Mere Christians

Scott Harrison (Founder of charity: water)

Episode Summary

From nightclub promoter to working to end the water crisis

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Scott Harrison, Founder of charity: water, to talk about the remarkable story of how he went from being a nightclub promoter to working to end the water crisis, the simple secret to staying focused on the work you’ve been called to master, and why our work matters for eternity even when we’re not sharing the gospel.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[00:00:03] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Each week, I host a conversation with a Christian who’s pursuing world-class mastery of their vocation. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits, and how the gospel of Jesus Christ influences their work.


Today's guest has been a long time coming. I’m very excited to introduce you to my friend, Scott Harrison. He's the Founder and CEO of charity: water, a non-profit that works to bring clean water to people in developing nations through its use of public donations. Scott is one of my absolute favorite entrepreneurs. Charity: water, one of my favorite non-profits that I happily support personally every single month. Listen, Scott's name should be pretty familiar to you if you've read any of my books, as he is one of only a handful of people who appear in two of my books, Called to Create and Master of One.


Scott and I sat down recently to talk about his remarkable story of how he went from running away from God, very much a prodigal son story as a nightclub promoter, to now spending the last 17 years or so of his life working to end the world's water crisis. We talked about the very simple thing you can do today to help you stay focused on the work you believe God's called you to master. Scott and I also got up on our shared soapbox to talk about why our work matters for eternity, even when we're not sharing the gospel. Of course, we're all called to do that throughout life and we should look for opportunities to do it. But I want you to hear really clearly in my conversation with Scott that your work matters even when you're not evangelizing. You guys are going to love this episode, one of my favorites we've had in a while with my friend, Scott Harrison.




[00:02:18] JR: Scott Harrison, welcome to the Call to Mastery.


[00:02:20] SH: Thanks for having me. This will be fun.


[00:02:22] JR: Yeah. So before we get into it, I got to tell you a story that brags on your team a little bit at charity: water. I may have texted you or emailed you about this when it happened a year ago. I can't remember but I don't think I did, so here we go. My family and I are massive fans of charity: water. We've been giving to The Spring for a while, which real quick, what's The Spring for those who don't know?


[00:02:49] SH: Yeah. That's our community of now about 70,000 people from 147 countries who just give something every month. That's funny. I was at brunch on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee, and it was brunch. It was football, so I was at the bar getting a beer. The bartender's like, “Hey, are you the charity: water guy?” She's like, “I give you money every month.” I’m like, “Well, you don't give money to me every month.” So, yeah, exactly.


[00:03:14] JR: But thanks anyway.


[00:03:15] SH: People are everywhere that are Spring members.


[00:03:18] JR: I’m a huge fan of The Spring. Everything charity: water does you guys do at an exceptionally high level, and what I love about The Spring are these documentary films that you guys create. You go to the countries where you're building these clean water wells and you send back these very like short episodes. I think each season’s –


[00:03:37] SH: The journey.


[00:03:38] JR: Yeah, the journey. There it is, five episodes, a couple minutes each, hosted by your creative director, this guy named Tyler Riewer. So we watch these videos with my kids, my seven and five-year-old, over breakfast in the morning sometimes. About a year ago, we're watching one, and Kate, my five-year-old, is like, “Oh, man. I can't wait to meet Mr. Tyler one day. [inaudible 00:04:03] these videos. So I was like, “All right.” I went on Instagram. I found Tyler. I sent him a direct message video. I was like, “Hey, dude. It would make my kids’ day, my kids’ week if you send them a little video message like from you. Talk to them.” He was so thoughtful. He's like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m so honored. Give me a week because I really want to do it right.” I loved it. He sent back this incredibly thoughtful video, like talking to Kate and Ellison. It was awesome. It blew their freaking minds, so kudos to you guys.


[00:04:38] SH: That's so cool. All right. That makes me happy. I feel like a proud dad.


[00:04:44] JR: All right, we talked about The Spring. Let's go higher level. For those who don't know, what's charity: water?


[00:04:51] SH: So we are on a mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to every human being alive on planet earth. We've been at this for 15 years. Unfortunately, as we record this today, about a tenth of the world lives without clean water. That's a staggering number, 771 million people. Two, United States of America's full of people living around the world without access to the most basic needs. So we work across 22 countries, we work with about 2,000 locals now, we construct a whole wide range of water projects, solutions that started 100 and go up to $1.8 million for huge gravity-fed solar systems.


In 15 years, we just turned 15, we've raised about $650 million and we've helped 15 million people get access to clean water. About 150th of the work, two percent of the work that needs to be done, so very –


[00:05:55] JR: First two percent's the hardest, right?


[00:05:56] SH: Very, very small dent, but we believe the best is yet to come and that we've really been encouraged by The Spring, this movement that has been growing. Last year was the first year that we ever raised a hundred million dollars in a single year, and that's really based on individuals. A lot of people coming together giving small gifts.


[00:06:16] JR: Well, like I said, I’m a member for life and would encourage anyone listening to be a member. I’m sure you can convince a lot more people by the end of this. So before we get to the founding story of charity: water, I feel like we got to give the backstory on you personally, a story you've told 100 million times. Tell us your personal story prior to founding charity: water, Scott.


