Eugene Cho

visionaries are crazy


If you’ve got a crazy idea, please do not dismiss it and please do not dismiss the crazy vision and ideas of others.  Read the whole entry.

Take a few minutes to consider the difference between the concept or difference between a million and a billion. How would you explain that?

Last night, I had the privilege of hanging out with Scott Harrison – founder and president of Charity: Water. He was in Seattle for a benefit event that was hosted by John Burgess.

The words – million and billion – sound the same, right? It’s simply one letter change. But Scott distinguished the difference using the parallel of time.  Some approximations:

  • One million seconds = 12 minutes days
  • One billion seconds = 32 hours years

Charity: Water is working towards a milestone of providing clean water for 1 million people later this year.  They are an amazing organization that donates 100% of all public donations (same model as One Day’s Wages) to build water wells and provide clean water. They should certainly take a moment to celebrate this wonderful feat but they know what I know:

There are still over a billion people that don’t have access to clean water.

While we were chatting and enjoying our cold beer, Scott shared that he believes it’s possible to solve the water problem of the world – in our lifetime. Translation: Everybody can have access to clean water.

And here’s the kicker: This crazy guy really believes it.

I love visionaries.

If you’ve got a crazy idea, please do not dismiss it and please do not dismiss the crazy vision and ideas of others.

I’d love for you to take 30 minutes to check out Scott’s testimony and vision. I first met Scott (earlier this year) while we were both speaking at The Idea Camp Conference in California. I had been tracking their organization for numerous months and after hearing his testimony, it all kind of made sense.

While Charity: Water is a “secular” organization, it is very clear that his faith in Christ compels him in his crazy vision.  Trust me, do yourself a favor and watch this video.

And to prove what a small world we live in, the host of the event John Burgess accompanied Scott and a group of others to Ethiopia during early April. As I watching these videos (the day of), I kept thinking,”I’ve seen that guy.”  And it dawned on me recently that John (the dude w/ the beard in the video) visited Quest Church right before his trip to Ethiopia.  This video is a simple and clear illustration what many, especially women and girls, have to do in order to get clean water…

Filed under: justice, non-profit, seattle, social media, , ,

17 Responses

  1. Rick in Texas says:

    Hi Eugene. Great post. But a correction for you about your math regarding a million and a billion seconds – that probably will make the contrast even stronger and thus build your case.

    A million seconds is 12 minutes? Not even close.
    60 seconds * 12 minutes = 720 seconds. The ratios between 12 minutes and 32 hours aren’t even close to the reality. The difference between those is only about a factor of 160, while the difference between a million and a billion is by a factor of 1000. Here are the actual numbers.

    As I write, it is about 7 am on June 19, 2009.

    A million seconds ago was about 11 1/2 days ago: 5:13 pm on June 7. A few things in my life were different, but not much. What about yours?

    Ah, but a billion seconds? You better sit down. A billion seconds ago was 5:13 am on October 11, 1977. How different were our lives back then? Jimmy Carter was in the White House, Obama was 16 years old, the World Trade Center towers were about 6 years old but still felt new and permanent. And neither of us were married.

    Yes, the difference between a million and a billion makes a BIG difference.

  2. Arukiyomi says:

    i was going to say the same regarding those figures for seconds. Rick has said it well.

    What I don’t think comes across well from Scott’s presentation is summed up in his closing statement “the money is there it’s just the will.”

    This is way, way too simplistic I’m afraid.

    He gives stat after stat. he says that over 600,000 people now have access to clean water from the efforts of his organisation.

    But do they?

    Maybe they’ve set up a ton of wells. But who’s maintaining the infrastructure of these? Who’s clearing mined land to enable people to get to these? Who’s resolving territorial disputes to enable minority people groups to travel across land to have access to this water? Who’s got the expertise and money to prevent these water supplies from being contaminated by everything from chemical waste to agricultural by-products? Who’s going to stop conflict over these water supplies escalating into war?

    … way too simplistic.

    He mentions the billions of dollars spent on Christmas in the US. If that money was not spent on Christmas in the US, the US economy and many economies elsewhere who are very much dependent on that would grind to a halt. In a capitalist model, you need that cash flow to keep the whole thing moving along.

    … way too simplistic.

