gets paid $700,000 a year and is flying in their own jet,” and you're like “What? This is what I raised all this money for.” So you don't have that problem. You have kind of the closed model where some folks are donating because they understand how charities work. So they're paying for the overhead and then the radical transparency of everything else that allows people to realize their donation is going to something that they want to what they actually want it to go to.
Scott Harrison: [00:59:14] That's right. And today if you fast forward that model to present state 131, families and entrepreneurs pay for all of our overhead, and it's significant. We have 80 full time employees in New York City. And it's been the founders of Facebook, of Twitter, of Spotify, of WordPress, of Pandora. It's been executives at Apple. It's venture capitalists. It's people like Gary Vaynerchuk over the years. Friends that have said, “We want our money to go to the overhead. We want to actually help you go hire employee number 81 and 82. We want to pay for the receptionist and the accountants and the software engineers so that you can make this a 100 percent promise.” And that's now allowed over a million people to give in the purest way possible. And people don't even know this, Jordan, but we pay back credit card fees. So if you went on our website right now and let's say you joined our monthly program at 100 bucks a month. I wish we got a hundred bucks a month, but if you use your Amex, we get 97 a month, but we actually make up the difference.
[01:00:14] So we pay that 3 dollars back that we didn't even get from your donation and we send 100 dollars, the 100 dollars you intended to give to the field. So it's a true 100 percent. And I think this took what we later learned was the most common objection people have about giving to charity. How much of my money is actually going to get there? And it just nullified it. I mean it was a bit of a drop the mic, what's your next excuse? Water, sorry. You can't get behind the idea that human beings need clean water to flourish. So I think we had these two powerful things going, water being an issue that everybody could agree on, whether you're a Jew or a Muslim or a Christian or an Atheist or a Mormon. Everybody could agree on clean water for humans. Regardless of your political views or, I mean everybody could just agree to agree on this idea and then we had this a 100 percent model and then further this idea that we would prove what we did with that money and it was all very powerful.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:13] You're really great at building relationships and you always have been, or at least you always have been with Charity: Water. Are there certain systems or principles or techniques that you use to maintain large networks of people at the same time? I mean you had that email list of course, but what do you use now that you've probably got 10,000 plus people in your orbit?
Scott Harrison: [01:01:34] 10,000 plus, a couple of millions now.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:36] Sure. Yeah, but I mean you personally.
Scott Harrison: [01:01:38] I think social media was really important to the success of Charity: Water and a lot of that was just good timing. I remember inviting myself to speak at Twitter headquarters when they were 28 employees, at Twitter. I remember speaking at Facebook on University Avenue where the place was covered in graffiti and we just realized that this was, this was how the movements of the future would be built, not through direct mail. Me buying Jordan and his wife's physical mailing address and send you a bunch of paper and saying, “Hey Jordan, could you guys please put a check in that self-addressed stamped envelope and mail it back to me?” That was not the future, that's going to round down to zero. And we just thought the Twitters, the Facebooks, the Instagram, the Snapchats of the world, this is how people would connect in real time and in quicker feedback loops. And we just embrace that. So we were the first charity to get a million Twitter followers and the first charity to use Instagram. And we just time and time again tried to grow and develop and celebrate our community on all those different platforms, and we still do that today.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:46] There's a lot of examples in Thirst about some of the brilliant marketing and it's not even just marketing, the experience that you've curated for some of the people at charity galas and things like that, like digging the well in real time and satellite feed of a video of you guys doing this and to what do you attribute some of that? Is that from your club promotion days or is that just you being a talented storyteller initially?
Scott Harrison: [01:03:13] I think I love telling stories, Jordan. I just love telling stories and that's one of the things that I would say if we could only pick one thing the Charity: Water was good at and we had to ditch all the rest, I would take storytelling over the a 100 percent model. I really think it's that powerful. I think people respond to stories. If I tell people who are listening right now, “Hey, there's 663 million people without water and 4,500 kids dying a day and women are walking 40 billion hours every year and 52 percent of the disease in the world is caused by bad water.” People just kind of numb out to that. But if I tell you a story of a 13 year old girl, from a village called Meda in Ethiopia who was walking eight hours every day for water, and one day at the end of a long journey, she drops to the ground after tripping and she spills her water and she breaks her clay pot and she ties a rope around her neck and hangs herself from the tree nearby. That's a different way of demonstrating the water crisis. And that story is actually sadly true.