[00:06:35] SH: Yeah. I guess we were talking earlier my story in thirds. The first third was an only child growing up in a caregiver role, taking care of a mom who is an invalid. My mom was permanently disabled. When I was four years old, there was a terrible carbon monoxide gas leak in our home. She was kind of the canary in the coal mine, breathing in the gas and passed out unconscious on New Year's Day 1980 and was never the same again. So her immune system irreparably was damaged. It shut down. The best way to describe it, she just became allergic to the world. So anything chemical from this point on would center into a health spiral, whether it was car fumes or with a perfume or soap used on somebody's hands. So she had to create this world of isolation for herself, washing her clothes many times in baking soda, living in a bathroom covered in aluminum foil, sleeping on an army cot, again, that had been washed with very special soap and had no scent or fragrance, eating very special foods.


It was a weird childhood. Growing up, I was raised in a family of faith. My parents were non-denominational Christians. They went up not suing the gas company for negligence because they didn't want to become bitter and they believed that God would make sense of this tragedy over time. I was the good Christian kid. I didn't smoke. I didn't drink. I didn't have sex. I didn't swear. I played piano in Sunday school and up in the worship band on Sundays. That was kind of act one.


[00:08:20] JR: There’s something about entrepreneurs and music, PS.


[00:08:23] SH: Yeah. Now, I was a little bit of an entrepreneur, right? I remember my first leaf blower that I borrowed some money to buy, and then I would blow the neighbors’ leaves and paid off the leaf blower and go door-to-door selling Christmas cards for $2.80 just to try to make a little bit of money. But if you'd asked me what I was going to do with my life, I would have been a doctor. I was going to go to Johns Hopkins, and I was going to cure my mom and then other people like her. That was kind act one.


Act two was very different. Instead of becoming a doctor, I grew my hair down to my shoulders, joined a band. The band broke up after I moved to New York City, but I became a nightclub promoter for act two and did all the smoking and drinking and drugs and sex and swearing and gambling and became addicted to pornography and basically took a very dark turn, working at 40 different high-end nightclubs over the next 10 years in New York City. I thought I was the man, Jordan. I was flying private on other people's planes. I’m sitting in the fashion shows in Milan and in Paris, and I’m dating girls on the cover of magazines. What a way to rebel in style against this repressive conservative Christian upbringing, which is what I would have told you during that second kind of act.


Yeah, that led to a moment in time at 28, where inexplicably half my body went numb one day, and I remember my business partner is like, “Dude, no wonder you smoke 60 cigarettes a day, bro.” He was like, “Go to –”


[00:09:59] JR: Nobody's surprised but you, Scott.


[00:10:00] SH: You like take Ambien at noon to come down, off of the partying from the night before and go to bed. Then you wake up at 8:00 PM and do it all over again. Like no wonder you're having some health issues. But I think it was a moment for me where I’d been living like I was immortal and I was faced with the fact that like, “What about a brain tumor? What if there was something really wrong with me? What if I had a heart attack one night after a few too many lines of cocaine? What would happen with my soul?” I mean, I almost went back into the existential questions of like, “Is there still a heaven and a hell? Do I believe that? If I do, I’m pretty sure where I’m going the way that I’ve been –” Once saved, always saved. It didn't feel like it worked after 10 years of debauchery.


I wound up getting a whole series of brain scans and tests, and the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with me. That really led this journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening to find act three, which was this moment where I sold everything that I owned and I committed to do one year of humanitarian service as a volunteer. So the idea was kind of a tithe of the 10 years I’d selfishly wasted. What if I gave one back to God and to others? Could I be useful? That was kind of the question. Could I find a new purpose? Could I start life over at 20 years old? Could I redeem the past? I remember applying to kind of 10 famous charities. I remember reading the world vision story and Samaritan's Purse and Save the Children and the Red Cross and the Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders. I’m applying to be a volunteer for all these orgs and, of course, none of them will have me because a nightclub promoter is not the resume.


[00:11:49] JR: That's not the best lead-in for that gig, yeah.


[00:11:52] SH: These are serious humanitarian people doing good work around the world. They don't need some club rat degenerate. So every door was shut, and I was very fortunate that one organization said effectively, if I was willing to pay them $500 a month and go live in post-war Liberia, West Africa, where a 14-year civil war had just ended, then I could volunteer. But they wanted to meet me first to make sure I wasn't actually crazy, that I was reformed and was headed in the right direction. I remember interviewing them for the opportunity to pay $500 a month and go live in Liberia and convincing them that I was not going to throw any wild parties on their humanitarian mission, and I was not going to lead anyone astray.


Then my life kind of changed radically, and I set foot in West Africa for the first time at 28, in a country with no running water, no sewage system, no electricity, and one doctor for every 50,000 people who lived in the country. We've got about a doctor for every 300 of us here, so one in 300, one in 50,000. I was there. There was a group called Mercy Ships that some people might be familiar with. They brought volunteer doctors and surgeons and nurses from all around the world to a hospital ship, a huge 522-foot converted ocean liner that they had equipped as a hospital. They'd sail this up and down the African coast. So I was going to be a volunteer on this ship, a volunteer photojournalist. I was going to be taking pictures that they would use for awareness and fundraising purposes. Then I would be writing stories of the transformative work these doctors were accomplishing there.


