Annie Griffiths, Executive Director of Ripple Effect Images, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Annie Griffiths, Executive Director of Ripple Effect Images, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.



Annie Griffiths         ©

Denver: My next guest was one of the first female photographers for National Geographic and has been to some 150 countries during her remarkable career, taking photographs that humanize all kinds of situations and cultures. She is also the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization called Ripple Effect Images, a collection of photographs that document the programs that empower women and girls across the developing world. She is Annie Griffiths. Good evening, Annie, and welcome to The Business of Giving!


Annie: Good evening!

Denver: Your love affair with photography really didn’t begin until college. How did you get the bug?

Annie: Right! I was a late bloomer. I think it came from the fact that my parents, when I was growing up, my parents always had National Geographic and Life Magazine, and I was intrigued with photographs, but it never occurred to me that I could make a career out of that. I pursued writing. I actually audited a class to learn how to use a camera better, and somebody didn’t show up the first day.  The professor gave me the spot! So it was really like falling in love because two weeks later, I changed my major. I was gobsmacked.

Denver: It took instantly.

Annie: It took instantly. Yes.

Denver: What was it like being one of the first female photographers down at National Geographic? This was around 1978. Were there concerns about sending a young woman to far-flung places around the globe?

Annie: Well, yes, there were… and well-intentioned concerns. The biggest thing I recall is being terrified because I was not only one of the first women, but I was by far the youngest photographer there.  And I was, in fact, being mentored by the great director of photography, Bob Gilka, who recognized that he needed to diversify his team. He was covering the globe with just a bunch of white guys. And so, a number of us were given a leap into the big magazine world because of Bob’s interest in grooming a greater variety of photographers.

Denver: You’ve said that it was actually a bit of an advantage being a woman working in this world.

Annie: Oh, huge advantage!

Denver: What were some of those advantages?

Annie: Well, I think that the most important element of photographing people is trust and earning their trust. And women just tend to be less…

Denver: More trustworthy, actually.

Annie: Yes. Probably more trustworthy, but less threatening.  And people tend to be less on guard. Also, when I eventually had my kids, the fact that I was a mother was also kind of an equalizer. It showed me as a real human being, not just as this aberration who arrived from who knows where and was taking pictures. So, I’ve always thought it was a huge advantage.

The other advantage that I still love is that I was able to be with the women and therefore understand the underreported stories that rule their lives. And that is priceless. I could go where no man could go.

Denver: So you’re actually covering stories that had never been covered.

Annie: Absolutely! Yes. Still am.

Denver: That’s a pretty big advantage. I’ve so enjoyed looking at your work, and I truly appreciate it. I just wondered how you go about choosing the subject and telling the story… and maybe how that’s evolved since you first started back in 1978.

Annie: Well, yes. I think your radar improves. You get a sense of something is going to work or it’s not going to work. I think as you mature in any craft, you kind of see ahead and anticipate things better. It’s a good thing because when we’re young, we have so much energy. We can just go and go and go. And as time goes on, you sort of listen better on a number of levels. And that’s also part of trusting your gut so that you get to the subject more quickly. (more…)

Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: And this evening’s semi-finalist of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change initiative is Sesame Workshop, teamed together with the International Rescue Committee to educate children displaced by conflict and persecution. And here to discuss their proposal with us is Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee. My thanks to both of you for being here this evening!

Sarah: Thank you!

Sherrie: Thanks!


Sarah Smith and Sherrie Westin  ©

There are 65 million people displaced around the world; half of those are children. Under 8, there are about 12 million. So it’s a massive, massive scale.

Denver: Let me start with you, Sarah. Give us an idea of the scope of the refugee crisis and that of displaced persons at it stands today.  And how many of those are children?

Sarah: Thank you. The scope of the refugee crisis today is unprecedented. There are 65 million people displaced around the world; half of those are children. Under 8, there are about 12 million. So it’s a massive, massive scale.

Denver: And if you would for a moment, what’s the difference—because we hear it used so much interchangeably—between a refugee, a migrant, a displaced person? What’s the distinction among them?

Sarah: The most important difference is that a refugee is somebody who has had to flee their country. So they’ve crossed an international border, and they have done so because they’re in fear of persecution, and they’re fleeing for their lives. A displaced person is somebody who has also had to flee their home, but they have not crossed an international border. So they have stayed within their country, but they’ve also had to flee because they are in fear for their lives.

On average, a refugee stays a refugee for 17 years, and somebody who’s been displaced in their country… for 25 years.

Denver: And whether you’re a displaced person or a refugee, how long on average do you remain displaced?

Sarah: It’s quite shocking and I think this is one of the most unbelievable statistics. On average, a refugee stays a refugee for 17 years, and somebody who’s been displaced in their country… for 25 years. So this is a long-term problem.

Denver: So this is not a short-term solution; this is their life. This is their way of life for a quarter of a century, in some cases.

Sarah: Exactly.

Denver: Sherrie, what is the impact of violence and neglect and these unimaginable hardships on children and their ultimate development?

Sherrie: Well, Denver, there’s been so much research and evidence in the last few years on how detrimental those adverse childhood experiences – what is often referred to as “toxic stress” – is on a child’s development, with long-term repercussions to their health, not just to their cognitive ability, but to their health, to their livelihood. So we know that if we reach children in those critical early years, that we can make a huge difference on children’s outcomes, particularly for children who have been subject to violence or trauma because they need the help to mitigate the damage from that experience. So when you think of refugee children, obviously, these are children who have had extreme experiences that can really alter their long-term opportunities. And this is an area we know we can make a difference.

Denver: Sherrie, if you look at the totality of this worldwide humanitarian system, what kind of emphasis is placed on early childhood development, emotional well-being, and education?


Dr. Frank Richards, the Director of the River Blindness Elimination Program at The Carter Center, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dr. Frank Richards, the Director of the River Blindness Elimination Program at The Carter Center, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


Dr. Drank Richards

Denver: And our semi-finalist for this evening in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change Initiative is The Carter Center, and their proposal is to eliminate river blindness in Nigeria. And here to discuss that with us is Dr. Frank Richards, who is the Director of the River Blindness Elimination Program at The Carter Center. Good evening, Dr. Richards, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Frank: Good evening! It’s a pleasure to be here.

River blindness is an infectious disease, and it’s caused by a parasite. Actually, it’s caused by a parasitic worm…it’s also a very terrible skin disease, as well as a terrible eye disease.

Denver: Quite a few people have probably heard of river blindness, but not too many people fully appreciate or understand what it actually is. So tell us – what is river blindness?

Frank: River blindness is an infectious disease, and it’s caused by a parasite. Actually, it’s caused by a parasitic worm. You can imagine a very thin worm that measures about 13 inches long, coiled up into a clump, living underneath your skin. That is this parasite that we call onchocerca volvulus that causes river blindness. The interesting thing about this parasite is that it is transmitted from person to person by the bite of a small black fly. The black flies breed in rapidly flowing waters, rapidly flowing rivers and streams. So when you’re close to those streams, you’d find lots of these black flies, and so you find lots of these worms.

…people catch river blindness, but people also cause river blindness. So that if we can use the tools that we have, this miracle medicine Mectizan to eliminate the parasite in the human population, it’s gone once and for all, unless it’s reintroduced from outside.

Frank:  I think it’s really important to recognize that these black flies are not born infected with this parasite. The parasite doesn’t live in the rivers; it doesn’t live in other animals or in the environment. This is a parasite that lives in human beings only, and the black flies serve to pick up the parasite and transfer it to another person. So the black flies are not infected; new infections cannot happen, but the black flies must be infected by another person. So I like to say people catch river blindness, but people also cause river blindness. So that if we can use the tools that we have, this miracle medicine Mectizan to eliminate the parasite in the human population, it’s gone once and for all, unless it’s reintroduced from outside.

The way that the worms cause blindness is that the curled up clump of worms living under the skin that I mentioned produce baby worms, which we call microfilariae, that get underneath the skin and also get into the eyes. These tiny little worms, about the size of a period on a printed page of paper, get into the eyes and cause inflammation and visual loss and in many people, ultimately blindness. It also gets under the skin and causes terrible, terrible itching and skin discoloration and depigmentation of the skin, and so it’s also a very terrible skin disease, as well as a terrible eye disease.

Denver: Boy, it certainly sounds horrific. How long is it before somebody would go blind?


Aaron Hurst, Author of “The Purpose Economy” Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Aaron Hurst, CEO of Imperative, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


Aaron Hurst


Denver: One of the things we discuss on The Business of Giving, as much as anything else I suspect, is the corporate culture of nonprofit organizations and social good businesses. That is why I’m so delighted to have with us this evening, Aaron Hurst, one of my favorite thinkers on the topic and the pioneer of purpose-driven work. Aaron launched the pro bono service market by founding the Taproot Foundation in 2001, authored the best-selling book The Purpose Economy several years back, and is now the CEO of Imperative, a technology platform helping people to discover purpose in their work. Good evening, Aaron and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Aaron: Thrilled to be here with you.

Denver: I have always encountered people who are purpose-driven in their work and those who are simply not, but it sure does seem like we’re talking about it a lot more frequently these days than we have in the past, perhaps in large part because of you and your work. When did this subject first grab you, Aaron?

Aaron: I’ve been interested in work and how do we make work more meaningful since I was probably in high school. My grandfather was the original author of the blueprint for the Peace Corps, and a lot of that was really about the same idea of nobility of work and how work can be transformational. When I went to the University of Michigan, it was really what I studied, and really saw that service and work are all interconnected, and that we had lost our sense of the nobility of work in the American culture. I really have seen it as my journey to figure out: how do we bring that nobility back, because work is powerful; it’s so transformational, and it’s so much of what provides value in our lives.

Denver: It kind of got perverted along the way, didn’t it?

Aaron: Yes, went a little bit off track.

