Let me introduce you to my friend and hero, Scott Harrison, founder and CEO of charity:water who lives and breathes the very essence of Inspire a Shared Vision, and whose story (check it out here
Scott’s journey to a life of rich fulfillment and meaning began in 2004. After living the high-life for over a decade as a successful nightclub promoter (and part-giver) in New York City, he began to feel empty and unfulfilled. Spiritually, morally, and emotionally in crisis is how he’s described it. And it forced him to ask himself a simple question, “What would the opposite of my life right now look like?” The answer led him to quit his job and begin to explore what a life of giving to others as would be like.
Scott spent two years travelling with an organization called Mercy Ships, documenting the stories of surgical patients who received care on board the floating hospital. He also went into the local West African villages saw people drinking from ponds filled with scum, polluted rivers, and insect-infested swamps. Scott saw first-hand the profound affect that dirty water had on people’s lives and he was both shocked and angered. He began learning more about the over 660 million people in the world living without access to clean water and came back to New York City determined to make a difference. So, he did what he knew how to do—he threw a party! Scott charged people the amount of his age to come to his birthday bash and raised enough money to provide a community in Uganda with clean water.
Scott’s first birthday-bash fundraiser ignited a crazy idea. And in 2006, he founded charity:water with an innovative approach to Inspire a Shared Vision.
Scott knew that the key to moving his own vision forward was to listen to and mobilize individuals to start talking about their own investment in the “cause”. And as he launched charity:water, he gave everyone the opportunity to participate in the organization’s vision in their own way. Scott’s willingness to invite others into the movement has proven to be a critical factor in what has become charity:water’s phenomenal success: 21,000+ water projects funded in 24 countries, providing 6.4 million people with clean water! It also is the door through which I and my family entered to become personally engaged in Scott’s shared vision several years later.
In 2010, my husband and I found ourselves in Ethiopia. We were there to meet our new son Tariku (which in Amharic means “his story”) who we were adopting at age 4 ½. We learned from his Ethiopian caseworker that he lived in a hut in a rural village where he slept on the dirt floor next to a donkey for the first four years of his life. And as one of the 600+ million people globally who don’t have access to clean drinking water, from a young age he would walk with his older stepbrother to a filthy pond to collect their water for the day—for drinking, washing, and cooking. That same water is what took the life of Tariku’s little brother, so sick with diarrhea from dirty drinking water. When we arrived in the U.S. Tariku, too, had horrible stomach problems and parasites from the water he had been drinking. But we were fortunate to have access to powerful antibiotics and he recovered with proper treatment. If only it had been that simple for his brother.
About two months after Tariku’s homecoming, we took a trip to Washington D.C. Visiting the World War II Memorial, we were at the edge of its large water fountain when Tariku got on his knees, leaned over, and cupped the water in his hand as if he was going to drink it. I grabbed his hand and told him not to drink it; the water was dirty and that wasn't what it was for. (Oh the irony! That water was much cleaner than any water he'd ever drunk in Ethiopia.) Tariku looked up at me, confused, and asked, "For animals?" I said, no. He asked, "To wash?" I said, no. Then he said "What for then?” What for, indeed! Here we are in America, where we have the luxury of clean water simply being a decoration to look at. It was mind boggling for Tariku.
It wasn’t long after that we began talking about the dirty water crisis in the world and what we could do together as a family, with Tariku often saying, “I don’t want any more kids to die from dirty water, mama.” When we discovered the work of charity:water, our family became a big supporter of Scott’s shared vision. That support includes Tariku who, starting with his 5th birthday, has given up getting presents and, instead, asks for money to be donated to help a village in the Central African Republic get clean water.
Tariku, at his birthday party, showing his friends children in Africa drinking from their new water well That was just the beginning of Tariku developing his own personal vision. Over the past six years, he has spoken at various schools about the dirty water crisis, talking to kids about how they can make a difference in the world (even though they aren’t adults). He continues to forego birthday gifts, raising $30,000 to date for clean water projects in three different countries. And in 2014, Tariku was honored by charity:water for his commitment and contribution to the cause. At the event in New York City, he also had the chance to thank Scott in person for inspiring him to engage others in his passion.
Amy, Ben and Tariku Savage with charity:water CEO, Scott Harrison (far right) at the gala where Tariku was honored for his work funding clean water projects. Had Scott Harrison not passionately told the story of charity:water, my son may not have had the pathway to engage in his own vision of helping to ensure that by the end of his lifetime no child will ever die of causes related to dirty drinking water again.
Scott and Tariku offer proof that one person’s desire and clear invitation to participate in a vision on behalf of the common good begets another, which begets another. This is how individuals, families and communities are changed for the better. And it starts with just one person.
In this New Year, I encourage us all to get in touch with our passion—the thing that drives us and motivates us to do what we do. Ask yourself what the higher meaning and purpose of your work is, and throw your efforts into authentically living and communicating that every day to those around you. People WILL take notice of your passion and enthusiasm and want to come along with you.
Amy Savage is founder and president of Fine Points Leadership, a Leadership Challenge® Global Training Partner, and a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge. She is passionate about helping people live and lead out of their values and engage with their purpose. You can reach her at email@example.com