Everything changed. I mean, I quit drinking and quit smoking and pledged to be celibate, at least until I got married, and really kind of reformed my ways before I walked up the gangway and surrendered my passport, which then really started act three, which I’ve now been with for, what, 17 and a half years. I’ve been engaged in humanitarian service, first through Mercy Ships for two years, and then learning that water was really the greatest need I saw, and it was the reason why so many of these people we were treating were actually sick because half the country was drinking disgusting, diseased, contaminated, filthy water. We were seeing the negative outcome of that.


15 years ago, I kind of said, “Okay, here's the thing I’m going to uniquely work on. I’m going to try to make sure everybody has health.” In some ways, as I was writing the book, somebody pointed out. It's like, “Well, you kind of came back to doctor in act three because up to 50% of the disease in these countries is caused by bad water. So you're actually practicing medicine at the most basic level by providing the essential health need for every human, which is clean and safe drinking water.”


[00:15:02] JR: Yeah. You mentioned the book. You're referring to your phenomenal autobiography. I’m a huge fan of corporate biographies, and in a way this is that. It's your personal autobiography but also the story of charity: water. It's a book called Thirst. For those of you guys listening, you've probably heard me talk about it before. I’ve referenced it in some of my own books. I remember, there was some part of the story in which A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God played a part in this story. Was that the book that God used to really transform your heart? Was it a series of books? Was it a long period of time?


[00:15:38] SH: It is. It is. So my parents over the 10 years of rebellion had prayed for me, and they had little old ladies in prayer communities all around the country locked up in prayer clouds, praying for their prodigal to come home. My dad would send me books from time to time that I would just – I wouldn't throw in the garbage but I certainly wouldn't read them. For some reason at this moment, he had included Pursuit of God. Get it to me around Christmas time and I headed to Punta del Esta in Uruguay for New Year's, where we were all going to party, and I took the book with me. What's so interesting, Jordan, is I’ve tried to read this book since and I don't find it nearly –


[00:16:17] JR: You're like not really into it.


[00:16:18] SH: I’m not really into it. I mean, it's dense.


[00:16:20] JR: That’s really funny.


[00:16:21] SH: Maybe Instagram and Twitter has like ruined my mind since then. I think I was reading the opposite intention of my life and learning a little more about the book. I think he wrote it on a train ride over 20 hours or something, and it was kind of a stream of consciousness. You get a sense of this man pursuing holiness, pursuing righteousness, wanting to be close to God, wanting to know God. I’d been doing the exact opposite for 10 years. I mean, I’ve been flipping the finger to anything having to do with God or faith or spirituality or obedience or righteousness. I think there was just something compelling of – I’m an enneagram eight, so the extremes are interesting to me and even the idea of going to live in the poorest country in the world. To go from the back of limousines or other people's private planes to then this extreme environment of suffering was more interesting to me than maybe a pivot or a small course correction.


So, yeah, that book was instrumental. But I remember when I was writing the book. I read it again. I was like, “What, this is dense theology. This is not – This is heavy stuff.”


[00:17:34] JR: It’s not a page-turner, right?


[00:17:37] SH: This is not Eugene Peterson.


[00:17:39] JR: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. You mentioned in act one of your story your mom, the challenges there, and just your parents praying that God would make sense of that trial in retrospect. Did he? Has he?


[00:17:52] SH: Mom never fully recovered. She got a little better towards the end of her life. She was involved in a little bit of the charity: water story. She got to volunteer at some of our early events and see, come to some of the galas as we built them. Still had to very much protect herself and was far from normal. I mean, I think it made my parents deeply resilient. They went deeper and deeper into their faith, so they certainly would credit a much more authentic relationship with God because of that trial. But she never got well, and they prayed for healing for many years, and she went up dying of pancreatic cancer in a very short time, only a couple months from diagnosis to death. She died a few years ago. But my dad – Yeah, I think they would say this taught them maybe how to suffer well, and they really were people of the highest integrity. My mom was a prayer warrior. She really walked with God.


[00:19:02] JR: You got to rely real heavily on Romans 8:28 and 29 in this situation. Somehow, even this horrible situation, God's going to work it for the good of those who love Him. Maybe not on the side of eternity, right? A lot of times, that doesn't happen on this side of eternity, but He promises that He will. Blessed be the name of the Lord, easier said than done. All right, so you have this come to Jesus moment. I’m curious how you're thinking about your work and your career started to shift pre-post conversion.


[00:19:35] SH: I mean, I think, Jordan, I had the advantage of just not knowing any better when it came to – I didn't know anything about a charity. I didn't know anything about starting a charity.


[00:19:45] JR: Yeah, it's a gift.


