Social Entrepreneur Seth Maxwell has the goal of providing clean water to every single community in Swaziland. And at age 28, he is on his way of doing it. A few years ago, Seth founded Thirst Project with his friends from college. Together, they set out to end the number one global killer of children: the world’s water crisis.
Since raising $1,700 at their very first fundraising event, Thirst Project has worked with students from over 400 schools to raise 8 million dollars. They've provided 300,000 people with safe drinking water around the world. Seth Maxwell is the recipient of VH1’s Do Something Award and was recently named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for Social Entrepreneurship.
Text THIRST to 97779 to get connected to a staff person from Thirst Project.
While living in Los Angeles, Seth Maxwell learned about the global water crisis at age 19.
According to Seth Maxwell, 1.1 billion people lacked access to safe drinking water at the time
Women and children will spend hours each day to find water, which adds up to thousands of hours per year
Animals defecate into the same water source, causing water-borne illnesses
Drinking contaminated water kills more children under the age of five than AIDS and malaria combined
“Clean water impacts everything.”
Without safe water, other development aid initiatives loses effectiveness
Seth started a club with seven friends on campus to raise awareness about the global water crisis around LA.
Seth and his friends spent $70 to buy bottles of water. They gave out the bottled water on Hollywood Boulevard so they could talk about the crisis.
People began to ask them to speak about the crisis at their schools
Within one month, they fundraised $12,000, which sparked Seth to create the Thirst Project
They started off by sending their funding to partner organizations
Soon, they started to implement the water projects themselves after forming a technical team made up of water experts
Swaziland is small, with 1.4 million people and is known as the country with the highest AIDS density in the world
For people with AIDS, drinking contaminated water is a serious issue due to their weakened immune system
In order to provide running water to the entire country of Swaziland (100% national coverage), Thirst Project needs to raise $40 million
As a youth, Seth Maxwell was passionate about theater and telling stories on stage
Seth admits that he was arguably the most selfish, introspectively-focused human being on the planet at age 19
Learning about the water crisis shattered his world view
“There was a lot of doubt. Could I do this? How do I lead a team? How do I fundraise?”
Seth focused on finding experts who would join his team and Board
Seth faced great self doubts as he started as a young person with a background in theater
Seth no longer speaks at school assemblies anymore, as he feels his shelf life has passed
The Thirst Project presentations tell the story of the global water crisis
During the first 2-3 years, Seth focused on making the presentations himself
Soon, Seth realized that speaking so much was not a sustainable model for the organization
Thirst Project now find students who get trained and give the presentations on behalf of the organization where they speak at at least one school a day
Seth feels that now at age 28, he doesn’t resonate with high school students compared to when he was 19
About 2.5 years into the organization, Seth went on a 3-month speaking tour where he spoke at 80 schools all over the country. He never stayed in a city more than 3-4 days. It was emotionally draining because he didn’t have a sense of community being such a traveling nomad
In the last year, Seth started to work out 3 times per week to better take care of himself
Seth is protective of his weekend so he can make time for himself as a person
At age 25, Seth was overly consumed with his work and had very little going on in his personal life
Our generation is making an impact in the world but it often means sacrificing personal time or fun activities
Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs are not necessarily big risk takers. They take calculated risks.
“Now is the time. Take risks. Build something. Break it down. Rebuild it. Figure out what works.”
“You have to try.”
Every high school or university that works with Thirst Project does it differently.
Their 45 minute presentations have lots of media, photos, videos
The students start fundraisers for Thirst Project, like basketball tournaments, video game tournaments, dances, walks, etc.
100% of these donations go to the water projects, as the Board pays for administrative expenses
Donors get personalized thank you videos from the project sites
The team making the content for the Thirst Project presentations is very young in age, allowing them to know what will grab the attention of their peers
The Thirst Project breaks down their content into three parts: 1.) The Problem, 2.) The Solution, 3.) The Call-To-Action
“Storytelling is powerful.”
People expect high quality content
It’s all about building relationships
Too often nonprofits look at donors as ATMS and volunteers as work horses
It’s about genuinely caring about the people behind the organization
Thirst Project communities have water committees and a strong sense of ownership
Seth breaks down the White Savior Complex issue
Seth reads business books
Thirst Project is creating a team called G20 that will support the cause in a huge manner
Thirst Project is partnering up with Key Club
“There was something exciting about that hustle.”