Denver: So much of your current work was informed by the venture you started some 16 years ago, the Taproot Foundation, which really continues to have a profound impact on the entire nonprofit sector, not to mention all the individual people who are engaged. How did that idea work?

Aaron: The Taproot Foundation was a really simple idea. I think good ideas tend to be simple with the right timing, which is the good luck part. But the basic idea is nonprofits need marketing, technology, HR, finance just like big companies do, but they’re typically priced out of the market; they’re not able to afford those services. So the idea was: how could we create a giant consulting firm where all the labor was pro bono and not paid work?  And how could we recruit business professionals– who are inherently generous– to donate not just their time, not just their money but their skills to help provide these services?  And over the course of a dozen years, we worked there. We went from becoming the small little nonprofit to the largest nonprofit consulting firm in the world, to then realizing that was kind of a fool’s destination because we were still only serving a tiny percentage of the market. We really switched the whole strategy to focus instead on: How do we create a whole marketplace for pro bono services?

By the time I left, it was about a $15 billion a year market in the US, with affiliates in 30 countries. It was amazing to see– from China to Costa Rica– this sort of business attitude around doing good using your skills is universal. It’s not just an American thing.

Denver: And when you look at purpose and work, what were some of the insights you were able to take away after having done that for a dozen of years or so?

Aaron: It took a while. It took me about 5 years to figure out because you have to manage teams, and you can’t pay them; you can’t promote people. You’ve really got to use intrinsic motivation. You can’t use extrinsic motivation. That’s why I always say, “You’re not truly an outstanding manager until you can manage volunteers.” That’s the true test of whether or not someone’s an effective leader and an effective manager. 

Denver: That’s a great point.

Aaron: I think I learned a ton about the attitudes that people bring to their work. I learned a lot about what the diversity is of things that motivate people, and not everyone gets purpose from the same things. But I learned most importantly– no surprise to you, given your work– people are inherently generous; people inherently want work to be meaningful, but we just need to create more avenues for that.  And we need to help create a narrative that supports it.


Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Founder and Co-director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Founder and Co-director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

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Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum

Denver: And we have reached the midpoint of featuring the eight semi-finalists of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition. And tonight, it is a great pleasure to have with us Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Founder and Co-director of Rice University’s 360°: Institute for Global Health. Good evening, Rebecca, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Rebecca: Thank you so much.

Denver: Your life was changed forever back in 2006 when you walked into a two-room ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi. What did you see there, Rebecca?

Rebecca: You know, it was such a life-changing moment for me to walk into that neonatal unit,  and I was struck by, first, just the number of babies that were in a very tiny space. There were probably 50 babies, many of them sharing beds because they didn’t have enough bed space for each baby to have its own bed. And there were just a few nurses, all of whom were really busy trying to take care of babies that were quite ill.

But as an engineer, the other thing that really struck me was the lack of technology. When you walk into a neonatal intensive care unit in the United States, it is just full of big pieces of equipment, and that equipment has made a huge improvement in rates of survival, especially for babies who are born too soon or who born small. In this neonatal unit in Malawi, there was none of that equipment there. And just the contrast of all that made such an impression, and it made an impression both for me as a mom and for me as an engineer.


Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, and Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

Denver: One of the expressions used to console a buddy who’s lost a girlfriend or boyfriend is to tell them not to be too down because “there are plenty of fish in the sea.” Unfortunately in recent years, that expression is a little less true than it once was due to things like overfishing. But my next guest believes that this is a solvable problem if we just follow a sound and sensible course of action. He is Andy Sharpless, the CEO of Oceana. Good evening, Andy, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Andy: Hi, Denver! Good to be here.

Denver: What is the mission of Oceana and what does the organization consider its job to be?


Andy Sharpless

Andy: Oceana’s job is to put more fish in the sea so that we can eat them. Now, you laughed, and that’s the right way. I once was on a show like this, about to go live nationwide, and a gal came over to me like the minute before we were to go on TV, and she said, “This doesn’t make any sense, Andy. You’re trying to put more fish in the sea so that we can eat them? Please explain that to me.”

Denver: There you go! Well, I think it’s nice and it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Well, the period of peak fishing supply was around, say about 1990s – 1995, 1996.  What has happened, Andy, since then that has depleted it so, where many of the world’s fisheries are on the verge of collapse?

Andy: So this is an interesting thing. You’ve all heard of peak oil; your listeners have heard of peak oil. Well, we’ve had peak fish, just like you said. Peak fish happened in the early- to mid-1990s, so meaning that the total catch in weight of the world’s fishing fleets– just added up– has been in decline after having grown basically for all of human history, for as far back as you could look. Is this because the fishing fleets aren’t fishing so hard? Is this because technology has retrograded? Is this because maybe the fish have gotten smarter, and they can’t get caught anymore? No. Of course not! It’s because despite all the additional effort, more boats, more technology, we can’t catch the fish.  And that’s proof positive that we’ve overfished the ocean.

Denver: Now, when you look at the major fisheries around the world, perhaps measured as you suggested by global catch weight, in what countries are they concentrated?

Andy: One of the really interesting things is, as is true with lots of phenomenon in the world, 80% of the problem is concentrated with 20% of the actors.  And in this case, it’s even more concentrated. So we made a list at Oceana of the countries whose oceans are most productive or most important to the world’s ocean by the weight of the catch that they provide. And it turns out that if you take just the top 10 countries on that list – there are nine countries in the European Union – you get more than two-thirds of the world’s catch coming from those countries. And if you go to the top 29 countries in the European Union, you get more than 90% of the world’s catch. Now, your listeners will say, “Wait a minute. He slipped in the European Union there. That sounds like a trick!” Because you and I  know that the European Union is now 28, soon to be 27.

And that’s not a trick because when the European Union was formed, one of the things that they centralized– that they put in Brussels’ hands– was fish. So, from the point of view of managing fisheries, Europe is a country.

Denver: Got you. And your focus really is on countries. A lot of people would think “Oh, you must be going to the international federations, international bodies,” but that’s not the right strategy.

Andy: Exactly right. It’s a country-by-country approach, and this is one of the things that really gives us confidence that we can do what we say we’re doing. And you’re right; it’s a bit of surprise. When you look at oceans, a map of the worlds for example, the oceans look like an international place. And so now, you’re imagining “Oh my God! We’re going to have to go to the United Nations, and we’re going to have to have an international agreement…” and as we can see from climate change and other such efforts, those projects are often destined to fail, sadly.

Denver: Takes forever at least.

Andy: They take forever at least. I hate to say this so bluntly, but it feels to me like a lot of international negotiations involve a committee of countries negotiating forever about the lowest common denominator outcome, and then agreeing not to enforce that. That’s the way—

Denver: No teeth!

Andy: So if we had to save the oceans through an international process, I would not be here talking because I’m too practical a person; it would drive me crazy. The thing that we realized is that you can take a country-by-country approach because coastal countries have exclusive control of their ocean – exclusive control of their ocean out to 200 nautical miles, which is 231 statute miles. It’s a long way out.

So, for example, nobody—and this happened in the 1980s—nobody fishes for fish that you can see off the American coast, unless they’re fishing under American laws and rules. We don’t negotiate with the Chinese on that; we get to set our own rules. We don’t even negotiate with the Canadians on that. It’s like our ocean; we get to set the rules. If we want it to be abundant, we can make it abundant. No international negotiation required. Same thing is true for China. If they want their ocean to be abundant, they don’t have to negotiate with us. Same thing is true for Canada, and so forth and so on.

So that list that I was talking about of the top 28 countries in the European Union, we can go to them country-by-country and say, “You know what? It’s in your self-interest to make your ocean abundant, and you don’t have to negotiate with anybody else to do that. You can pass the law, you can set the rules, you can enforce them. And then guess what? You’ll have a whole lot of fish in your ocean. Your fleet can catch them; you can sell them; you can make money from them, and you can feed a lot of people.”

Denver: And I gather from what you’re saying, this is where most of the fish are – by these coastal waters, not deep out in the sea.

Andy: Yes. That’s correct, Denver. And that is also counterintuitive. Most of the glamorous fish—it’s a little bit of a contradiction in terms, but there are such things. Glamorous fish. What are they? Tuna, very glamorous. Sharks, very glamorous. Big whales, very glamorous. Dolphins, quite glamorous. Turtles, kind of glamorous.  I hope I haven’t revealed too much geekery in my own view of the world, but I think average people can think that those are interesting fish.

What is characteristic of those big fish? They are predators, just like lions and tigers are really glamorous to us. They’re big predators. So the lions and tigers of the ocean, just like the lions and tigers of the land, roam big distances. They’re big predators; they roam, and so they make the mistake. They have the misjudgement to go out into the international zone of the oceans, which is that zone beyond 200 nautical miles. The technical word for it is the high seas. And when you’re in the high seas, you are in trouble because you are in the free fire zone of the ocean where anybody basically—

Denver: Anything goes.

Andy: Anything goes. Anybody who wants to catch you can catch you. Formally, there’s supposed to be some rules, but they aren’t really enforced, and they’re not really very tight. And so you’re in big trouble if you’re a big fish that likes to go in.

So we hear story after story about what’s happening to those animals, and it’s a bad thing, and it’s hard to fix.  That obscures the really good news that the less glamorous animals– the rabbits, if you will, of the ocean– staying in the coastal zone the whole time. And there’s a lot of wonderful creatures that deserve to be protected and, by the way, a lot of them… they taste good to eat. And so we can feed a lot of people, feed a hungry world without solving the international management problem. It should be solved, but you don’t have to wait for it to be solved to get stuff done for the oceans.

It’s not like climate change. This is really important. Climate change is an international problem. It’s a common atmosphere. It blows around the world every day. So people who worry about how a country-by-country approach to climate change have a reasonable point – not true about the oceans.