[00:19:46] SH: I didn't know anything about institutional philanthropy. I wasn't a giver. I wasn't a volunteer. So I had this clean slate as a 30-year-old nightclub promoter, who had then spent two years as a photojournalist, telling stories. I had this problem I wanted to solve. At the time, it's worth pointing out, there were a billion people on the planet without access to clean water. So we've actually made a lot of progress as a sector, as a world over the last 15 years, even as population has increased. We’ve severely reduced the amount of people without water. It was one in six at the time, 15 years ago, globally didn't have clean water. Now, it's 1 in 10.


I had this clean slate and I just started talking with everyday people who worked at Chase Bank or Sephora or the Gap or at a fashion magazine and realized that there was this huge cynicism and skepticism when it came to charities. People felt like there were black holes. Where does my money actually go? Does any of my money or my donations reach people in need? Does it all get swallowed up in overhead? There was just – I remember coming across the USA Today poll that found 42% of Americans said they don't trust charities. A few years ago, NYU did a study, found 70% of people they polled believe charities wasted their money. That’s 7 out of 10 people believe like the one thing charities are supposed to do, which is use money well, they don't do.


I think I realized that to solve a problem as big as the water crisis or make any sort of meaningful dent or contribution, I would need a new business model. I would need to kind of not follow the status quo, and there was something interesting about reaching out to these disenchanted, disenfranchised people, this demographic of people who weren't really giving, or who said they weren't giving. So maybe just solving a problem like an entrepreneur saying, “This is a need in the market. I think I can meet it with a new product or a new model, and let's go.”


I was living on a closet floor at the time. I was completely broke because, number one, nightclub promoters don't save money well. We spend it very well but we don't really save. Then number two, I’d given everything I had to Mercy Ships and the people I’d met in West Africa. So I came back to New York City at 30 absolutely broke, ramen noodles and bagels, living on a closet floor of a friend's place in SoHo, like a walk-in closet floor amidst the suit jackets and shirts. They would dangle over my head. I just said, “Okay, I’m going to start this thing.” I wasn't very creative when it came to naming it. I’m going to start a charity that helps people get water. Let's call it charity: water.


[00:22:38] JR: Branding genius.


[00:22:40] SH: Yeah. Then I got this idea to what if we could offer 100% of all donations directly to fund these water projects that would help people get clean water and in a separate bank account, a different bank account with different set of numbers and a different auditing process? We would raise all of the staff salaries and overhead separately from a small group of donors. So that was kind of the big idea was could I take the biggest problem that I heard from people of why they weren't giving and just eradicate it, make it moot. How much of my money will go? 100%. That was so extreme.


[00:23:21] JR: It’s such a small shift like technically, right? But a massive shift in what you guys have been able to do in terms of messaging, right? It's a radical shift in the perspective of the customer, the donor, right?


[00:23:35] SH: Yeah, I think so. Look, even day one, I was so extreme about it. I said, “Well, let's even pay back credit card fees. Let's have such high integrity around this 100% that if someone goes on our website and makes $100 donation with their American Express card, even though we only get 97 of that donation, we're going to pay back the three dollars that Amex took, and then we're going to send and track that $100.” Then that led to the second big idea, which was could we use technology to prove to people where their donations wound up.


I remember meeting the founder of Google Earth. So this dates charity: water. Google Earth and Google Maps were started at the same time as charity: water. I met the founder at a conference. I’d gotten sponsored by Marissa Meyer to go to TED and I’m –


[00:24:24] JR: That’s amazing. Wait. Stop. Stop here. Marissa Meyer sponsored you to go to TED. How did that happen?


[00:24:32] SH: She somehow heard about our work and came into the office, and she sponsored a couple water projects in the Central African Republic and then said, “You should go to TED and meet some people.”


[00:24:43] JR: Fascinating.


[00:24:44] SH: Which actually led to another crazy story. It’s funny. A couple weeks ago, I was in Monterey, where they hosted the original TED, and I was walking by this bar where they would do the opening party. I remember that at that TED, someone had said, “Hey, there's this guy called Chris Sacca, and he's at this party, and you should get him to care about charity: water because if he likes you, he could really help you.” So I remember walking up to Chris in this crowded bar. It was really loud, and I tap him on the back. I had this iPod Touch on me with the white wired apple headphones. I said, “Hey, I just made a public service announcement. Will you watch it?” Poor Chris in this crowded bar at TED. It’s an underground bar. He puts on these headphones and he watches our 60-second PSA. The next thing I know, he's trying to get it played at TED. He lands it on the home page of YouTube. He was at Google at the time. It gets, I don't know, millions of views, and then kind of a friendship was born.


[00:25:49] JR: That's wild. For those of you who don't know, Chris Sacca is a very big deal in the tech world, as in a former entrepreneur and investor. That's a terrific story. By the way, sorry, listeners, for going down this rapid trip. This is fascinating to me. You want to – We talk about great corporate autobiographies. Thirst is up there. You know what's another one of my favorites is the story of Google Earth and Google Maps, this book called Never Lost Again. Did you read this?


[00:26:13] SH: I haven't. I haven't. Never Lost Again, I love it.


