January 24, 2012
Would you like some water? It’s tap.”
Viktoria Harrison holds a glass under the faucet as she explains New York City has one of the most extensive and complex water systems in the world—utilizing tunnels, aqueducts and reservoirs. She knows this because her company recently invited a water engineer to give a presentation on how the city’s water is stored, filtered and delivered. And why would a company be interested in a lecture on water systems? Because the company where Viktoria Harrison works as creative director—the company her husband, Scott Harrison, founded five years ago—is in the water business. Even if most of their business is half a world away.
Charity: water is not your average nonprofit. Taking a look around their open, brightly lit SoHo loft will tell you that. Yellow jerry cans line the white walls under crisp photos of men, women and children splashing in clean water. “A lot of these Scott has shot himself,” says Sarah Cohen, charity: water’s communications and development manager. “Photography is so important to us—to remind us. We’re trying to show the hope and the joy that comes with clean water. Trying to show the solution instead of the problem.”
Everywhere in the office the solution is celebrated: a world map with stickers on all the countries where charity: water has supplied clean water, a bulletin board filled with notes and drawings from children who support charity: water, a plasma TV mounted on a wall with real-time Twitter feeds showing who is talking to charity: water, what charity: water staff are tweeting and who is tweeting about charity: water. “It’s inspiring to see how so many different people have taken the message as their own story,” Cohen says.
Cohen points out the conference rooms—both with wall-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and whiteboard walls covered with scribbles and charts and year-end goals. One conference room holds a folded up ping-pong table. The office space is all cubicles, open and collaborative. There’s a constant hum as jeans- and TOMS-clad employees talk, laugh and spontaneously consult over one another’s shoulders. “The only thing we ever fight over is the music,” Cohen says.
It’s all so slick, so hip, so cool—so very much more like a marketing agency than a charity. Which is probably because Scott Harrison used to be in marketing.
Specifically, marketing nightclubs. Or, in his words, he got “people wasted for a living.”