Denver:  And sticking to these coastal waters for a minute, how many people’s livelihoods depend upon fishing?

Andy: There are several estimates of this. If you count people who have seafood in their diet as a substantial part of their diet, you can get to two- or three billion people. If you count poor people, hungry people who live on the coast, you can get to hundreds of millions of people who are entirely dependent on fish. If you count people for whom, ask the question:  “Animal protein is…?” Fish is the chief animal protein you get, you can get to like a billion. So you have a lot of people who need ocean fish in their diet…or they’re going to suffer.

Overfishing is pretty easy to fix as a technical matter. You set and enforce scientific quotas; you protect nursery and spawning areas, and you reduce what’s called bycatch. You do those three things, and you will get an abundant ocean, and you will get it faster than you can possibly believe.

Denver: Well, let’s pick up where we started, and that is: Over the course of the last 20 years or so, the global catch weight – the number of fish we’re taking from the ocean – has been dropping. You have put forth a three-step program that you think if we follow, can address this problem and do it fairly quickly. The first is to stop overfishing. How in the world do we do that?

Andy: Overfishing is pretty easy to fix as a technical matter. You set and enforce scientific quotas; you protect nursery and spawning areas, and you reduce what’s called bycatch. You do those three things, and you will get an abundant ocean, and you will get it faster than you can possibly believe.

Why do I think that’s practical? Because of what we’ve already talked about. A country—take the United States—can pass a law. It did do that.  Our fishery law is called the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It was passed in 2000 and then strengthened again in 2006. And guess what it does? It mandates that you set scientific quotas, that you rebuild your fisheries if you’ve overfished them. It protects what’s called essential fish habitat, and it reduces bycatch. And guess what? Since the year 2000, all of the metrics on our own fisheries are getting better, and we’ve seen a 15-, 16-year period of rebuilding and more abundance and real progress measured by fish in the water in the American ocean.

Denver: You know, I’m sure you saw that story in the New York Times just about a month or so ago, or even less, and it was about China. And what China had done is that they pretty much have depleted their fish stock in their coastal waters, and now they’ve created this armada of distant water fishing vessels, I think they said 2,600 of them. Some of them are five or six stories high, and they’re heading towards Western Africa. And they are just having a devastating impact on countries like Senegal. Tell us what is happening there, and what, if anything, can be done about it?

Andy: China is one of the world’s most important fishing countries. It’s number one or number two. And depending upon whether you’re talking about an El Niño year,  in some years, if you count its domestic… its catch from its own waters, plus its catch from international waters, plus its illegal catch from West African territories, it can get to 12% or 13% of the world’s wild fish catch by weight. So it’s a huge actor and a huge consumer of fish.

So China has an outside impact on the world’s ocean, as it does in so many areas of the world right now. What are we going to do about that? Well, there are two or three things. Number one—I want to re-emphasize the point we’ve already talked about—you do not need to solve the Chinese problem to have an abundant ocean in much of the world.

Denver: It’s not a deal breaker.

Andy: It’s definitely not. The American ocean can be completely abundant because, guess what? The American Coast Guard will make sure there’s no Chinese fishing in our ocean unless they’re under our supervision and our rules. The Chileans can do the same thing. The Peruvians can do the same thing. The Canadians can do…every country in the world that has a coast and has a productive ocean doesn’t need to allow the Chinese fishing. And they won’t, and they will not, and they do not.

So we can make enormous progress, absent cooperation from the Chinese. What does that leave vulnerable though? It leaves the fish, the high sea zones, very vulnerable to Chinese overfishing, and it leaves weak countries or corrupt countries—there are some in West Africa that are examples of that—very vulnerable because the Chinese  come in, and they fish either illegally or they buy the right to fish through corrupt actions.

So what are you going to do about that harder problem to solve? What we have done, in partnership with Google and with SkyTruth, is launch Global Fishing Watch. This is a big step toward dealing with the Chinese problem, which is, by the way, it’s not only China that has distant water boats.

Denver: No, I’m sure it’s not.

Andy: The Spanish fish the hell out of the world’s oceans. There are some other big, international fleets. The Japanese, the Koreans, the Russians even. So there’s people with fleets all over the world. You can in fact see this if you go to What does is something the world has never done before. It makes visible to anybody with an internet connection for free a nearly real-time view of more than 35,000 of the world’s largest commercial fishing vessels as they fish, with a historical record of everywhere that they fished, everywhere that they’ve been. You can zoom in on a place you’re interested in. You can zoom all the way down in and find out names of individual vessels and follow them and where they’ve been… and what their flag state is… and what their identifiers are.

This is a big step toward making the Chinese fleet accountable for what it’s doing. So it’s not going to be invisible anymore that they’re fishing the hell out of West Africa because you can go to Global Fishing Watch and see it. And it would make it possible, for example, if you were an honest West African… Let’s say you’re a journalist in West Africa and you were hearing, as any such journalist would hear, reports from the small African fishermen that the fish are gone. Why are the fish gone? Because the big Chinese trollers have taken them. You would be able to go to your local government with the information on Global Fishing Watch and say, like “What’s going on here?” They can’t hide anymore. So, it’s a big step forward.

…it’s fish that have been killed in the course of fishing for something and not sold, not brought, not landed, not sold, not used, not eaten…basically just wasted. Nobody knows exactly how much there is.  But people estimate it could be anywhere from 10% to 25% of the total killing that the fleets do on a global basis.

Denver: It sure is. That’s the kind of transparency we really need in these waters… no pun intended. You mentioned a second ago, and this was your second thing, is to minimize bycatch. Say a word or two – what is bycatch?  And what fish are most impacted by it?

Andy: Bycatch is a technical term, and I apologize for using it. It’s the accidental killing of the non-target species. Accidental isn’t really even a correct term. It’s the killing of the fish that are in your net that you’re not going to sell. If you drag a net through the water, which is what a troller does, or especially if you’re fishing for something small…What’s something small that people like to eat? Oh, shrimp – appropriately named, very small. So therefore, you have to have a net with very small holes. Therefore you catch everything else along with the shrimp.

American shrimp fisheries, which are going to be amongst the best managed in the world, catch four- to five pounds of non-shrimp for every pound of shrimp. Imagine…so it’s dumped all off on deck, and the shrimp fisherman sorts out the shrimp from everything else, and in many cases discards at sea, dead and dying, all of the non-shrimp. That’s the bycatch.

So it’s fish that have been killed in the course of fishing for something and not sold, not brought, not landed, not sold, not used, not eaten…basically just wasted. It’s hard to estimate because, of course, much of it is not measured because it’s discarded at sea. So nobody knows exactly how much there is, but people estimate it could be anywhere from 10% to 25% of the total killing that the fleets do on a global basis.

We have fished the ocean for so long that in some cases we do not even understand how abundant it could be. And we underestimate the opportunity that we will gain by putting in place these three basic things: quotas, habitat, and bycatch protections.

Denver: Well, they say we waste 40% of our food that’s produced on land, so we have 10%, 25%.  So there’s a lot just going down the drain. The final thing is to protect the habitat. What are some of the things being done here, and those that Oceana is advocating for?

Andy: This is, in some ways, the simplest thing to understand, and it’s to create ocean parks and to create zones where you restrict fishing activity… or in some cases prohibit fishing activities so that you get a fully-abundant and rebuilt place. You can think of it as a fish bank because the fish will become very abundant in that place, and that does a number of things. Some of those fish will then swim out, and they can be caught when they leave the park. It will also show you, the scientists, and everybody else how good “good” is. We have fished the ocean for so long that in some cases we do not even understand how abundant it could be. And we underestimate the opportunity that we will gain by putting in place these three basic things: quotas, habitat, and bycatch protections.

So, create ocean parks. They’re called typically marine-protected areas. If you want to sound really smart, you will call them by their acronym, MPAs, but it will be better to call them marine parks and everybody would understand what we’re talking about.

Denver: Good idea.

Andy: And there has been some real big progress on that in the last, again, 15 or so years. People will celebrate that President Bush and then President Obama together created the largest fully-protected ocean area in the world, second only really to the Ross Sea, which is an international zone that was created down in the South… but just recently.

But at worst case, the second; in some cases, I think it’s the first because it’s all in American water…so it will really be protected. The Ross Sea is international, so it was going to be subject to some of those difficulties you talked about. The largest, fully-protected area……President Bush started it, President Obama expanded it using his authority under national monuments. It’s around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, and these are uninhabited, remote islands.  It’s going to be a spectacular place, and it’s going to show a lot of good stuff, and it’s going to create a lot of fish that will swim out, and people can catch and eat.

By the way, it is one of the decisions that President Obama made that President Trump has announced he will review. And so we are worried that President Trump will revoke that decision. And then there’s a similar but much smaller protected area off the coast of New England. It’s a canyon off the coast of New England. And because it’s a canyon, it has lots of nooks and crannies where baby fish grow up and becomes a real fish bank to feed ocean abundance elsewhere. That was also protected by Obama, and that is also being reviewed by the Trump administration.  And we are very worried that they will take that protection back.

I love this about ocean conservation…I think it is the biggest problem that the world has that (a) it can fix, and (b) it can know it fixed. It can measure the results of it. We don’t have to believe in some model’s estimate that long after I’m dead, we’ll have done this thing. You can know it…

Denver: I bet. Well, you know, if you take a look at how these fisheries have been depleted, and let’s say, instituting this three-step program, intuitively, I would think this is going to take many, many, many a year to try to have them recover. But that isn’t the case. It can happen remarkably quickly. How does that happen? And give us a couple of examples where it has happened.

Andy: Fish are an incredibly fertile and robust part of nature. They lay eggs; many species will lay eggs by the millions, and they are capable of producing rebounds in 10 years. You can have a full rebound—depends on the species—but many species will deliver a full rebound to what’s called maximum sustainable yield– the maximum level of abundance that you want if you’re going to fish them— in about a 10-year period. Some even a little faster, some a little bit longer.