[00:26:16] JR: Nobody's read it. Nobody read this book. It's off the charts great. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's really great. All right, so I want to go back to something in your story because I was thinking about this as I was reading your book, Thirst. One of the things I love about your story is the gifts that God gave you that made you a really talented nightclub promoter were not lost. They're the exact same entrepreneurial gifts and hustle that have made you great at charity: water, right? I’m assuming you've made this connection before.


[00:26:51] SH: Yeah, I mean, promotion storytelling. Sure.


[00:26:54] JR: Exactly. I was thinking about – I was reading the other day. John the Baptist is baptizing the tax collectors and the Roman soldiers, two of the most hated professions in the first century. They come out of the water and they say, “Okay, John. What are we to do?” He doesn't say go abandon your work as a tax collector a Roman soldier, right? He says, “Hey, don't take more than what you're called to take and don't oppress them.” Or basically, stay in your lane. Use the gifts God's given you but radically change your relationship to your work. I think you're a great case study to that end. So, Scott, obviously you're open about your faith personally. But the charity: water brand makes little to no mention of the founders faith, which makes total sense to me. I’m curious, what positive benefits you've seen from this about you being transparent about your faith but the brand very much being for anybody from every walk of life and faith background.


[00:27:56] SH: Yeah. Well, I joke that even if I wanted to start a Christian charity, I couldn't have because I didn't know any Christians 15 years ago. I came back to New York City, and our first employees and donors, these were people I just kind of knew from partying or from – I wasn't involved in a church. I didn't have that language or that community. So I don't know. I mean, it was very simple to me. I would start a completely non-religious organization or a secular organization, and I would be okay just being animated by my personal faith to live that out by running an organization with integrity and excellence and transparency and effectiveness. People shouldn't need to do what I do on a Sunday to give at the organization or work at the organization or volunteer. I guess it was enough for me to know that in the kingdom of God that I believe in, no one is walking for dirty water. No woman is holding a child dying in her arms because she poisoned that child with dirty water.


Everybody should be invited to fulfill the mission of human flourishing of clean and safe drinking water, of the most basic need for humans met; Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons. I mean, we've now had support from one of my best friends and biggest donors who's given over $20 million now, is a devout atheist. We've had Muslim school kids during Ramadan send in $65,000 from the Emirates. We’ve had synagogues.


[00:29:31] JR: This is so beautiful to me though.


[00:29:34] SH: There was a synagogue early on and one of my favorite stories that sent in a check for a water project and said this is the first non-Jewish organization in the history of our synagogue we have ever given to, but we found the mission compelling and we found the organization compelling. So I think you know that's just been kind of easy for me. My atheist friend like doesn't care that I go to church, or he thinks I pray to a God that doesn't exist, and that I’m just wasting my time. But he's traveled with me now to 14 different countries and is very passionate about the work of charity: water doing good in the world. If I ever kind of mixed an agenda of proselytizing or conversion with that, he'd be out. He'd be out in a heartbeat, as would a huge amount of our donor bases.


Now, by the same token, Jordan, I’ve been to Christian conferences and then I’ve had a bunch of people say, “Well, we're not going to give to you because you're not a Christian organization.” I’m completely fine with that.


[00:30:30] JR: And this is crazy.


[00:30:32] SH: Well, it is, and I’m going to soapbox this for a second.


[00:30:35] JR: Please do.


[00:30:35] SH: But I did go to one conference once, and someone something to the effect of, well, they’re all just going to like – If they don't know Jesus, they're going to burn in hell anyway, a version of that. I remember having a conversation with this guy who was really wonderful, and he's like, “Well, you really should be a Christian charity. You need to be giving the gospel along with clean water.” I remember saying – He’s like, “So I’m not going to give to you because I only give to Christian charities.” I said okay. I said, “Well, how did you make your money?” He was a home builder. I said, “Well, did you only build homes for Christians? Surely, you never sold a home to someone who wasn't a Christian, right?” He’s like, “Well, that's not true.” I said, “Well, then you only employed Christian carpenters and plumbers and electricians and general contractors, right?” He's like, “No.” I’m like, “Well, then why should I?”


It’s totally okay for your philanthropy to come from – I said, “Did you try to live out your Christian values as you built homes? Did you try to make these homes of high quality, right? Did you try to treat your employees well with dignity and with respect, and pay them fairly, and look after their families? Did you bring your Christian values into your work?” “Yes.” Yeah, that's what I’m trying to do as well. I don't feel like I need to have an additional agenda. Now, there's other people that are called to be missionaries, and that's just not what I was called to do, and I have no problem with that either.


[00:32:01] JR: I’m so glad -- By the way –


[00:32:03] SH: You never change these people's minds, and they wind up giving it to you. Only faith changes their minds.


[00:32:05] JR: No. We need to change their minds of the church on this issue because this is foundational. I’m so glad you got up on this soapbox because it's one of my favorite soapboxes. It's such a limited view of the gospel, and I think it's rooted in this idea that Jesus came to save the souls of individual sinners. Yes, that's true, but it's woefully incomplete. Jesus came to redeem every single part of fallen creation, the material world, and that includes having clean water. Look at the first miracle. It was all about water and turning water into wine.