[01:04:19] There was a little girl named Letikiros Hailu that I write about in the book, who took her own life after spilling her water, just didn't want to go back, didn't want to embrace eight hours a day of walking for water anymore. And over the years we've told stories, both of tragedy and also a great hope and great joy. One of my favorites is a woman named Helen Apio in Uganda. She got clean water from a Charity: Water project for the first time in your life. And we asked her how her life was different and she said, “For the first time in my life,” she said, “I am beautiful,” not I feel beautiful. She said, “I am beautiful.” And we're like, “What do you mean?” And she said, “Well, you don't understand. I just never had enough water before and I would always use the little water that I would walk for and I would use it for my husband and my children.” And she said, “I always put my family first, but now with enough clean water near my house, I could take all the water I want and I finally have enough to wash my face and my body and my clothes. And I am beautiful.”
[01:05:23] A story like that makes you think about water differently than a statistic, and I think that's just something that comes natural to us. So in the same way that I was trying to always tell the new story for whatever club we were working at, it's how do we get people to connect to this issue. How do we get them to care? How do we get them to reject apathy? It's so easy when you come across any of these global problems that affect other people thousands of miles away across oceans. People you've never met, problems you've never encountered. It's just so easy to embrace apathy and say like, “Well, could I ever do? Freaking global water crisis.” I work a job at Walmart or I don't know, I'm a telemarketer or I'm an entrepreneur, like what can I ever do to actually make a difference, and what we have tried to do through storytelling and through our business model is say everything makes a difference. A dollar makes a difference, 30 dollars makes a difference. An entire water project makes a difference. Your donated birthday, makes a difference. And now a million people have said, “You know what? I can do something about it. I can add my voice.” And that's now allowed us to bring clean water to eight and a half million people in 29,000 villages.
[01:06:39] So we're now 1/78th of the way there. Charity: Waters now helped 1/78th of all the people on Earth that need it. So we feel like we're at the beginning of the journey. There's so much work left to do. We need to go faster. We need to help more people. We need to grow in the movement from a million people that 2 million to 5 million to 10 million until we can finally create this day on Earth where no one's drinking bad water.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:02] So your goal is to bring water, clean water to 100 million people, and you're 1/78th of the way there.
Scott Harrison: [01:07:09] No, 663 million people, so that’s the current state. One out of every 10 people alive today is drinking bad water. So we're at 8.5 of 663.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:19] Oh, wow!
Scott Harrison: [01:07:19] 3 percent of the problem.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:21] It's daunting, man. That's a lot of people that don't have clean water.
Scott Harrison: [01:07:25] It is. Or you could just say, “Hey, just go 78 times faster. Just do 78 times more.”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:30] Yeah. Have an--
Scott Harrison: [01:07:31] 8.4 times 78, which is a number less than a hundred at least, equals 663 and you're there.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:37] How hard can it be? How can people get involved as well if they're interested in doing that?
Scott Harrison: [01:07:43] I think two ways, grab the book, 100 percent of all my author net proceeds of the advance, all that goes to Charity: Water.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:51] So you're not making a ton of money off the book?
Scott Harrison: [01:07:54] I'm not making a penny off the book. So everything from Thirst goes to Charity: Water, and I'm just so excited to share the stories that we're going to, you and your wife read it. I tried to be vulnerable. I tried to tell stories that I hope would help people on a personal level, maybe actually get unstuck or maybe find their purpose. I think there's stories in there for entrepreneurs. There are stories of boneheaded failure of just all the times we did stupid stuff and screwed up, and what we learned from that. So people just go to thirstbook.com, and we've also built an unbelievable interactive website experience, which I think people love.
[01:08:35] And then the second is really to join the Spring. And if I could just take a second to talk about how important this is for us. A lot of people that have been falling Charity: Water over the years know that we ask people to give up their birthdays, and that was just a big thing for us. And there was this movement of people donating their birthdays, turning into these little fundraising moments, a little mini word of mouth movements, and raising 500 bucks for their birthday or 620 dollars or 42 dollars or whatever. And that was great, and that kind of, that took us to a great place in the first 10 years. But what we realized was we weren't building continuity. We weren't building a community of people that were continuing to show up. They would only do one birthday and so many people would learn about Charity: Water, or they'd learned about this. They go on our website and they drop a 100 bucks once or 1,000 bucks once. And we said, for us to really make the lasting impact we want to make, we're going to need to adopt the practices of a Netflix or a Spotify, or an HBO or a Dropbox.