How does that happen? I more or less explained it. Because they lay eggs by the millions, and they’re just like:  give them a little bit of help; give them a little bit of support – quotas, habitat and bycatch – and you can see results.

What  are the results or examples? There are many around the world. Haddock have come back. Arctic Cod have come back. Japanese snow crab have come back.  There are many examples—

Denver: Norwegian Herring?

Andy: Norwegian Herring have come back. Many of these were badly overfished, badly depleted. Finally, governments put in place some or all of the measures we’ve talked about – scientific quotas, habitat protection and bycatch – and the fish rebounded. It is one of the great, satisfying things to do. Most conservation projects, terrestrial projects…you want to rebuild a rainforest? You’re not going to be around to see the results. It’s going to be more than a hundred year project. This thing, saving the oceans, rebuilding the oceans, you can hope, you can believe that you will see measurable success in your lifetime sometimes in 10 or 15 years, and we’re having success stories.

I love this about ocean conservation, but I think it is the biggest problem that the world has that (a) it can fix, and (b) it can know it fixed. It can measure the results of it. We don’t have to believe in some model’s estimate that long after I’m dead, we’ll have done this thing. You can know it, and I love that about this.

Denver: Well, we live in an instant gratification society. It is about as close as you can get. And, you know, one of the proposed solutions, which taking a closer look at seems to make an awful lot of sense, is fish farming for things like salmon and tuna. But upon further inspection, that just might not be the case. What’s the problem with fish farming?

Andy: Very intuitive, but wrong idea. Fish farming falls into three categories: good, bad, and indifferent – green, red, and yellow. What determines which category you’re in? What the fish that you’re farming eats. So think about this for a second. What’s a commonly farmed fish that you, Denver, have probably eaten in the last week or two that lots of Americans eat?

Denver: Salmon.

Andy: Salmon. Exactly. What does salmon eat? Salmon are a carnivore. They eat meat. They eat fish. They’re like a cat. Think of them as a cat, not as a cow. So when you farm salmon, you need to feed them wild ocean fish. So that’s what salmon farmers do. They catch wild; they buy fish meal– which looks like dog food but smells like fish, and is ground up wild fish. And in the process, you take four pounds of wild fish that you and I could be eating, and you convert it into one pound of farm fish. So you reduce the total amount of healthy—

Denver: That’s a negative direction!

Andy: Exactly! In the wrong direction. You take four pounds of healthy marine fish, and you convert into one pound of farm fish. And by the way, you have equity impacts because those fish that you’re feeding would be cheaper than the salmon per pound. They would be therefore more likely to be eaten by working class people, poor people, regular people. The farm salmon is going to be flown north and fed to a rich American or a rich European or a rich Japanese person. And, by the way, it’s going to underprice your good, honest American wild salmon fisherman… who, by the way, is doing a good job right now. The wild American Alaskan salmon fishery is a good fishery– well-managed, pretty abundant, and it’s twice as expensive as the farm salmon.  But that’s a fish. If you want to eat salmon, you should pay for the American wild salmon.


Andy Sharpless and Denver Frederick at the AM970 The Answer Studio

Denver: Got you. One of your major undertakings to address this entire issue is a partnership that you have with an organization called Rare, and with Encourage Capital.   And this is being funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies with a focus on a couple of key countries. Tell us about Vibrant Oceans Initiative and the impact that you’re seeing from it.

Andy: Bloomberg challenged us about three years ago in a way that was really helpful to our strategic thinking. He came to us and said, “I’m thinking about doing ocean conservation, but I’m not going to do it unless you can deliver a measurement for me, a consistent measurement on what you’re getting done.” And he asked us to think about it the same way they thought about the battle against tobacco.  And Bloomberg, as you know, has funded a lot of battles to stop people from smoking. And he measures the results of all, and a lot of that is through policy advocacy – tax cigarettes, make it hard for children to buy them and so forth and so on. He measures the results of that by lives saved – people still living because they didn’t get addicted to cigarettes. So he asked us, “Can you do the same for fish?” And my first answer was “Absolutely not. I don’t know how to do that.”

Denver: Where do I go?

Andy: Yes. I mean, we’ll have a turtle campaign and a whale campaign and so forth, and I don’t know how to  add  three turtles equals one whale… equals four reefs… equals a shark. And so, then I went away and thought about it and said, “Wait a minute. There is a way to do this,” and that’s to measure the food value of a rebuilt ocean, and that gives us a consistent measure of what we’re achieving for Mayor Bloomberg.

So we went back to him with that idea. He said, “I love it. I’ll fund you to go to the Philippines and to Brazil and to win policy changes in those countries that will put more fish in those oceans.” And we’ve been doing that in partnership with Rare and Encourage Capital for the last three years. We just had a board meeting about two weeks ago in the offices here in New York of Bloomberg Philanthropies and reported very directly back to our funders there on our progress. We’ll have a big five-year initial grant, five-year period. So we’re going to come up to a real test in about a year or so on whether he’s happy with what we’re doing. But I think we’re going to have a really nice success story to talk about.

Denver: Well, congratulations to you because it really is a brilliant metric. It encapsulates everything. It encapsulates the environment because you’re going to have more fish with a healthier ocean and everything else that goes along with it. And for somebody like me who’s kind of like, “Well, boy, you can relate to the number of meals that are being served.” So it really touches every single person in a way that is accessible.

Andy: Well, thank you. The number, I should make sure that your audience knows the number. We estimate that by 2050, if we do our job well and the world rebuilt its ocean—the top 30 countries, most of them did a good job—more than a billion people every day could either have this seafood meal and do that forever.   Unfortunately, we’re headed for about half that number by 2050 because of the decline that started in the 1990s. So there’s a delta there, there’s a difference of 500 million meals a day for the world—

Denver: And a projected two billion more people by 2050, when they think we’re going to be up to nine billion people. So, it’s really an issue.

Andy: Right. So we’re at just under 800 million hungry people right now at a population of seven billion worldwide. We’re headed for 9 billion, 9.5 billion– there’s various estimates, by 2050. That’s two Chinas more people than we have now.  How are we going to feed all these people?

Denver: That’s a lot.

Andy: In fact, I have a story to tell. You asked about the Chinese fleet. About 10 years ago, I was in Geneva to lobby the World Trade Organization to set rules forbidding government subsidies of commercial fishing. One of the reasons that we overfish is that many countries hand money over to their commercial fleets to buy boats, buy gear, buy fuel, buy bait. And as a result, there’s whole lot of fishing that’s not even really for fishing. It’s fishing for subsidies.  It’s kind of crazy, really. You’re taking tax dollars and using it to overfish the ocean.

How do you fix that? You get all the countries of the world to agree simultaneously that it violates their trade rules, just like they do in other areas – textiles, steel and so forth. And I met with the Chinese ambassador Mr. Liu, and I said to him, “You don’t want to be subsidizing the fleet, do you, to overfish the world’s ocean because that would really be bad. We’d like your support for an agreement here to make sure that fishing is done without subsidies.” And he said, “You know, we have a billion people to feed. The West has been fishing really hard for a long time. We’re going to take our turn.” And in the 10 years since, in that article of the New York Times that you’ve mentioned, they have subsidized the creation of a colossal fleet. And so, it’s a big problem.

I took from that conversation that we were failing to emphasize the food value of a rebuilt ocean that the Chinese ambassador didn’t understand.  Actually, he was putting the food resource at risk by that subsidy program. And so we actually launched the program that we called “Save the Oceans, Feed the World”  to try to  make it clear that we’re not just turtle huggers. I mean, I think people have a stereotype, that I’m in here “Hug the starving child; Hug the turtle… Which is it that you want to do?” Most people want to hug the starving child.  I’m sorry about the turtle, but I’m not going to hug the turtle if I can’t hug the child. And I’m here to tell you if you care about that starving child…

Denver: Feed the hungry child!

Andy: Yes, feed the hungry child with a rebuilt ocean, which, by the way, will be good for the turtle.

Denver: Yes. That, too. And talking about that, you wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Perfect Protein. Why do you say that fish is the perfect protein?

Andy: There are so many benefits to rebuilding an ocean that go beyond feeding a hungry world, and I’m going to call out four of them. What happens when you rebuild the ocean and start feeding a billion people every day? Well, first of all, you feed a lot of people. Let’s not forget about that. Number two, you help with climate change. How can that be?  A really big driver of climate change is methane emissions from livestock.  Both ends of your basic cow will emit, because it’s a ruminant, methane gas.

Methane gas is an intense driver of climate change. In the year 2050, you would like people to be eating a whole lot of fish because when they’re eating fish, they’re not eating hamburgers. And if they’re not eating hamburgers, that means they’re not driving climate change. So, a really good lever on climate change is make sure you have an abundant ocean. Number three, biodiversity protection on the land is helped if you have an abundant ocean. How can that be? The biggest driver of biodiversity loss on the land is what?

Denver: Arable land.

Andy: Agriculture. Exactly. You have to cut down the varied biodiverse place– the forest– and you plant a cornfield or a soybean field, or you make it range land, and you radically simplify the habitat on the land, and you eliminate a lot of different kinds of life. Livestock production is the most intensive form of agriculture, whether you’re doing it through a feed lock or through range lands. So, you want to minimize the future’s call for livestock. What’s the best way to do that? Make sure there’s a lot of wild fish to eat because, again, if you’re eating a fish sandwich, you’re not eating hamburgers.

So look at that. So we’ve got three big things – we’re feeding a billion people, we’re helping with climate change, and we’re helping protect biodiversity on the land. And I haven’t even gotten to the other two, and I’ll tell you them real quickly, Denver – aquifer protection, freshwater supplies are depleting. A lot of that goes into irrigation of crops, fewer crops to feed livestock you’ve helped, and then lastly, your audience will guess it. They’re screaming it out already – human health.