I think about William Wilberforce when people make this argument. Well, our work only matters if it leads people to faith in Christ. So you're telling me that the work William Wilberforce did in abolishing the slave trade only mattered to God if those slaves came to faith in Christ. You've got to be kidding me. Slavery has no place in the eternal kingdom of God, and thus working to abolish slave trade is good in and of itself, even if they don't come to faith in Christ. Working to end the water crisis is good in and of itself, even if you never share the gospel with one of these people. Now, hopefully, you have an opportunity to do that. But if you don't, blessed be the name of the Lord, right?


All right, you've gone here. I’m going to go a little deeper. You mentioned the kingdom. I always think it's interesting when people are working on really massive problems like this. You mentioned at the top of the conversation. You've made a dent in this thing, two percent, right? But as a believer, you know that 100% of people with access to clean water is guaranteed, not necessarily in the side of eternity. But one day on the new earth, every single person is going to have access to clean water. You could take that to the bank. So I’m curious how you think you lead differently, in light of that certain hope that a non-believer running the same organization wouldn't have.


[00:34:04] SH: I don't know that there's a huge difference. I mean, I see unnecessary human suffering and then I see resources that can meet those needs. As long as I am alive, I am trying to take those resources and meet those needs.


[00:34:24] JR: Yeah, it’s that simple.


[00:34:24] SH: And human suffering. I think it's that simple. People are suffering unnecessarily right now. We know how to solve it. There's not a single person alive right now out of the 771 million people who we cannot serve with clean water. We are not scratching our heads, Jordan, and saying, “Oh, we just couldn't help them. Couldn't help that village.” Now, it's expensive sometimes. A lot of different solutions work. When my mom got pancreatic cancer, the doctors had no solution, no solution. There was just stage four, too far gone. It was basically palliate. Water's just not like that. So I just see this as a great opportunity to keep moving forward. Build an organization that is transparent and efficient and effective and scalable and operates with excellence, and get to as many people as I can.


[00:35:23] JR: Yeah, and be at peace knowing that the works can continue after you're gone. God doesn't need Scott Harrison specifically to do this work, right? When you die, He's going to carry it on –


[00:35:32] SH: Yeah. Look, I mean, the two percent is pretty depressing. But when I’m on the alternative side, I was at the Madison Square Garden with my wife at a concert, and the garden was packed. I did the math, and it was – We’ve helped over 750 sold out Madison Square Gardens full of people, the 750 staples center. That’s two years of sold out shows just to contain the people that have clean water because of the charity: water community all around the world, because of Spring members like yourselves. That’s encouraging as well.


I mean, this year, we're getting over 5,800 people every single day clean water for the first time. So today, almost 6,000 new people get clean water and then tomorrow and then the next day. Then that includes Saturdays and Sundays. So even as I rest on a Sunday, another 6,000 people get access to clean water because, again, not of me or my individual contributions at this point, because of the community of generous compassionate givers around the world that are showing up to meet these needs.


[00:36:37] JR: Yeah. You talked about excellence a few times I believe wholeheartedly that if we believe our work matters for eternity, Christians ought to have the highest standards of excellence in our work. Clearly, you've proven yourself to be, in my opinion, a world-class founder. What do world-class founders and entrepreneurs do differently than average ones, good ones? What's the delta between good and great?


[00:37:00] SH: I think we have really high standards and good taste. I mean, often it’s a good design taste or often it is – I think there's so many different factors there. If I think through the entrepreneurs that I admire, they're ambitious. They're boundlessly ambitious. If you look at Bezos, he wasn't just going to sell books. He was never going to sell books. At the very beginning, he wanted to sell everything to everyone in the world. He started with books, right? You look at even just the ambition of Musk and also the taste. I mean, I don't know. The minute you set foot in a Tesla, you realize that this is just completely other. It is an other sense of aesthetic, of design, of minimalism, of taste.


I just remember growing up, Jordan. I was exposed to Christian art or Christian films or Christian music. I just thought it was so bad. There was a delta. There was a wide delta between what the so-called secular people were producing, and that always frustrated me. Why were Christian movies lame? Why did they have the sappiest soundtracks? Why did – That always bothered me. I think just excellence even when I was running the clubs, I mean, that was something that I valued back then, and then just tried to bring that into designing a charity the way that we would present ourselves. I mean, I would pixel push at one in the morning. I would rewrite copy for an email in those first years because I cared about every single word, about every detail, as we begin to build and establish this brand. Now, we have people who are far better than me at all these things in these roles. Thank God.


[00:38:52] JR: I think a big part of this too, you and I have exchanged some emails about this before, is just focus, right? You talk about Bezos. It's great to have a vision for The Everything Store, but he knew really early on that he had to focus on a vertical and crush it. For him, that was books. I actually tell your story in my book, Master of One, to illustrate this point, the story of you trying to decide which of these problems, the world's many, many problems in the developing world, are you going to solve. I remember, as you talked about in Thirst, you had a bunch of different ideas; malaria nets, health clinics, water, whatever. What's the story there? How did you come to realize you needed to pick a lane and focus on one of these things at a time?