Imagine working out of a coffee shop to start an online movement for social good that gets shared by the World Bank, William Easterly, Kiva, Grameen America, Oxfam, Finca, BRAC, and Opportunity International. According to Dr. Shawn Humphrey (AKA The Blue Collar Professor), you can do it by following his four-step-plan. And for $50 or less.
In this episode, Shawn deconstructs how he starts online movements for social good and makes them go viral.
He also talks about his favorite books, how he responds to criticism, how to connect with influencers (like Seth Godin, William Easterly, and Jacqueline Novogratz), narrative humility, his “unusual” morning routine, his inner chatter, personal finance for social entrepreneurs, and tribal teaching.
Shawn Humphrey is a Board member for Students Helping Honduras and is an economics professor at the University of Mary Washington. Check out his blog at shawnhumphrey.com and his top posts: Pumping People Up About Poverty, Packaging Poverty, Making the Poor Pay.
Show Links for Shawn Humphrey
Show Notes for Shawn Humphrey
60 groups participated in the $2 Challenge around the world in 2016
The Month of Microfinance struck up a partnership with groups like Kiva, FINCA, BRAC, Opportunity International, Grameen America
The Sidekick Manifesto went viral and got posted by World Bank, Oxfam, and William Easterly
These movements had cost Shawn about $50 each (domain hosting)
Shawn uses Wordpress for his campaign websites
Running a traditional nonprofit organization is much harder than running an online movement
You need to “start too soon”
Shawn Humphrey emphasizes the process of: learn, make changes, iterate
It takes Shawn Humphrey about half a day to start an online movement
The four components of an online movement: 1.) platform, 2.) social media infrastructure, 3.) power network, 4.) content
The content in the online movement is the most important. What does it put on the table? An experience? Useful information?
The $2 Challenge has three levels: Beginner (3 days), Intermediate (5 days), Difficult (5 days plus randomized daily income)
For the “Difficult” level, there are also “shocks” like unexpected expenses
The $2 Challenge pulls participants out of their comfort zone
The $2 Challenge creates empathy in participants
The Sidekick Curriculum accompanies the $2 Challenge, which includes daily reading material and short films.
At the end of each evening, there is a group meeting and reading
Participants read Ivan Illich’s To Hell With Good Intentions
During the first year of the $2 Challenge, about 10 students participated and called their tent a “shantytown” which he is now embarrassed about. He later decided on the term, “makeshift shelter.”
“The first year, there were doubts everywhere.”
Shawn experienced poverty during his childhood in Ohio
Shawn describes his impression of me when I was a college student
Shawn dropped his research project to work on development aid in Honduras
Bragging and promoting oneself was not something Shawn was used to when he started the Blue Collar Professor
Shawn started attracting online trolls who criticized him for misspelled words, etc.
Several people were offended by his post, The Do-Gooder Industrial Complex
In the article, Shawn criticized the idea of in-kind donations as a solution to poverty, specifically with shoe donations. An online debate ensued.
A well-known blogger criticized the $2 Challenge and her audience rallied behind her.
Shawn has a rule: Wait 24 hours before sending an emotional email
Shawn responded to the criticism to start a conversation. That conversation turned into a friendship. Her community began to understand Shawn’s point of view.
Shawn welcomes criticism because it allows us to clarify, reflect, and question our own thoughts and methods. But it’s not easy to take emotionally.
Shawn’s PhD advisor, Douglas C. North, won the Nobel Prize in Economics through his research on economic development. Shawn applied what he learned in his programs in Honduras
Through the Sidekick Manifesto, Shawn practices Narrative Humility. How do you handle and share someone’s story? What biases do we have? How can we be their sidekicks and not their heroes?
For the Sidekick Manifesto, the Sidekick Manifesto itself was the Content. It had taken Shawn 10 years to write it.
Shawn released the Sidekick Manifesto on The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty to get maximum exposure
Shawn purchased the domain name on Godaddy for ~$10.