Your doctor has been telling you, she has, Denver – stop eating so much red meat. Please switch to healthy fish, and you will see less obesity, less heart disease. You will see less cancer. It’s all in the medical literature. This is proven medical evidence.

Denver: It’s exactly what she said. And it just seems like everything we’re doing on land is at tension with one another. Whereas in the sea, it’s all in harmony. The environment works with the production of food. It’s all in sync.

Andy: It could be. It’s not the way we’re doing it right now, but it absolutely could be. And what percent of the surface of the planet is covered by ocean? Seventy percent. Because we don’t live in the ocean…. It’s not a place where there’s a direct head-to-head conflict between human needs and the needs of the ocean.

Denver: Andy, talk to us a little bit about different kinds of fish, the ones that are in  shortest supply, the kind of fish  you would like to see on more menus, and maybe the ones we should really feel guilty about eating.

Andy: So the simple rules…I want to give you some simple rules because  this can get complicated real fast, and people are too busy. So eat wild, small fish. That’s the simple one-sentence rule. Eat wild small fish. By small fish, I mean fish that are still small when they’re adults. So eat the rabbits of the ocean, not the lions and tigers of the ocean. What’s an example?  Sardine,  anchovy,  herring. These are classic rabbits. Small fish, very abundant. What’s a classic lion or tiger?  We already mentioned them – swordfish, tuna, and so forth. So simple rule: eat lower down on the food chain, and eat wild fish instead of  farmed fish for the reasons we’ve talked about. Now, there are a couple of other exceptions. If you’re eating farmed, there is one category of farm fish that your audience can eat and feel so virtuous.  And that is the farmed clam, oyster, or mussel. Basically shellfish like that.

Denver: Eat all you want.

Andy: Eat all that you want, and feel so good about yourself because if you’re farming those things, those things filter the water so they don’t eat anything that we want to eat. And they actually make the ocean cleaner.  And those farmers are business people who will be  strong opponents of ocean pollution because you can’t farm clams in a polluted ocean.  The way the world works, your local businessman who hates a polluter is a good ally to have in the battle against  pollution. So we love those guys, and we want you to eat as much farmed shellfish as you can possibly eat.

And then I would be careful, if you can, be careful about imported stuff. We have done tests at Oceana of whether the fish that you buy is correctly labeled. And about a third of the fish that we’ve  tested, and we have now tested more fish than anybody in the history of America– more than a thousand fish– more than 30% of the time, it’s not correctly labeled. And the Americans are slowly tightening the rules on seafood traceability and trackability. So your American swordfish is not guaranteed to be honest, but more likely to be honestly labeled than your foreign fish.

Denver: Let me ask you about one last big fish, and that’s shark. I think you wrote an article recently about “dead or alive.” Tell us a little bit about the stories of shark.

Andy: Sharks are under intense and dire stress right now. Seventy-three million sharks a year are killed chiefly for what? Their fins. Shark fin soup, chiefly served in China and in Hong Kong, is a culturally very prestigious meal. And as hundreds of millions of people have moved into the middle class in China, the demand for shark fin soup has skyrocketed. Sharks, unlike the other fish that we talked about, do not reproduce quickly. They give birth to live babies. They’re like mammals. They give birth to small numbers of live babies at a time. So they do not reproduce quickly. If you’re killing 73 million sharks a year, you are likely overfishing sharks, and all the evidence shows that that’s what happened. Shark populations are down a  single digit percentage of what they were in the 1970s.

So we’re at a desperate place for sharks, and they need to be protected. How are we going to do that? Well, the key step would be—the final goal here is to get China to ban the sale of shark fin soup.  And we are taking a big step here in the United States toward that outcome. Eleven states have now passed state laws banning the sale of shark fin soup. That just happened in the last two years. New York is one of them, California is one of them, Texas is one of them – there’s a bipartisan blue-red state mix of state shark fin bans.

And we and the Humane Society have just worked together to have introduced into Congress– in both the Senate and the House of this Congress, the newly-elected Congress– bills to ban the sale of shark fin soup nationally in the United States of America. The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate. One of the lead sponsors is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Your audience will recognize that that represents a fairly wide, ideologic span.

Denver: You’re right on that one.

Andy: This suggests to us that this bill can get through this Congress.  And we’ll get through this, and we’re committed to getting that done this year or next before the end of this Congress. That will send a very good message to the world. We want shark fin soup to be felt like elephant ivory is now, like rhino horns are, like tiger penises are. You don’t sell these in honest commerce. You just don’t because you can see that it’s destroying an important part of life on the planet. So we think we can get there, and this will be a big step forward.

Denver: And sharks are big business. I tell you, the way people are renting boats and going out to sea…there’s a lot of commerce that’s going to be hurt, in addition to the humane aspects of this.

Andy: Right. And scuba diving. We’ve done a study that in Florida… One of the few senators who is hesitant about this represents the state of Florida where there’s some American sharkers. And we’ve interviewed the scuba diving outfits up and down the coast of Florida to prove that the sheer business value of the diver business, going to look at sharks, far exceeds the value of the dead sharks that are being—

Denver: and all the fin soup of the world!

Andy: Correct. One of the wonderful things your audience could do right now is to contact their senator, their congressman, and tell them that they want the act to pass, to ban shark trade in the United States of America and to get that bill through this Congress. People need to speak up now and get this bill passed.

Denver: Andy, let me ask you a little bit about your organization, Oceana, the kind of team that you have built, and the kind of corporate culture and work environment you have looked to create?

Andy: So we’re 15 years old, and we were founded by a very hardheaded group of five very business-like foundations, and I could name them if you want me to. But these are people… foundations that knew a lot about the collapse of oceans and were so frustrated that the governments of the world were not responding– that the big conservation groups were not responding– and they told us that they would fund us but on the condition that we delivered results in short time periods.

So what do they mean by results? They mean national policy changes that are won…that are actually won. And in three- to five-year periods, deadlines of three to five years from when we start what we call a campaign to win that policy outcome. So, it’s a very practical organization where we give ourselves very concrete goals. We know who the decision maker is that we have to get to move. We give ourselves a deadline to get there, and we hold ourselves accountable on a win-loss basis. And we report back to our board and to our funders – we got it, we didn’t get it, we got half of it – and we own up to where we are. We’re different. I have to contrast us with a lot of NGOs which make two mistakes in my opinion. Number one, they work on things.

Denver: No A for effort.

Andy: Well, I say:  What do you do? Well, we work on this. Well, when do you want to get it done? Well, we’re working on it. Eventually… and there’s not a deadline-oriented culture. Number two, they spread themselves too thin. They do, out of having good hearts, but being bad managers.

Denver: They don’t stay focused.

Andy: They don’t stay focused, and they can’t say no—there’s a million good things you can do for the oceans, and they say “yes” to everything.  And therefore, they do just enough to lose on everything. That’s not an effective strategy. You have to be willing to look at  a list, and you and I could come up with the list of 25 things that would be good for the oceans, and we have to force ourselves to say no to 22  of them, and pick 3. And pick 3 that will matter, and then give ourselves a deadline, and then land on them hard. Put resources into them, and win, damn it. You know what I mean? And so that approach is what we do. We don’t always win, but we’re accountable and honest about where we are and what our record is, and we’ve been able to get a lot of victories.

Denver: A results-oriented culture. Let me close with this, Andy. World Ocean Day is coming up pretty soon. It’s going to be on June 8. What’s your message to people for that day?  And what actions, in addition to the one you’ve given us, would you like to see them take?

Andy: I think that the most concrete thing you can do in the United States of America is one or two or three things. Number one, help pass the shark fin trade ban. Number two, stand up to President Trump’s possible revocation of the big protected area around the northwest Hawaiian Islands and the protected area, a smaller one, off the coast of New England. These are important and good things that President Obama did that President Trump is considering undoing.  And he should be told that they, that he should continue to protect the ocean and stand up for those. They also had the support of President Bush. These are bipartisan things, and they deserve to be protected. And then the third thing is just to make sure that the basic fishery law is not changed. A bill has been introduced in this Congress to weaken the core fishery law in the United States of America. It’s called the Magnusen-Stevens Act, and you should let your congress person know that you do not want any changes made to the basic laws that protect the American ocean.

I’m sad to say, there have been bills introduced to do that. If you want a fourth one, there should be no expanded ocean oil drilling.  It’s hard to believe after DeepWater Horizon, what we saw happen on  the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It’s hard to believe that anybody would propose expanded ocean oil drilling.  But guess who’s considering it!  President Trump. This does not make sense. It’s not good for the ocean. It’s not good for ocean-dependent coastal businesses, tourism businesses, restaurant businesses. We have 120 resolutions up and down the East Coast from businesses and towns and communities that depend on a healthy ocean, that they don’t want ocean oil drilling off their coast. We’re worried that the Atlantic and the Arctic and the Pacific are now all up for grabs.

Denver: Well, Andy Sharpless, the Chief Executive Officer of Oceana, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. This is an incredibly important story, and I think people are going to want to know more about it. Where can they go to get some additional information about these issues and about your organization?

Andy: As you would expect… on the internet, on the web. You can get lots of information about Oceana. If you go to Google and search us, you’ll find our website. You can join our organization, and we’ll barrage you with things you can do to help us; we’ll occasionally solicit you for money if you want to do that.  We have a group of several million people. We call them wave makers, and most of them are just activists. Some of them are donors We’re very happy for their support. I hope people will come to our website and find out about us. Go to Global Fishing Watch as I said earlier,, and learn about the global fishing fleets of the world.

Denver: Well, thanks Andy.  It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.

Andy: My pleasure. Thank you.