[01:09:34] I mean, people are showing up for Netflix every single month over 130 million people I think it is now, are showing up every single month with their 15 bucks. Now, of course, they're getting content. They're getting benefit from that. Same thing with Spotify. People are turning up, paying their 10 bucks a month listening to music. We said, “Well, what if we could build a community of people?” What if we could get a million people, let's say, to show up, let's say 30 dollars a month. That's what it costs us to give one person clean water. And not just drive by and hit 30 bucks once or do one birthday, but actually stick with us month in, month out, faithfully fighting for change. What if we could build this loyal, dedicated, passionate community of generous people? And then we make the promise that we'd always use a 100 percent of their money, whether it was 10 bucks a month or 30 bucks a month or a 100 bucks a month. And we would then show them stories of impact from around the world.
[01:10:29] So we launched The Spring and said, “This is the best way that people can join Charity: Water.” And this may take us years. So we're not going to say this is going to be done next year or three years or five years, but we would hope to build this community of people that could one day tell their kids and their grandkids. I was actually a part of ending the water crisis. I was a part of this day creating and ushering in this day when every human has access to life's most basic needs. So my wife is a member, I'm a member. It's a really simple way to get involved and people could just go to charitywater.org/spring to learn more and to join us.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:09] Scott, thank you so much. The book Thirst is really, there's a lot of, I hate to say it, like you'll laugh, you'll cry. But it really has a lot of great stories in it and it's funny watching you now, knowing you now, being friends with you now, and seeing what you're doing, and then hearing about like how you kind of bumbled through a lot of shit, a lot of stuff earlier in the game, and just some of the mistakes you made were very educational. And I do think that your path is very unique, not a lot of people go from being the guy in the Manhattan club scene to running a super innovative charity, it's not the normal route that one's life might take.
Scott Harrison: [01:11:48] Yeah, well it's been a joy to be able to hopefully redeem a lot of the boneheaded mistakes and some of those things that I learned club promoting and some of those relationships and turn it for good. And we'll keep fighting until everybody has clean water to drink.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:05] What do you think, Jason? I told you a great storyteller and a kind of a crazy past that guy has.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:12:11] Yeah. He has one hell of a career path I got to say. And as far as somebody who used to party in my 20s, he puts me to shame. So that's a great story. Its’ a redemption story, I think for a lot of people who might have been in some kind of crazy lifestyle and want to change and do something good for the world. I think he's kind of a beacon of hope for people that really want to change.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:31] Yeah, he's got this, the book Thirst has crazy story. I mean, this is just the tip of the iceberg. He's got so many things in there that he's done. The way he creatively markets Charity: Water. He's just got amazing ideas. Storytelling for the win. If he's got a talent that's it. He just really, really nails it, and the book is a quick, easy read, very, very interesting. Didn't think I was going to love it as much as I did. My wife Jen, she loved it, and I was going to read it of course, but I really thought wow, this is something definitely special as far as stories are concerned, because you read books that are about charity sometimes when you go, “All right, this is like the hyped up version of an idea you had at a dinner table.” He had a much longer path to redemption you might say.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:13:15] Absolutely.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:16] Great big thank you to Scott Harrison. The book title is Thirst. And if you want to know how I managed to make all these interesting friends, manage all my relationships using systems and tiny habits in just a few minutes per day, not dedicating my whole life to it. Check out our Six-Minute Networking Course. It's free. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course, and I know a lot of people say, “Look, I'm busy. I'll do it later. I got so much going on right now. I can't do this right now.” This is minutes per day. That's the whole point. The problem with kicking the can down the road, we're not able to make up for lost time when it comes to relationships. Networking, this is the top mistake I see is people don't dig the well before they're thirsty. If you want to leverage your relationship and you don't have it, you're already too late so start now. And these drills are just a few moments per day. Instagram time, Starbucks line time. This is the stuff I wish I knew a decade ago. It is not fluff. It is crucial, and you can find all of it at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[01:14:12] Speaking to building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway here from Scott Harrison. I'm @jordanharbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. Doing a lot on Instagram these days. I'm going to start doing some a Q&A, I think soon as well. We're going to step up our video game for the shows. There's all kinds of stuff going on the Instagram @jordanharbinger, so find me there. And don't forget if you want to learn how to apply everything you just heard from Scott Harrison, make sure you go grab the worksheets, also in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast.
[01:14:42] This episode was produced and edited by Jason “Thirsty for More” DeFillippo. Show notes are by Robert Fogarty. Worksheets by Caleb Bacon. Booking back office and last minute miracles by Jen Harbinger who also helped me with prep on this one. And I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful, which is hopefully in every episode. So please share the show with those you love, share the show with those you don't, lots more in the pipeline. Very excited to hear what you think about it. And in the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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