Scott Harrison was born in Philadelphia and grew up as a single child in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.
His father was an executive at a small electrical transformer sales firm. His mother became quite ill while Harrison was very young.
She was victim to a carbon dioxide leak when Harrison was 4 and, though she recovered, it left her ultra allergic to chemicals.
She “lived in a tiled bathroom in our house that had been scrubbed down with a special soap 20 times and on a cot that had been washed in baking soda 20 times.”
“There was tin foil covering the doors,” he recalls. She had to wear a charcoal mask on her face “a barrier against toxins, it was it was monitoring the air, filtering the air that she breathed,” says Harrison.
As a result of her mother sickness, Harrison became serious engaged taking care of the house. “I was in really a caregiver role helping to do the cooking, the cleaning,” explains Harrison.
Harrison moved to New York City after he graduated from high school, determined to live on his own.
“All right, now it’s my turn! “He recalls saying.
From 1992 to 1994, Harrison was Sunday River’s keyboard player and band manager, and performed at then-famous New York City night clubs like CBGBs, The Lion’s Den, and The Wetlands.
The musical experience from the band that later collapse introduced Harrison to the world of club promoters.
Harrison lived from the ages of 18 to 28, working as a promoter for about 40 venues, a moment he terms his “decade of clubs.”
Harrison grossed anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 on a decent night.
“We bring the beautiful people, we bring the clients who can spend a thousand dollars on a bottle of champagne, or $500 in a bottle of vodka.”
“We were kind of mercenaries — we would get a percentage of all the sales that happened that night but with no loyalty to the venue, so the minute the venue cooled down, we would take our set to the hottest club,” explains Harrison.
Before there were social media, he was already an influencer; both Bacardi and Budweiser paid him and a friend $4,000 a month to drink their brands in public.
Harrison was a big party monster. He was “almost drunk every night,” he said in a video shared by Charity: Water. But he realized that he was lost and decided to learn about theology.
“I’ve been looking to find a way out. I had grown up with a Christian religion from which I had totally moved away,’ he says.
Harrison made up his mind in Punta Del Este to change his actions, and to find something really worthwhile and truly beneficial not to him alone, but to the entire world.
“I had just had become a really selfish sycophant. Hedonist. I had betrayed the spirituality and the morality of my childhood – smoked two packs of cigarettes [a day] for 10 years.”
“I had a gambling problem. I had a pornography problem. I had a drinking problem,” Harrison tells CNBC Make It.
Harrison made a commitment to himself in the middle of hosting house parties for hundreds of guests: “I vowed to come back and change my life,” he says.
“I had gone on a trip to Punta Del Este and realized on that trip, I had gotten most of the things I thought would make me happy and they hadn’t,” Harrison tells CNBC Make It. “Even though I drove a B.M.W. and had a nice apartment in New York City, my life was a mess.”
What Changed Scott Harrison’s Life in Punta Del Este, Uruguay
Harrison’s Uruguay holiday was one of luxury and leisure. He was living in one of the nicest resorts and partying with other influencers on an ongoing basis.
However, he realized during his stay in Uruguay how the materialistic things and partying lives he had lived did not make him happy and that an urgent and drastic shift was needed in his life.
Harrison recounts how he feels unbalanced in the middle of a party in southeastern Uruguay in a video posted via Charity: Water’s Facebook page, and wishes the music will just end.
The uneasiness of finding a balance situation from living in abundance made Harrison dropped everything in his life and moved on.
He returned to New York City in 2004 to find something different and positive doing. He began to apply as a volunteer to aid organizations such as the World Health Organization, Oxfam, the United Nations, and the Peace Corps.
Unfortunately, he was denied entry into almost every application he had submitted.
“I’m denied by all the organizations because no one knows how useful a nightclub promoter would be for their significant, serious adult work,” Harrison says.
Eventually, Mercy Ships, a non-profit floating hospital organization that provides medical support to those in distress, welcomed him. But Harrison had to pay 500 dollars a month as a volunteer.
He stayed on a converted cruise ship off the coast of Liberia for his first trip in October 2004 and took photographs of the work undertaken by the non-profit.
In Liberia, West Africa he works as a photojournalist for over a year for “Mercy Ships”.
He took 50,000 images of patients with disorders such as leprosy, cleft lips and tumors. After they were treated, he also took photographs.
He emailed the shots to the same email distribution list he had gathered while working in New York as a promoter. People began contributing to Mercy Ships and it is through Harrison.
“I realized that, wow, I could inspire positive action, compassion, empathy among people who, frankly, I didn’t even think had it in them,” Harrison says.
Harrison was inspired by the reality of Liberia, Uganda, and other poorer nations around the world, pushing him to a path to further serve the disadvantaged world.
He was exposed to the devastating effects of polluted water in Africa. Water apart, and to the fact that people in this part of the world are living in extreme poverty, suffering from different types of disease.
Some 3 in 10 people worldwide, or 2.1 billion, lack access to safe, readily available water at home, and 6 in 10, or 4.5 billion, lack safely managed sanitation, according to a new report by WHO and UNICEF.
It was on that trip that Harrison discovered the significance of providing clean water and the lack of access for many people.
There are 263 million people who have to spend more than 30 minutes gathering water away from their home per ride, and 159 million people drink polluted water from streams and lakes.
According to the WHO and UNICEF, this and a shortage of access to sanitation results in the deaths of 361,000 children under the age of 5 per year.
The fatal mixture also leads to cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid infection.
The pain hit Harrison, but also his desire to make a difference. “I felt that by telling the story, I was helping,” says Harrison.
On his 31st birthday, Scott Harrison created the non-profit organization Charity: Water in 2006 and raised funds for the organization by hosting a birthday party where everybody was charged a $20 entrance fee.
Today, the Charity: Water whose mission is to provide clean drinking water to deprived communities around the world after its founding, has raised over $450 million, which was completely devoted to constructing clean water infrastructure for the world’s poor.
Since 2006, the foundation has also provided more than 11 million people around the world access to clean water by funding nearly 40,000 water projects in more than 26 countries around the world.