In January of 2008, a few months after Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh, I approached a (then) relatively new and unknown charity that specialized in providing clean water to the developing world. I wanted to team up with them and repair a tube well – or perhaps build a new one.
Unfortunately, it was too late. After extensively corresponding with their volunteer coordinator, I learned that they had already left Bangladesh and were currently focusing on the water crisis in the African continent. Although they haven’t come back yet, they told me “Bangladesh is an area dear to us”. The charity? You know them as charity: water.
Even though I wasn’t able to team up with these guys, over the four months I corresponded with that organization (and even their founder Scott Harrison later that year), I was able explain a lot about my project and my philosophy and desire to change the conversation about global poverty – a theme many of you following my work may know quite well. This is an approach charity: water seems to have wholeheartedly embraced.
A few short months after I corresponded with Scott Harrison over Facebook, I noticed that charity: water posted a new video on their YouTube channel. Their new video wasn’t a TV spot or mini-documentary. Instead, it was just Scott.. standing on a roof… vlogging! What impressed me even more was what he was talking about. Taking a page out John Green’s “Nerdfighting in Bangladesh” video, Scott was vlogging about “showing exactly where the money goes”.
Top: charity: water founder Scott Harrison does his first rooftop vlog (2009), Below: I do one of my rooftop vlogs from Bangladesh (2007). This cheap, simple, and no BS approach can really be a great way to connect to people to the fight against global poverty.
That all looks and sounds familiar doesn’t it? In fact, in a recent interview Viktoria Alexeeva (the Director of Design & Branding of charity: water), basically took the words right out of my mouth by touching on the same themes I’ve been talking about for a while now:
I think one of the worst things a non-profit can do is have the poverty mentality. When it comes to asking people for donations, there are two ways to present the interests of your beneficiaries: the traditional way has been the charity case. We’ve all seen the kids with flies on their faces in bad infomercials at 2 a.m. This approach is just not effective anymore. I think one of the things a non-profit can do to get ahead of the game is present their cause as an opportunity. Which is what it really is! Every day we have the chance to buy a consumer product to satisfy ourselves in some way. It’s not every day that we have the chance to actually help another human being. The non-profit that recognizes its value in such a way will be able to blow their competition out of the water (no pun intended). Who says that charity has to be boring or a chore? I think we’re proof that it can as trendy, cool and satisfying as buying a new iPod. (source)
A good friend of mine once told me that a good idea (like my idea of changing the conversation about global poverty) can spread like a mustard seed caught in the wind. I brushed it off as flattery – but maybe that’s what is happening? Using this personal, interactive, and non-guilt inducing approach, charity: water has been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through social media like Twitter, Facebook, & YouTube, increase it’s profile and name recognition around the world, and help hundreds of villages around the world (including Bangladesh).
Hopefully this is just the first of many charities to follow this approach.
[edit: Also congratulations to charity: water for their nomination by The Webby Awards. Both The Uncultured Project & charity: water were honored with this year’s Webby Awards – with charity: water getting nominated for best charity website and Uncultured Project becoming an Official Honoree in the area of Experimental Online Film].