Andy Sharpless and Denver Frederick

The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at



Dave Blanchard, Co-founder and President of Praxis Labs, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dave Blanchard, Co-founder and President of Praxis Labs, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

Dave Blanchard

Dave Blanchard

Denver: We have talked to some great organizations who have helped to inspire and launch budding social entrepreneurs, as well as many of those entrepreneurs themselves. Each has been moved to take on an extraordinary social challenge for a variety of reasons. Well, one reason that has been left out of the equation has been their religious faith. And tonight, we will have the opportunity to include just that with Dave Blanchard, the Co-founder and President of an organization called Praxis Labs. Good evening, Dave, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Dave: It’s a privilege to be here. Thanks for having me, Denver.

…what we do is try to support entrepreneurs who are motivated by their faith to advance their ventures in the world. They’re targeting social and cultural impact. We want to help them increase their impact in the world while also helping them develop as individuals.

Denver: Tell us about Praxis Labs, the mission of the organization, and the job that you do.

Dave: So Praxis Labs was started a few years ago.  And what we do is try to support entrepreneurs who are motivated by their faith to advance their ventures in the world. They’re targeting social and cultural impact. We want to help them increase their impact in the world while also helping them develop as individuals.

Entrepreneurship is a hard, hard journey, and it’s a personal journey that we have the privilege of walking alongside some of these founders in.

Denver: And this would be their Christian faith. How did this idea come to you?  And how did you actually get it started?

Dave: Well, I suppose that it’s been a long journey in some sense. I was a pastor’s kid who’s also an entrepreneur, and I don’t think I had a very serious faith for a lot of my growing up years, actually between 16 to mid-20s frame.

Denver: Not many of us do.

Dave: But at that time, I really had a re-awakening of my own faith, and I started to think about what it would mean to use my own entrepreneurial capacities for things of larger purpose, particularly when it was connected to my Christian faith.  And that was the journey that started the way to Praxis. We really started it with myself and my co-founder Josh Kwan, who’s out in San Francisco. He’s was the head of a family foundation that was funding a lot of nonprofits.

We both had this sense that there were a lot of organizations emerging, really at the intersection of what we would say is the “university and the incubator.” They were helping entrepreneurs in some really excellent ways, but there was not a lot of conversation that we could tell on who that founder was.  What was really motivating them to do it?  And then particularly within the context of Christian faith, how did they wrestle and think through things– like their own personal identity, how hard they should work, how they should see the multiple vocations, and ideas like” calling” in their life. These were things that when we started Praxis, we had a hunch that it would be transformational for these founders, and I think it has ended up being that.


Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, Co-founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, Co-founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


Dr. Geoffrey Tabin

Denver: And this evening, you’re going to hear from another one of the semi-finalists in the 100&Change initiative of the MacArthur Foundation. He is Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, the Co-founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project. Good evening, Dr. Tabin, and congratulations on being chosen as a member of this select and prestigious group!

Geoffrey: Thank you very much, Denver! It’s an honor to be here.

Denver: Give us a brief overview of the Himalayan Cataract Project and the work that you do.

Geoffrey: The Himalayan Cataract Project really originated with my partner Sanduk Ruit, who is an amazing man. He was born in a small hill village, 10 days walk from the nearest school, no roads, no electricity, no running water.  And he emerged to become the leading ophthalmologist in Nepal. He trained in India at the best institutions. I was a climber who found my way to Nepal. I was a doctor interested in global medicine and trying to see how to make an impact, really looking to do something in public health… when I saw the unbelievable miracle of sight restoration.

Worldwide, there are 18 million people who are totally blind from completely treatable cataracts. I saw the problem in Nepal had one of the highest rates of cataract blindness, both from the high intensity of the UV light, but also lack of antioxidants in the diet, genetic factors, and overwhelmingly, a lack of doctors. Sanduk Ruit was the only man doing modern cataract surgery in Nepal. I was very fortunate to have just finished my eye surgery training in the best institutions in America, then a fellowship in Australia, and I came thinking I would teach something. I was actually just amazed and mesmerized by what Dr. Ruit had already accomplished in Nepal, and I basically signed on to work with him, and we began teaching cataract surgery in Nepal.

At the time, there  were about 300,000 people blind from cataracts in Nepal– about 60,000 people going blind every year– and we thought it would be a lifetime to get a handle on cataract blindness in Nepal, let alone in adjacent Himalayan regions where no cataract surgery was being performed – in Tibet, Bhutan, Northern India, Northern Pakistan. I worked with Dr. Ruit, came back to the states and took a faculty job at the University of Vermont, and we started a 501(c) program so that we could fund the development training. It’s really training at all levels – nurses, technicians, assistants, doctors, and sub-specialists. And now, 20 years on, Nepal is the only country of the poorest countries in the world that has reversed its rate of blindness.


Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Sean Callahan, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Sean Callahan, CRSDenver: And this evening, we’ll be joined by our second semi-finalist, Catholic Relief Services, who is looking to change how society cares for children and orphanages with the aim of getting them into family settings. And with us to discuss it is their President and CEO, Sean Callahan. Good evening, Sean, and welcome to The Business of Giving! 

Sean: Good evening, Denver! Thank you for having me.

Denver: Before we get to the specifics of your proposal, tell our listeners about Catholic Relief Services and the breadth and scope of the work that you do.

Sean: Catholic Relief Services is the international development arm and humanitarian assistance arm of the United States Catholic community. We reach out to people in over 100 countries around the world, reaching over 100 million people every year, focusing our efforts on emergency response, health interventions, agriculture, water, and economic development.

Denver: So Sean, if you would, why don’t we start by having you walk us through one of these orphanages and tell us what we would see and what we wouldn’t see; what we would hear as well as what we wouldn’t hear.

Sean: As you walk into an orphanage—and I just came back from Africa and had this experience—you normally enter a cinder block room that is crammed with metal cribs. And as you peek into the room, it’s normally a little dark so that the children seem to be somewhat sedated in that context. And the one thing that struck me as I walked in is the complete silence… and just quiet when you have a room packed with children. And then walking into the room and by various cribs, if the children notice you’re there, they scurry up and they start grabbing the sleeve of your shirt or grabbing your pants. They’re yearning for some attention and some human contact. 

Denver: Would the lack of noise or the lack of crying be the children realizing it doesn’t do them any good? They don’t get a response, so they just stay quiet like that?

Sean: That is part of it. I think any children that are in this context, as the research has shown: Three months in an institution delays the development of these children by about a month. But my daughter actually went and volunteered in the summer and worked in one of these areas, and she sent me a little quote about her feelings about it. She said there was a young boy named Peter that she was caring for. She said, “Peter, who cried every day that his father visited because Peter actually had a father though he was in an orphanage. His dad was trying, but they were poor – too poor to feed him – and so the father was taking responsibility by putting him in an orphanage. But when Peter got the chickenpox and was on bed rest for a week, his hands bound so that he could not scratch his skin until it bled, he did not cry. He sat staring at the wall like he could feel the world beyond, just sitting there staring at the wall.”

So we do think that as you look at these children, that these children just become placated by the environment they’re in. There isn’t enough stimulation for them, and they don’t have that loving, caring family to help them express themselves. 

…every three months in an orphanage delays development by a month itself, and so what you have is delayed development that is never caught up in the lifetime of many of these children.

Denver: Well, speak a little bit more about that Sean, if you will. What is the impact on a child, their health, their brain development, and, ultimately, their ability to function as a productive member of society?

Sean: It’s actually devastating although many people support orphanages for many, many good reasons, and there are people who work in these orphanages that really try to reach out to the children. But as I was mentioning earlier, every three months in an orphanage delays development by a month itself, and so what you have is delayed development that is never caught up in the lifetime of many of these children. And then when the children exit the orphanage–because they’re only in there for a certain period of time–they have great, great difficulty in integrating into society. They have not had the family support structure; they have not had the interactions, and they haven’t had those daily experiences that we have in a home that would allow them to integrate. And so in school, they have problems; with relationships they have problems. And oftentimes, they’re exploited when they come out of these orphanages. They’re taken by people who probably don’t care for them as much as their family would. And they’re often subjected to commercial sex type work or exploited in other ways, or homeless. 

Denver: When you think of an orphanage, Sean, you automatically think of children who have lost parents, but is that actually the case?

Sean: It isn’t the case. We found that around the world, about 80% of those in orphanages actually have parents, and it’s really an economic problem and a capacity problem. On the economic side, as I’ve mentioned that quote about the young boy named Peter, some families don’t have the resources to care for their children, and they feel by putting them in an orphanage that the children would be fed well, cared for well, and looked after. And they feel that they can’t do it. They just can’t cope, given the poverty that these people are in. In other cases, and I’ve seen this in various countries and most recently in a visit to Iraq, children are placed in some of these locations because of disabilities, either intellectual or physical disabilities. The parents don’t have the education or the ability or the support structure to care for children with disabilities, and so they oftentimes hope that these institutions will care for them in a better way than they could.  

Denver: Does CRS have an estimate of how many children are living like this across the world?

Sean: There’s no exact number, but the estimate that we do have is about 8 million throughout the world right now.

…we found that supporting the children with these day care facilities — as opposed to an institution in which, frankly, the child would be somewhat incarcerated — that the children will then have the opportunity of that family environment and not have all these negative traits and stigma that come with being in an institution. 

Denver: This is a pretty tough issue.  There’s no question about it, so I guess the question would be how do you go about getting these children back with their parents or at least into some kind of a family setting? What do you do? 

Sean: We work with the orphanages themselves, and we work with the local structure of the local government and all, and local community-based organizations. And so as we look at the orphanages throughout the world, these eight million children, we see that probably four million of the eight million are in faith- based institutions. So we’ve been reaching out to various faith-based institutions that support these children and providing them with the research and the capacity-building techniques that would help them to convert their institutions to child care centers… to resource centers for parents, that actually would help educate them and move them beyond this.

