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I totally hate that NYT Magazine took this tone and title to Scott and charity: water

Ben Goldhirsh

What do you think? To me, it feels like hating from the sideline. What's the suggestion, not dig in, not get involved? Anyhow, Scott, I'm proud to be on your team. This is a community that is about doing what you can, with what you have, and engaging with problems with full creative force. You've been a role model in that regard. Keep it turned on.

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  • Agus Echague

    I tend to agree with your frustration on the title (out of all the stories in the 7 page articles, the 'millionaire field trip' is it?). BUT, maybe, that's exactly the type of headline that would harness interest in people to go ahead and read the full article (it's more gossipy and appealing that just "awesome work in africa by charity:water").
    In the end, the article DOES raises awareness of the actual work that's being done. Which is not a bad thing? :)

  • christoph.gorder

    Thanks for starting this thread, Ben. As President at charity: water, I spend the majority of my time focused on providing clean water, not marketing or fundraising. On any given day, there are hundreds of some of the best professionals in our industry out there on the front lines implementing our projects. Some of them work here in New York, evaluating projects, managing partnerships or auditing programs. Most of them work for our partner organizations on the ground, interacting directly with communities in their own languages, operating drilling rigs and teaching sustainability. By working in this way, our funds go to work efficiently and quickly on programs run by some of the best water organizations in the world, and charity: water doesn't need to build yet another expensive NGO field office. There's much more about our work here: http://www.charitywater.org/projects/

    In the process of doing this, we're continually raising the level of accountability we provide to our beneficiaries and to our donors. Our standards are some of the highest in the industry and are unique in requiring every single project to be documented. In an industry that's highly decentralized and generally not very technologically advanced, this is a huge accomplishment in transparency and I'm not aware of another organization that's done this anywhere near our scale. More importantly, what this means is that we know where every project we've ever done is and we actually can be accountable for sustainability.

    This year, we're investing significant amounts of money and effort into keeping water flowing over time. We're going back to visit thousands of our past projects to learn how they're faring and to document the impact they've had. We're launching mobile mechanics programs in multiple countries. And, we're developing a remote sensor technology that soon will give us the ability to get real-time reporting from even our most remote project. Nothing like it exists today. We operate at the forefront of our industry and we are laying the groundwork for the future of how aid is delivered to people in need.

    Naturally, I'm passionate about the work we're doing. The Times article has brought some cynical commentators out of the woodwork. But many more people have drawn a different conclusion from the story: at the end of the day, we can make a difference. Our donors choose to make that difference by giving up their birthdays or running a lemonade stand or paying to fly to Ethiopia. They get it. And, because of them, this year, more than 3,000 communities will get clean water. That's what matters.

    Christoph Gorder
    President at charity: water

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      Thanks for giving insight on the sensor technology you're developing and work you're doing to visit past projects. I think that's crucial, and I'm glad that there's follow-up, and not just set-up. I wonder how you'll make this process efficient and stream-lined, considering your projects are set up all over the world? It would be interesting to see if communities can be empowered through charity:water to get involved in testing their own wells. This organization is doing an interesting citizen science project, involving communities in testing rising water levels: http://crowdhydrology.geology.buffalo.edu/CrowdHydrology/Home.html . It would be great to know if you're connecting with research hydrologists like Mike Fienen: http://wi.water.usgs.gov/professional-pages/fienen.html.

      • christoph.gorder

        Thanks for the reply, Alessandra.
        And, thanks for the referrals. I wasn't aware of them and both research teams look really interesting.

    • Ben Goldhirsh

      Christoph, your work and energy is so inspiring. Thanks for sharing the path you're on. Please keep sharing updates with all of us in the GOOD community, and definitely post requests for help if there are efforts we can get together to support. Also, if you get a chance, change that avatar. Aside from that, thank you and Godspeed.

  • Mary Slosson

    It's an old joke amongst journalists that the role of the press is to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." Ben, I think this piece is fair, and the reporter obviously takes pains to describe the trip exactly as he saw and experienced it. Once an organization becomes the behemoth size that charity: water has, it demands a higher degree of scrutiny because of the sheer number of public donors who want to make sure their donations are well spent.