    Yes, the world needs access to reliable clean water but development presentations like this actually prevent effective solutions because they do not paint a realistic problem nor offer a realistic solution. What they do offer though is for overpaid consumers to feel good about giving some of their surplus so that they don’t feel so guilty the next time they see something like this. It also offers populations from countries which have contributed to the problem of resource injustice a way of continuing to control not just how the problem originated but how the problem should be solved.

    You want a vision? Here’s a vision: imagine if we would only elect people who would give our surpluses away instead of stockpiling while the world starves, imagine if those governments stopped imposing tarrifs that effectively cripple the industries of the developing world, imagine if, instead of a surplus of lawyers to litigate for us, we had a surplus of anthropolgists and inter-cultural communicators to make sense of countries we cannot begin to fathom. I could go on but I sense I may be boring some.

    Let the discussion commence…

  3. Eugene Cho says:

    @rick in texas: thanks for the edit. it’s what happens when you’re posting after midnight. i like the way you gave more flesh to the time differences.

    @arukiyomi: you can contend that the presentation was simplistic. but their work to solve the water crisis is not simplistic.

    i like your vision.

  4. Arukiyomi says:

    er sorry… don’t really get what you mean. I do believe that their work to solve the water crisis is simplistic. Both the presentation and the work. I can, and will ;-), contend both.

    ahhh shucks… I like your vision too…

  5. OK, Eugene, you’ve got the million seconds right, now you just need to change the billion seconds to 32 years, not hours.

  6. Rick in Texas says:

    Sue’s right – but Eugene will get that fixed.

    Glad the illustration helped. By the way, the other word that gets thrown around is trillion. Do you know how long ago a trillion seconds was?

    Not World War 2 or 1. Not the reformation. Not the days of Jesus. It’s more like roughly 30,000 BC.

    Think about THAT the next time Congress decides to spend a trillion dollars.

  7. Eugene Cho says:

    sorry folks. fixed.

    trillion minutes = crazy.

  8. noura says:

    hey eugene thanks alot for this splendid post and for introducing scott harrison and the charity and i so love visionaries 😛

  9. Ton Lin says:

    Check out this YouTube video on the power of one crazy “visionary.” The first guy who dances is the visionary. But the credit should be given to the 2nd guy who joins him. The 2nd guy is the bravest of all, for joining one crazy visionary guy… and deep in our hearts, we all want to dance. We just need the visionary to show us…

  10. Arukiyomi says:

    I guess no-one’s aware of the issues… perhaps a quote from Dambisa Moyo will help raise awareness…

    “what kind of African society are we building when virtually all public goods — education, healthcare, infrastructure and even security — are paid for by Western taxpayers? Under the all encompassing aid system too many places in Africa continue to flounder under inept, corrupt and despotic regimes, who spend their time courting and catering to the demands of the army of aid organizations.”

    if that doesn’t convince you that serious questions need to be asked about the rationale of promoting “visionaries” like charity:water try this one

    “[people criticise me for saying that] I would see nothing wrong with denying US$10 in aid to an African child for an anti-malarial bed net — even labeling me as cruel; I say, if working towards a sustainable solution where Africans can make their own anti-malaria bed-nets (thereby creating jobs for Africans and a real chance for continents economic prospects) rather than encouraging all and sundry to dump malaria nets across the continent (which incidentally, put Africans out of business), then I am guilty as charged.”

    I hear her book (Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa) is well worth a read.

    More at

    charity:water may well be cutting edge design but it’s old-school aid and tragically it’s one that will not fundamentally better the long-term situation for the communities it’s trying to help

  11. Samantha says:

    Arukiyomi, I still don’t know why you’re hating on these folks so much. Tell us again how you know them so well?

  12. Arukiyomi says:

    hating is a strong word Samantha.

    I’ll tell you how I know them. I’ve lived abroad in a number of developing countries and grown up in communities involved in aid work and development, including Liberia which was featured in the presentation. I’m also working in language-based development myself so I have some idea of what I’m talking about.

    My mother worked for over four years developing health care aid work in Liberia. The whole lot went down the tubes when she had to leave due to the civil war. All the work she did was destroyed.

    I’ve not been critical of “these folks” on a personal level at all and you are missing my point I’m afraid. Let me state it clearly: aid work solutions like the ones that charity: water are proposing will do very little at all to alleviate the long term suffering of people in Africa.

    It’s time for us to open our ears to listen, not to westerners who have minimal experience of these things but to the Africans who know what they’re talking about.