In the case of Iraq that I’ve mentioned, the center there now is a day facility where parents can come in, learn the techniques of caring for children with either physical or intellectual disabilities and then caring for those children.  And then they take the children home and keep them in that family environment. In other cases, we work with social mobilization groups and we help the families to develop livelihoods that allow them to get the resources so that they can then support the children. And we found that supporting the children with these day care facilities — as opposed to an institution in which, frankly, the child would be somewhat incarcerated — that the children will then have the opportunity of that family environment and not have all these negative traits and stigma that come with being in an institution. 

Denver: Yes. So you’re really making this much more locally focused. You’re trying to provide those parents with some economic stability and some parenting skills to be able to bring these children back into that kind of a loving setting. 

Sean: That’s exactly right! And it’s a very cost-effective solution. Our solution actually costs about one-tenth of what it costs to keep a child in an institution. So, you can actually help 10 people with the donation that people would provide normally to one of these institutions– they could actually help 10 children, and it actually allows the children to stay with their family, which the family actually desires.  And then it produces a child that is a more integrated citizen into society.

We have seen great results in Moldova. It’s one of the countries in Eastern Europe that has had great success with this.  We’re trying it out in places like Lebanon with some of the migrating communities that go along. We’re reaching out to those communities because many of them are the most vulnerable as well.

Denver: That’s fantastic! I think it’s somewhat counter-intuitive – you think it would probably cost more, but it doesn’t; it costs less. It costs a lot less! It’s unbelievable 10 cents on the dollar! This approach, where has it been successful? Have there been many countries that have tried it with great results?

Sean: We have seen great results in Moldova. It’s one of the countries in eastern Europe that has had great success with this.  We’re trying it out in places like Lebanon with some of the migrating communities that go along. We’re reaching out to those communities because many of them are the most vulnerable as well. And so we’re seeing that the ability of the families to care for their children– and then the support centers reaching out providing the education and capacity building for the families, as well as helping the children integrate into schools– has been tremendously successful.

The other important factor, as we move it forward, we’ve been seeing that the governments have been taking it on and providing legislation that is in support of this type of effort. As you may know, in the United States, we don’t put children into homes and orphanages anymore and haven’t really since the ’70s. And so something that we say is, “We wouldn’t send overseas a medicine that’s been expired… that we wouldn’t use ourselves… and ask them to use it on their children. And we shouldn’t be promoting orphanages that we would not put our children in this country in.” These are actually facilities that oftentimes are somewhat of an incarceration of a child as opposed to allowing the child to flourish. 

Denver: You have an educational effort there, I would imagine, because I think a lot of people, well-meaning people in this country, are sending their monies directly to those orphanages thinking they’re doing a lot of good when, in fact, they could do a lot more good by directing it the way that you have suggested. Do you have any efforts along those lines– to try to inform and educate people?

Sean: We do, and we’re going to continue to move on these efforts. We have a resource group and an advisory panel with us that is a very broad array of various institutions that help children, both technically with intellectual and physical disabilities, and with reaching out to all of these groups to advise their people that by redirecting aid, they can actually have a much more substantial impact.

And so with this 100 & Change opportunity: One, we get the attention for these issues so that we broaden it. We can maximize our effort by reaching out to countries and responding to this crisis issue right away in a more rapid manner. We also provide the opportunity for those who are giving… to continue giving, but to redirect the aid to these resource centers and see that their efforts are actually improving these children 10 times as much as they thought by giving to the institution.

Denver: That’s fantastic! In this 100 & Change initiative, you have two partners, Lumos and Maestral. Tell us about them, the roles that each of you plays, and how this partnership came together around this initiative.

Sean: It’s a really exciting collaboration. Lumos, as many people would know, is the charity of J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. She had seen these issues, had read some articles and some papers, and saw that in Eastern Europe, children were in very difficult situations. And by difficult situations, pretty much in cages, as she saw it.  And it just struck her that that was not the way for a child to develop and so she started Lumos as an enlightenment– as the name would say it– and from the magic spells that Harry Potter would cast to create light in the world.  And Lumos is to shed light on this issue.

And so they have done some great awareness campaigns, really focusing on Europe. And what she wanted to do was combine with the effort of Catholic Relief Services to spread this throughout the world. They have seen some success in eastern Europe where they’ve been working now and wanted to expand that globally.  So, they joined our effort on this, as well as Maestral, which is a United States-based technical group that protects children. They have fantastic experts that have worked around the world, and they’re coming in, bringing their technical expertise. And then we have an array of other organizations including the Special Olympics and  various universities that have come in to join because they all feel “Now is the time.”  It’s right for the political context to help governments set up a new legislative paradigm that will assist us in moving forward in closing down the orphanages and transforming them into child care centers.

Denver: It sounds like you have a dream team with which to address this issue. If your proposal should be chosen as the winning one by MacArthur, what would you do with the $100 million, Sean? What would it allow CRS and your partners to achieve? 

Sean: The first thing that we would do is: we would make changes with governments and allow government leaders to help us to move this effort forward. We would also right away start reintegrating children into their family areas. We would start stopping children from being put into orphanages right away because that is one of the key areas that we find– that stopping them from getting in will help the children right from the beginning– and put them into these support centers.

So, we will have some campaigns, open up these family-based care centers for the children… and then moving away from that reliance on the care… and then providing these nurturing family care environments… so capacity building and education for the families as they move forward. We would also start working with faith-based communities in the various areas, so that those different communities see the strength of this… and assisting them in providing the support for these resource centers that are going to be in the local areas in which they work as well.

The most difficult one I think, is the acceptance from those who have been supporting orphanages in the first place…I think oftentimes people are reluctant to believe that they’ve been supporting an institution that might not be providing the best for the children.

Denver: Sean, you have spoken about creating a paradigm shift as to how society and the world addresses this issue. And of all the challenges you faced in creating that shift… aside from the resources, of course… what do you believe is going to be the most difficult and daunting one that you will encounter?   

Sean: The most difficult one I think, is the acceptance from those who have been supporting orphanages in the first place. I think we have many, many well-meaning individuals who have contributed their hard-earned resources in the belief that they’re protecting or saving the life of a child by giving to this orphanage.  I think oftentimes people are reluctant to believe that they’ve been supporting an institution that might not be providing the best for the children. And so we’re trying to do this conversion process in a way that people don’t feel like they have been doing something wrong. Instead, that the research in these countries and the timing may not have been corrected in times since.  So maybe these institutions were ones that did help protect the child, but now we know that deinstitutionalization really is what the children need.  They need their family and they need that family support. So it’s helping these people who have given in the past and helping them to be supporters of this paradigm shift so that they can support into the future, as I’ve said before, not just one child that they’re protecting and saving, but 10!  

…we’re not just asking to change something for a moment, we’re asking to change a lifetime. So we’re really asking people to look in their hearts to support this effort and to assist us in changing the lifetime of these children.

Denver: Let me close with this, Sean. As I’m sure you will agree, there are seven worthy and really just spectacular proposals amongst the other semi-finalists. But if I ask you to make the case as to why this proposal will have the greatest impact and benefit to the world and society, what would that case be? 

Sean: I would just tell everyone that just imagine your child sitting in a cell by themselves every day, and it’s unconscionable that we, as Americans, would allow that to occur. We need to free these children. We need these children to flourish and have full potentials. So we’re not just asking to change something for a moment, we’re asking to change a lifetime. So we’re really asking people to look in their hearts to support this effort and to assist us in changing the lifetime of these children.

Denver: Fantastic! Well, Sean Callahan, the President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, I want to thank you so much for being here with us this evening. If people want to learn more about this specific initiative, or of all the work that CRS does, where do they need to go to find it?

Sean: They can just look on our web page which is at

Denver: Thanks, Sean, and my best wishes to you and your colleagues in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100 & Change Competition. 

Sean: Thank you very much, Denver! Much appreciated!

The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at

Scott Harrison, Founder and CEO of charity: water, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Scott Harrison, Founder and CEO of charity: water, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


Scott Harrison

Denver: We often hear of people who enter a new field from outside of it, coming from a completely different discipline.  They can either have a hard time adjusting, or on the other hand, they can bring a fresh set of perspectives to it. And this new way of thinking can help revolutionize a sector for the better, and do so in an exponential way. It would be the latter that best describes my next guest, former nightclub promoter, Scott Harrison, who went on to become the Founder and CEO of charity: water. Good evening, Scott, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Scott: Thanks so much for having me!

Denver: So much to talk to you about. I really looked forward to this. But let’s begin by having you tell our listeners about charity: water and the mission and purpose of the organization.

Scott: Kind of like it sounds. We are on a mission to help bring clean and safe drinking water to people in need around the world.

Denver: And to really fully appreciate charity: water in the way you operate and the way you go about your business, it would help to understand the road that you took to get here from a pretty self-absorbed, if I might say, nightclub promoter, to a social entrepreneur leading this exceptional organization… And if there was a pivotal moment in that transformation, it may have occurred over one weekend in Uruguay. Tell us what led up to that moment and where that moment subsequently led you.

Scott: Sure! The decadent lifestyle that I lived for 10 years was actually almost a betrayal of the way that I was raised. So I had been brought up in a very conservative Christian home. My mom had been very sick when I was 4—there was a carbon monoxide gas leak in our home that almost killed all of us—It deeply affected her, and she just became an invalid from this point on. I grew up in a caregiver role. I just did everything right. I mean, I cooked, I cleaned, I vacuumed, I played piano on Sunday in church. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t have sex. I was the good kid until 18, and then this active, utter rebellion came over me, and I moved to New York City.  I grew my hair down to my shoulders and had this moment where I said, “Look, now it’s my turn. I played by the rules. I took care of mom. Now, it’s my turn to have some fun.”