    The article actually steers clear of some of the more weighty concerns out there (see for example this oft-cited piece: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/13814-the-problem-with-charity-water) about partnerships with organizations like Samaritan's Purse, whose express mission is to gain an audience for Christian gospel through the provision of food, water, and medical assistance (http://www.samaritanspurse.org/our-ministry/about-us/). That makes some people uneasy.

    Needless to say, charity: water is obviously a powerhouse in fundraising, PR work and awareness, and does tap partner organizations working on the ground already. Not a bad partnership model for other aid organizations to consider, even if it's not perfect.

  • Liz Dwyer

    The title certainly plays to the perception that the wealthy go slum in poor communities and do "charity" without being willing to actually change the system that creates such extremes of wealth and poverty in the first place. Peter Buffett's NYT op-ed on the 'Charitable-Industrial Complex' (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/27/opinion/the-charitable-industrial-complex.html) is a serious must-read. In it Buffet says:

    "Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.

    "As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.

    "But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life."

    Reading that and then re-reading this charity:water piece is incredibly thought provoking, to be sure. As Josh noted about the Pandora guy...sigh. However, what I'm actually more interested in is whether there's anything that's factually incorrect about what was reported in this piece. I'd love to hear from Scott about that and hope he see's this as an opportunity to really dig in and push forward with what's working, while also listening even more closely to those who are critical friends.

    • Ben Goldhirsh

      thanks for sharing that Peter Buffett piece. I agree there is smoke on the system. A question: does the system get changed in one fell swoop, or does it evolve as people's perspectives evolve on justice, fairness, reason, and collective interest? If the latter, than another qusetion, should philanthropic civic steps whatever the size be measured against their delta from where the get to relative to a larger system shift, or should the be seen as steps in the right direction? I'm kind of leading with these questions, because I do think there is smoke on the system, I do think we need evolution, but I also think we have to celebrate people engaging in efforts that exercise their intention and interest toward justice and impact. I also totally agree with your last line about listening closely to constructive criticism on how to take the next step, and I think one of the keys to whether feedback is heard and effective or not relates to the tone and respect at its core.

  • Joshua Neuman

    I think the title is lazy, sensational, eyeball fodder, but I don't actually think it reflects the tone of the piece, which is a lot more even-handed and level-headed. I don't think Scott even comes off so bad. The writer lets him (effectively) have the last word via Ek. The guy who comes off the worst is the guy from Pandora (see below). Yikes. That's like M.I.A. truffle fry territory...

    “I think people in the tech community are attracted to fastidiously designed and maintained brands,” Tom Conrad, the executive vice president of Pandora, said as our Land Cruiser drove between villages. “Perhaps that’s superficial,” he conceded, “but good design correlates with thoughtfulness throughout the endeavor.”

  • Chelsea Spann

    I also think what Scott's doing is great. He's going against the grain, he's making charity transparent, he's including the necessary thought leaders, and he's focused on long-term growth/social impact. He's doing all things right in my opinion. Easy for everyone else to be critical when it's not their job or their brand. Can't wait to see what's next for charity: water.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    This article takes an interesting spin, really evaluating Scott Harrison's character and past, which I didn't find totally necessary, but I thought it was fascinating. As a club promoter, turned born-again Christian trying to do good, his story reflects that he has good intentions. However, this guy's strength is the marketing and branding. I like that this piece ends on talking about the impact that charity:water has actually made- which seems to be ineffective: One estimate suggests that 30 percent of all water projects, industrywide, break down ahead of schedule. And charity: water currently has limited ability to monitor its own wells. “We don’t know what percentage of our wells are broken,” says Robert Lee, the organization’s director of special programs. “My guess is 5 to 10 percent.” I'm sorry, but as an org, charity:water should be better about monitoring its impact, and making sure that the wells actually work- or else no impact is really made. Harrison's strength is his commanding presence and his marketing, so I say, maybe he just needs a better team and tactics to make sure his work is doing good.