[00:39:37] SH: Yeah. 15 years ago, just to unpack that a little more, so the brand is charity: water, and the colon was this leading idea that we'd quickly solve the water crisis and then move on to health care and shelter, education.


[00:39:56] JR: Security and justice, yeah.


[00:39:58] SH: Food, justice, right? I was going to kind of pull Richard Branson, right? I was going to be like the virgin of charities, and we'd have airlines and soda and hotels. Well, I think I first – I realized, wow, raising money is extraordinarily difficult, getting people to part with their money for a problem that they've never experienced. Again, 99.99% of our donors have never had to drink dirty water in their entire life. Getting people to do that is extraordinarily difficult, so that was number one. Just getting to our first million people with clean water took a while. It was difficult.


Then I think, number two, I was very fortunate that the more I learned about the actual water issue, the more I realized it touched almost every other thing that I cared about. A third of the world's schools don't have clean water. So rather than start charity education and go build a bunch of schools, I could take the thing that we are focused on and bring it to schools. Same thing with health, up to 50% of the disease in many of these countries, up to half the hospital beds throughout the developing world are filled with people suffering because they didn't have access to water or sanitation or hygiene. So I could bring clean water into hospitals. I learned about local economies and how every dollar invested in water and sanitation makes communities four to eight times richer. Every dollar turns into four to eight dollars of economic benefit. So I could work on livelihoods through this.


I think that got me even more excited about focusing on one thing. It's difficult because I’ve been to 70 countries now. I’ve been to Ethiopia 31 times. You see so many needs. You see so many needs that money could meet, that the resources could meet. The school needs a roof. The school needs a library. The hospital needs new beds or some sort of machinery. I think that's been difficult at times to say no to some of those things in order to say yes to deeper focus expertise and scale on the one thing, which is clean water for everybody.


[00:42:15] JR: This is so hard for people to do, especially entrepreneurial people who are blessed with vision and see opportunities like, “Hey, can build a school here in Ethiopia.” What have you learned about the keys to keeping yourself focused on the core and going deeper into what you guys are already doing well?


[00:42:36] SH: I think you have to tell a lot of people that you're focused.


[00:42:38] JR: Yeah, that’s a good word.


[00:42:39] SH: Every once in a while, my wife will remind me or somebody else will remind me, “Hey, didn't we say that we're going to focus on this?”


[00:42:45] JR: Yeah, this is good.


[00:42:46] SH: Because we can get distracted. I had a business coach once, and he said, “I like to chase squirrels.” I mean, there are just all these other ideas, and entrepreneurs can get bored. We can get bored doing the same thing over and over again. So I think early on, I said, “Let's make innovation a core value at charity: water.” We'll keep the mission the same and then we'll look for new ways to achieve the mission. Just for example, we were one of the first charities to make a virtual reality film like five years ago. Because we were so early to the VR space, we raised millions and millions of dollars through this. We had a huge amount of awareness because we adopted this new technology that people were interested in, and we used it to further our cause.


We started taking in bitcoin in 2014. So we've been involved in cryptocurrency now for seven years, taking in now 650 bitcoin to further the mission. I think we're always looking for innovative ways. How can – We're working on sensor technology now, where our wells are connected to the cloud, and they're self-reporting. They’re ongoing and sustainable functionality. That came because we saw Nest. We saw up and the blossoming Internet of Things and said, “Well, how could we take the Internet of Things and adopt that to our mission?” Well, we want to make sure when a well breaks, we know it and we could send a mechanic or a technician out. So that led to $10 million of R&D in sensor technology funded by Google and by others. I think we're focused, but we're still able to remain open to opportunities, and we're able to experiment and hopefully keep innovating.


[00:44:32] JR: Yeah, that’s really good. I love the very simple very practical advice of, yeah, the way to focus is to tell other people what you're focused on because it creates accountability, right? You don't want to be the guy that says, “Hey, I’m focused on this in my career.” Then three months later change your mind. I’m a huge Lin-Manuel Miranda fan and I was watching this great interview he gave with Charlie Rose once. Lin was talking about how talented all these kids were that he went to school. He went to some like magnet artistic school, whatever. He’s like, “These kids are like way more talented than I was like objectively.” Charlie was like, “Well, then why am I sitting here talking to you and not those kids?” He's like, “Because they were dabbling in everything. They were doing musical theater. They were doing composition. They were doing whatever.” He’s like, “At some point, I just realized musical theater was the thing. That was my lane, and I said this and went full steam ahead. That's the secret.” It’s the hard thing but it's why it's so rare and so unbelievably valuable.


All right, Scott, three questions we wrap up every conversation with here on the podcast. Number one, which books do you find yourself recommending or gifting most frequently to others? Obviously, not the Pursuit of God by Tozer.


[00:45:47] SH: Not that one. I’ve got a couple. I give out Comer's Ruthless Elimination of Hurry a lot. John Mark Comer, a great author, a friend as well. I give out Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser a lot. It kind of talks about first half of life, second half of life. Then anything by Dallas Willard, that’s probably the heady stuff that I try to tackle these days. I love Spirit of the Disciplines or Renovation of the Heart. I think he's just so unbelievably wise when it comes to spiritual formation and practices.