The way to have fun and also make money that I stumbled into was a nightclub promoter. I learned that you can actually get paid to drink, and your friends would drink for free, and you would only have to work a couple of nights a week.  Working was actually partying. So, from the age of 18 or 19, I started at a nightclub called Nell’s here on 14th street– probably worked at 40 or 50 nightclubs over the next 10 years– promoting these parties. And as you mentioned, 10 years later, I found myself in Uruguay with a 2-pack-a-day cigarette habit, a gambling problem, a pornography problem, a strip club frequency problem, cocaine – pretty much anything short of heroin. I was just this mess, but my life looked amazing on the outside. So I was jumping into limousines; I was flying to Paris for Fashion Week. My girlfriend at that time was on the cover of Elle Magazine. I drove a BMW; I had a Rolex; I had a grand piano in my apartment – all these things that I had coveted that I thought would make me happy.

So I begin to apply to a bunch of humanitarian organizations to be a volunteer for them. The World Visions and UNICEFs and Save the Childrens – all these respected organizations.  Peace Corps!  No one would take me.

Denver: The full package.

Scott: I realized I had somehow become the worst person that I knew – the most selfish, sycophant human being. I was emotionally bankrupt; I was spiritually bankrupt, and if I continued down this path, I would probably die by 40. And if I did manage to live out my life, my legacy was simply going to be a man that got people wasted for a living.

So, I had a pretty radical cathartic moment. I began to rediscover faith in a new way as an adult. I’d been completely disinterested for 10 years. I came back to New York City, kind of struggled with a new value system. I returned to my old value system in morality and spirituality, and I wound up selling everything that I owned that summer. I remembered putting up about 2,000 DVDs on eBay.  This was when DVDs were worth something. I sold everything, and I wanted to explore the opposite of my life. I wanted to see what the 180-degree turn might look like. So I begin to apply to a bunch of humanitarian organizations to be a volunteer for them. The World Visions and UNICEFs and Save the Childrens – all these respected organizations.  Peace Corps!  No one would take me.

Denver: Looked at that resume and said, “Uh-uh”.

Scott: They didn’t want to touch me with a 10-foot pole or let me anywhere near the humanitarian workers. I might throw parties. I might get people drunk. So I had stepped out really in faith, and there was no one that would allow me to serve. So I was very fortunate; finally an organization called Mercy Ships said if I was going to pay them $500 a month and go live in Liberia, right after this 14-year civil war had ended, then I could volunteer. And I dusted off an NYU Journalism degree that I’d never used and said, “Hey, I can come and be your volunteer photojournalist.  And by the way, I have 15,000 people on my list that I have gotten drunk over 10 years.  So, I can tell them a new story, and maybe they’ll give some money. Maybe they would even want to volunteer as well.”

That led to an extreme transformation. I quit everything the night before I boarded the gangway of this 500-foot hospital ship that was going to sail into Liberia with the best doctors and surgeons in the world, who were giving up their vacation time to operate for free on the poor. And I just saw poverty for the first time. I saw leprosy. I saw people with cleft lips and cleft palates. I saw 8-pound facial tumors. I’d never seen anything like this before. The country had no running water, had no sewage, had no mail system. There was one doctor for every 50,000 citizens.

Denver: No electricity, nothing.

Scott: Nothing. So among other things in the two years that I wound up volunteering, I came across the water crisis.  And I saw children drinking dirty water from swamps. I saw mothers losing their children to diarrhea because more than half the country didn’t have clean water to drink. And I think the irony, or the contrast, was I was selling $10 bottles of water to people in nightclubs that wouldn’t even open the water. They would just order a bunch and put them on their table because that’s what you do. And at the time, there were a billion people worldwide without access to clean water. I came back to New York City at 30-years-old and wanted to take that up as a mission. I wanted to try to use the rest of my life to bring clean drinking water to everybody on earth and be a part of the solution.

Denver: And what you did is: you threw a birthday party for yourself, correct?

Scott: Well, I did. In some ways, we had some challenges in the beginning just setting up the charity. As you could tell by the name, I wasn’t very creative – charity: water. Which stuck. I came up with a bunch of ideas of just how to do things differently, and one was to throw a birthday party and use my birthday… which I had use previously… to make money – give my friends an open bar, charge them a lot of money at the door, throw a big party. Really took that same model.  Got 700 people to come to a nightclub, give $20 on their way in.  But this time, instead of pocketing the $14,000 or $15,000, took 100% to do a few water projects in Uganda. And then we sent the photos and the GPS back to those people so they could actually see where the money went.

Denver: And that was the start. You were 31 years of age, if I recall.

Scott: In September.

Denver: Tell us, Scott, … What is it like to not have clean water available in the community? I mean, what’s the impact?  What do people go through?  Mostly women and girls, what do they have to do to get any kind of water for themselves and their family?

Scott: As you said, it’s a women’s issue. So culturally, we worked across 24 different countries. It is never the job of the men to get the water. It is the women and the girls, and it’s shocking and it’s outrageous,  but it is the job of the women and the girls to get the water. The water quality in some of these countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, in rural India, in Bangladesh, in Cambodia, these places where we work — it is water you wouldn’t let your dog drink. It’s water you wouldn’t step in. You wouldn’t walk barefoot into the water. It’s often brown. It’s viscous. Often the water is far away. I lived in a village in Ethiopia where women were walking 8 hours a day with 40 pounds…once they had collected the water… of water on their back… to just a little murky seepage of water coming out of the rock. In fact, one of the girls in this village had walked eight hours one day; at the end of her walk, she had slipped and fallen and she spilled the water that she spent all eight hours fetching, and she winds up hanging herself… just committed suicide in the village. Said, “I can’t go back for water.”

So it’s in such extremity. It’s so hard for us to imagine. We hear a statistic like a billion people without water. Now it’s about 700 million people… and we just numb out. But it’s 13-year old girls named Letikiros Hailu who have hopes and dreams. She wanted to be a nurse, but she was stuck in this 7-day a week cycle to go get the water for her family that then made them sick.

Denver: And I know you went to that village subsequently and really tracked her footsteps. Number one, to just check out that story.

Scott: Yes. It really sounded too harsh to be true. Is a 13-year old girl really going to hang herself because she spilled her water? And what I found there was just… it really moved me. It angered me. It moved me. I met her mom. I met her friend that walked with her that day. I saw her grave. I met the priest who gave her funeral. I saw this frail little tree where they had taken a 13-year old girl’s body down with this little rope around her neck. It was a great reminder to me that in those statistics, they are just everyday people. And the terrible irony is that in so many of these villages, there’s clean ground water 200 feet beneath the village. Literally, the water that could save the lives of the women and children are right beneath their feet. What they don’t have access to is a million dollars of drilling equipment. They don’t have access to $10,000 or $12,000 to drill and construct a well, or a rainwater harvesting system or gravity-fed system. So that’s what we’ve been in the business of for 10 years.

Denver: Tell us a little bit about that process, Scott, if you would. I know that the organization is solutions-agnostic, and as you said, whether it be filtration or rain harvesting, it doesn’t make any difference. Whatever’s going to work. But let’s take  digging of that well, as an example.  What’s a typical process you go through in terms of selecting the village, engaging local partners, and the digging, and so on?

Scott: In the early days, when the organization was tiny, it was pretty haphazard. “Hey, we have money for 10 water projects.” We’d find a local partner and say: “You pick the best 10 spots!”  Now we’re doing over 3,000 a year so there would be multi-year strategic plans using GIS data, using satellite coordination with other NGOs in the area. So there would be a plan in almost everywhere where we work for 100% coverage in a district. Sometimes it’s a 7-year plan or a 5-year plan or a 3-year plan. We’re actually a couple of months away from achieving success in a program we’ve been working at in Rwanda for seven years. So I’ll give you just one example in Malawi, a place I’ve visited a few times. There was a community that was actually cut off from the roads by this huge ditch in this huge gully. So we were giving communities on the other side of this big gully access to clean water. A community that’s cut off hears about this and says to our local partner, “Look, we realize you can’t get those drilling rigs into us, but give us a few months, and we’ll build a road.” And they spend three months, and every single household sent one person to fill in this huge gully by hand! This is moving rocks by hand. You know, small shovels… And they built a road, and the drilling rig got in. Local Malawians jumped out, and in about three days drilled a well, and clean water is flowing. I mean it’s one of the most extraordinary things.

I’ve now been at this for 10 years and had the fortune to be in some of these same communities before and after. I hear from women complaining about leeches in their water, complaining about the disease, complaining about the long walks, shaking their fist at the sky saying “We’ve been waiting for help. Will you help us?” And then I’ve been able to go back six months later with women that are smiling, that have given names to the well …calling it “Blessed” or calling it “Beautiful” and talked about they’re able to wash their faces, wash their clothes, prepare food that’s healthy… seeing the benefits of water.

And that’s the great thing about working on this issue because water is so much more than water. Water impacts education. It impacts health. A World Health stat that we came across a few years ago was: 52% of all diseases of all the sick people throughout the developing world — what some people might call the third world — is caused by bad water and lack of sanitation. So half of the sick people don’t need to be sick. It’s not HIV, AIDS. It’s water.

So, it’s an amazing thing to do. It impacts the local economy as well because you’re providing millions and millions, sometimes billions in aggregate, of time back.  And people can turn that time– that they used walking for water– into productive work. Selling rice at the market, selling rugs… I was just in Zambia and Zimbabwe with women that were making rugs and selling them for $4 because they didn’t have to walk for water. It’s a powerful issue to work on.

Denver: Sure is. The impact can be greater than all the violence in the world, including war. You know, clean water does speak for itself.  But is there any way that you’ve been able to measure the impact of the work you do– whether that be return on investment or a reduction in disease– for people who are now drinking clean water? (more…)