    Again, I refer you to Dambisa’s work and, Samantha, please feel free to reply and actually engage with the issue here.

    It’s life and death to people out there you know.

  13. Eugene Cho says:

    @Arukiyomi: i agree with much of what you shared on your above comment. Particularly:

    It’s time for us to open our ears to listen, not to westerners who have minimal experience of these things but to the Africans who know what they’re talking about.

    But I don’t think you really know the folks, vision of CW to build capacity through and within the people of a respective culture and community.

  14. Arukiyomi says:

    thanks for that Eugene. It would be good to know how CW builds capacity within these communities.

    So, to that end, I’ve been over to their website and noted that it says somewhere that their main focus is to

    “spread awareness and create accountability when it comes to our donors”

    On the website it says also that their goal is

    “to not only provide clean and safe water to those in need, but to do so through sustainable projects implemented by excellent partners”

    After watching the video presentation and reading through the website I see a conflict. Do you?

    The presentation made no mention of sustainability. Nor did it mention any of the local partners they work with which seems a missed opportunity to me. It would have been wonderful to hear the voice of the people who are being provided employment and skills by charity: water or its partners, whose lives are being changed by the physical resources invested in them and their community. This would be evidence of some of the capacity building you say they’re doing Eugene.

    From the presentation I would take “accountability” to mean “that every penny is spent on water projects” but a greater vision is to ensure accountability for the empowerment of the local community (not other charities) and long-term sustainability of the work that’s done. I’ve a feeling that CW, as a newcomer on the field is still in its honeymoon period and still remains fairly distant from the hard realities of making that empowerment and sustainability work.

    However, success and accountability as defined by the presentation is all numbers: money and projects and people as stats. This was the first thing that concerned me and made me fear the oversimplicity of it. The conflict is between this simplicity and the extremely complex goal they have on paper. It really isn’t as simple as ‘we give money = they develop’

    Maybe Scott was translating the reality into a form that whoever he was presenting to could understand and I’m not realising that. If so, the presentation says a whole lot about the audience.

    Another vision springs to mind then: let’s educate our churches and communities about the realities of aid and how much of a problem the west has created in the world because of it.

    Let’s bring in the Sudanese, the Ghanaians, the Costa Ricans and Indians to speak to us: people who are running their charities at grassroots level and have to live with the outcome of it themselves. Let’s get to know them and better still, let’s learn from them and listen to them teach us. They have so much to give us. Let’s realise that in the world of aid, it’s us who are the needy.

    But maybe, as we’re also into movie quotes on another thread we “can’t handle the truth.”

    In his story on his site, Scott mentions the parable of the good Samaritan. Why did the Samaritan do what he did? Scott says “because he could” Sounds cool, but this is not good scripture.

    The point Jesus was making was that everyone who passed by the man “could” do something. It was not being able per se that made the Samaritan the man’s neighbour. What did? I believe it was that before he did anything, Jesus says “he had compassion.”

    Giving money shortcuts the compassion circuit. By shortcutting the ability we have to learn love by starting from compassion, charity:water is not helping us in the west.

    So, I believe Scott needs a bigger vision: get us over there and get them over here. Get the two communities together. Get more mutual understanding. Raise compassion not money. Then let the compassion do what it did in the Bible – change lives.

    Now, as you and Samantha say, I don’t “know these folks” If you guys do then feel free to educate me…

  15. Arukiyomi says:

    oooh check this out

    and following the links in that blog to the blog Blood and Milk are worth following for more detail.

    This is the approach to development/aid I’m talking about

    there’s some great stuff there.

  16. Laura says:

    I agree that the water issue, as well as all of the other issues in Africa are very complex. They’re also very connected, which most people fail to recognize.

    But I think Charity:Water explains on this section of their site how they are merely the avenue of awareness and fundraising, and they’ve designated groups on the ground in Africa to do the research and sustain these projects. I can’t vouch for each organization, but I think Charity:water has recognized that individual local NGO’s should be doing the job.

  17. Maddie says:

    Couldn’t access the videos, but it seems to me that much of the arguments about aid that can really help tie into something I once heard that being a Christian isn’t about being “good” perse but about being just and honest.

    Also, I have been inspired by Advent Conspiracy in regards to Water. This link will lead you to their promo video 🙂

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Jesus came during the darkest hour, bringing hope and light. Even in times of apparent silence, God is not absent. God is at work. God is not yet done.


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