December 13, 2010 --
"This room can accomplish something incredible tonight. You can walk out of here and say 'I went to a party that gave clean water to over 19,000 people' - that's more than the Madison Square Garden full. We've got 5,000 people in Ethiopia who are waiting, 4,300 people in Haiti and Jim's got the biggest job, with more than 10,000 people waiting in the Central African Republic. They are waiting for you, right now, to step up on this stage. Brook let's get this started."
And indeed, things got started. A room of approximately 1,200 people burst into chatter and cheers as auctioneer Brook Hazelton, board member at charity: water and co-founder of Arrabon, drew his gavel. The goal of the 5th annual charity: ball was about to be met. Sponsor after sponsor staked bids and rushed through the crowded space of the Metropolitan Pavilion to switch on light bulbs costing anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000 - a donation that would fund clean water projects in developing countries around the world.
Less than 30 minutes later, the room erupted in excitement once again as charity: water's founder, Scott Harrison, pointed to 45 glowing light bulbs jutting from three sponsor boards marked with the names of the countries he had just advocated for during his passionate speech. A total of $470,000 was successfully raised -- an amount that would provide 19,300 people with clean water.
Even before the evening commenced, more than $1 million had been funneled in through the September campaign from individual fundraisers on mycharitywater.org, and through an offline campaign from Eastlake Church in Bothell, WA. The remaining amount left to raise was placed in the hands of generous attendees who were willing to make hefty contributions that would help build health clinics, water wells, large scale water projects and schools in Ethiopia, Haiti and the Central African Republic.
The overall targeted number for the September campaign was $1.7 million, which had been allotted for a special project in the Central African Republic for the Bayaka tribe. Harrison traveled for three days to meet with Jim Hocking, a professional driller who spent most of his life trying to provide clean water to people across the diminutive country. Hocking asked Harrison to support his vision in supplying all of the Bayaka with sustainable water systems - a feat that would cost approximately $1.7 million. Harrison agreed, leaving the rest up to fate.
The gala, sponsored by a slew of companies including, HBO, The Gilt Groupe, and Saks Fifth Avenue, brought out New York's elite and several celebrities, including the ball's host, Entourage's Adrian Grenier. Among the celebs were John Slattery and wife Talia Balsam, Jessica Stroup, CNN Host Soledad O'Brian, Sean Parker, David Blaine and model Jessica White. Beyond the Prada suits and sparkling Christian Louboutins was the looming sense of desperation highlighted in large, illuminated posters that hung throughout the open space. The solemn images of a water crisis that has affected more than 1 billion people globally was a stark reminder of why all had come out to such a momentous occasion.
Over the past four years, Scott Harrison and his staff of 27 have fought fearlessly to work with local organizations across the world in building more than 3,000 sustainable water projects in 17 countries. By donating 100% of public donations directly to these projects, charity: water has won the hearts of many non-profit supporters worldwide.
But exactly how are the administrative and organizational costs paid for if none of the public donations are used? It's a combination of what Harrison refers to as "Angel Investors," otherwise known as entrepreneurs Michael and Xochi Birch, who have donated more than $3 million for staff salaries and operational costs. The other sponsors, a group of visionary donors called "The Well," pledged $12,000 for a three-year commitment.
The success of the ball and of charity: water's overall ability to continuously organize sustainable projects can be partly attributed to its glamorous facade, celebrity following, and strong presence in New York City. But there is no question that Harrison, who traveled on more than 80 work-related flights this year alone, is dedicated to his foundation and the people whose lives have been transformed by it. And while Harrison was aware that "there was no silver bullet in solving the problem," he told the crowd: "I just knew we could help the billion people in the world that were waiting for us."
Updated--December 17, 2010