[00:46:19] JR: Those are good answers. Who would you most like to hear in this podcast? Doing work in a world that's not necessarily overtly evangelical but doing God's work and thinking about how to do it really well.


[00:46:29] SH: Not an easy one to get but Angela Ahrendts is pretty phenomenal.


[00:46:33] JR: That's a really good answer.


[00:46:35] SH: She was a CEO at Burberry for many years, was at Apple, lead retail, and is a person of high integrity, and also animated by her faith.


[00:46:44] JR: We're going to work to get Angela. That's a great answer. I’ve never heard that answer. I can't believe that. All right, Scott. So just a reminder here, you're talking to an audience of believers across a wide array of vocations. What they share is number one, a belief that their work matters for eternity. Number two, because of that, a commitment to do it masterfully well. What's one thing from our conversation today you want to highlight for that audience before we sign off?


[00:47:09] SH: I mean, I’m a big fan of excellence and trying to just whatever you do, do it at the very highest quality to care so much about your craft. Maybe just one example, I remember my wife was the creative director of charity: water for nine years. In the early days, people would apply to the organization and say, “I’ll do anything to work at charity: water. I mean, I will clean the toilets in the office.” People would actually say this. I remember, Vic would say, “That's not what I want. I want to hear that you want to be the best graphic designer in the world and that you are just happy that you might be able to apply the mastery of your graphic design skills here at charity: water, that you could use that for good.”


So I just remember that early on, not really generalists or kind of dilettante saying, “Hey, I just love the mission. I’ll do anything.” But we're really passionate about people who say, “This is what I uniquely can offer in the world,” to your Lin Miranda point, “And I’m going to pursue that and make sure that I do that in such a world-class way, with excellence that it inspires others.”


[00:48:24] JR: My listeners know that before doing the work I do today, I spent 10 years as a tech entrepreneur. Most recently, I ran a company about 120 people. When I was running that company, I got an email from this guy who was applying for a pretty senior level position in the company, and he said in the email – I commend this guy for being so honest. I think he's saying honestly what a lot of people won't say. He said, “I won't be the best at any role but I’ll be good at a bunch of different roles within the company.” I was like, yeah, hard pass. I want the best director of sales possible. I want the best creative director possible because I believe God's put us on mission to do this work in the world, and thus we should care about doing it with excellence.


[00:49:12] SH: To be fair, when you start a charity or when you start a company, generalist everybody's doing everything. I was doing QuickBooks early on. I had no business doing QuickBooks.


[00:49:23] JR: You have to for a while.


[00:49:25] SH: You have to for a while. To your point, I think there might be a point in people's careers where you don't have to find the one thing. We're a little older now and a little more experienced. I think it's okay for people to explore a bunch of different professions or crafts early on. Try to do them all the best that you can. Then I think true fulfillment really comes when you do find that thing and you say, “This is what I can uniquely contribute to the world.” Then you do start to focus in and you do less to do one or fewer things with blinding excellence.


[00:50:02] JR: Yeah. I think that explore – We talk about this on the podcast a lot. That exploration period is critical. In fact, I think we asked people to commit to their “one thing” way too early in life. You can't make a good choice at what you can be excellent at until you've tried a bunch of different things and found what's working and what's not working. That's a really good word to end on, Scott.


So, hey, Scott, I just want to commend you and the team at charity: water for the exceptional, I believe, redemptive work you do every day. Thank you for obeying Jesus's command to serve the poor and making this world look more like the kingdom and for reminding us that we're called to mastery. We're called to excellence, the pursuit of excellence in all things for the glory of God and the good of others. Guys, if you want to learn more about Scott's story, again can't recommend his book highly enough. How long has the book been out, Scott? Two, three years now?


[00:50:55] SH: A couple years, yeah. There's been some recent talk about turning it into a movie.


[00:50:59] JR: All right, let's do it.


[00:51:00] SH: It should probably take another few years but that’s called Thirst.


[00:51:03] JR: It’s called Thirst and, of course, you can give to charity: water right now at Scott, thanks again for joining us.


[00:51:11] SH: Of course. All the book proceeds go to the organization. I can never make a penny from it, so it's another way to just support charity: water.


[00:51:17] JR: It's beautiful. Thanks.




[00:51:20] JR:I hope you guys loved that episode. Seriously, go read Thirst. I think it's the only book I’ve ever cried in, sitting in the San Francisco International Airport super late at night. That might be the source of the tears. I recall it very vividly, reading an advanced copy. I’m crying there right in front of my airplane gate. It's a remarkable book. As is Never Lost Again, the story of Google Earth, Google Maps. If you're looking for a really fun read outside of your vocational lane, that's a great one.


Hey, guys, if you're enjoying the Call to Mastery, make sure you check out my new podcast called The Word Before Work. It's a weekly five-minute devotional podcast expounding upon scripture and what God's word has to say about the work that we all do in the world. You can find it really easily. Take out your favorite podcast app. Search Jordan Raynor or The Word Before Work, and you'll find it there. Guys, thank you for tuning in to this week's episode of Call to Mastery. I’ll see you next week.