I’ve had the good fortune to get to speak in public hundreds of times, about any manner of subjects. But I’ve never, never had the moments following one of my talks bring me to tears.
Until yesterday. I was asked to go onstage at a conference full of folks who use social media tools to help their businesses, the kind of audience I’ve addressed countless times. And I told them a story that had nothing to do with blogs, or Facebook, or how to use the Internet. Instead, I told them a true story I’ve never said out loud on any stage before.
I was honored to get to introduce charity: water’s September campaign video, and was absolutely stunned by the simple, powerful messages which kicked off the campaign. It’s made me more motivated than ever to launch an ambitious campaign to bring water to an entire village, with your help.
My motivation in bringing water to villages in the rural regions of Orissa, India are simple: These are my people. This is my family, these are boys and girls just like me. I have no greater obligation than to serve them and to honor where I come from by bringing as many people as possible the simple human dignity of having clean water to drink, cook and bathe with.
Give to this campaign and you bring water to a town like the one my family is from. (Even a gift of just $45 brings clean water to one person.) But it’s not just about where I come from — it’s where we all come from.
I belong to a lot of other communities. My neighborhood in New York City. My peers in the technology and media industries. Colleagues whom I’ve worked with in the realm of policy or activism. Fellow parents. And I know that each of these communities is just as much a part of me, just as intrinsically the same as me as the people of Orissa.
So all I can do is ask all of you in these communities, anyone who knows who I am, to see in the kids of these villages that they can be anything that I am and more. No matter how you first encountered me, or whatever it is that prompts you to connect with me here or on some social network, every one of these children offers even greater potential with their ideas, their work, their optimism, their strength. They lack only the basic resource of clean water to show the world what they can do.
Optimism Is Best Expressed Through Action
As I said in the video above, I’ve been haunted by a simple quote from Gandhi: “Sanitation is more important than independence.” Those were the words of a man who gave his life fighting for that independence. It’s that important.
Last year, we made our mark together. The final campaign raised over $9,200 to support clean water projects in Rwanda, a story so compelling that charity: water documented it on their own site. And now I’m pushing us to do even better. We’re going to more than double that goal, and I need your help to do it. And if you’re skeptical? I get it. There are absolutely valid arguments that the water problem only gets solved at global scale through good policy and good governance. Philanthropy or charity certainly aren’t going to solve the entire class of problems that underlie lack of access to clean water. But our actions can have real impact, and I know because I’ve seen it first-hand. Just as importantly, I’ve spent time first-hand with members of the charity: water team and researched Gram Vikas, their on-the-ground partner in Orissa, and have found their tactics to be thoughtful and sustainable, without the usual condescension or disconnect that often accompanies such slick campaigns from the wealthy world.