He hosted the site on Reclaim Hosting at no additional cost
He used Wordpress to build the site
He started the hashtag #sidekickmanifesto
Shawn already had 5 of his own social media handles pushing out the Sidekick Manifesto simultaneously
He then reached out to his power networks, including Students Helping Honduras, to build an audience
He simply asked, “will you Tweet this out?”
Who are your top 5, top 50, top 100 people in your network?
Shawn and William Easterly follow each other on Twitter and they had talked about Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance so he had been developing that relationship before the ask for a Re-Tweet
You need to give, give, give before making the ask
The homepage got 2,000 unique visits in two weeks
The total cost to run The Sidekick Manifesto was $40-$50
“I’ve been cold-calling and cold-emailing people since 2007. That’s how we got started.”
Shawn even emailed the marketing guru, Seth Godin. He replied back within 5 minutes.
Shawn cold emailed the founder of Kiva and started a conversation with her on the $2 Challenge. She shared Shawn’s content.
Shawn cold emailed Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of Acumen Fund and author of The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between the Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
Each year, Shawn will create a list and reach out to 10 influencers
It took 10 years of relationship building for Shawn to get the influencers to share his content
“It is a long, slow, patient process. One grain of sand at a time. But it does pay off.”
Shawn gets up at around 4:50am. He goes to Starbucks on his bicycle as he fights his inner doubts and chatter. He orders his tall, black coffee without sugar, no cream. He starts typing away on his laptop and works away for one hour. He rides back home as he again fights his inner doubts and chatter.
“It’s every moment.”
Shawn is constantly criticizing himself inside his head.
Shawn is now 45 years old and is asking himself: “Is this it?”
Shawn allows himself two existential crises per year
Being married and having a child gave him constraints that have helped Shawn
Shawn does not work after 5pm so he can focus on his life outside of work. He rarely works on weekends
Shawn is very protective of his time so he can stay productive
Though Shawn puts Tim Ferriss’s teachings from The Four Hour Workweek into practice, he cautions himself to not get caught up with the idea of working less and building wealth to accumulate material things or go on exotic vacations. For the social entrepreneur, doing the work (and doing it better) is the reward.
If you want to be in the social impact space, you have to be counter-cultural and accept the fact that you won’t be wealthy and find the value in the work itself. You won’t have the traditional, American lifestyle.
Shawn is getting ready to launch Tribal Teaching where he will teach students to stop seeking perfection, to re-wild themselves, to tear down the status quo, to ask why.
Social entrepreneur Brandon Chrostowski was arrested in Detroit at the age of 18 and faced a long jail sentence. Instead, he received a second chance and was sentenced to just one year in probation. That was when he decided to turn his life around. He finished high school and went to a culinary institute where he peeled carrots. His relentless work ethic found him restaurant jobs in New York City, Chicago, and then Paris. It was there that he began telling himself to "quit screwing around, quit making excuses, quit overthinking things. Just do it.” In Paris, Brandon realized that "hard work doesn't have a language."
Yet becoming a successful chef was not enough for Brandon Chrostowski. He thought to himself, “I’ve got to do something even bigger with my life. It may take a long time, but I’m going to start today.” His dream was to give a second chance to ex-convicts. During his time off from his 80hr/week restaurant work, Brandon began teaching culinary skills in a local prison. He spent $2,000 of his life savings to buy all the equipment.
As his project grew, he built Edwin's Restaurant and Leadership Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only is it a top rated restaurant, the staff who work at Edwin's Restaurant are ex-convicts who receive training and housing. Brandon attributes the success to his work ethic and trust in his instincts: “People think you have to rest one day. You don’t have to. You can work on a project. You can work 100 hours per week. You just do that seven days a week. When you hit it like this for a decade, things start to happen. You really chip away at what needs to get done and built.”
Brandon was recently named a CNN Hero.
Brandon Chrostowski began working in the restaurant industry in Detroit before he was 18
Brandon Chrostowski got arrested at age 18 and faced a 5-10 year jail sentence. Instead, he received a second chance and was sentenced to just one year in probation.
He was a high energy child who loved to push the limits
He started working in the restaurant industry in New York, Paris, and Chicago
Back in Detroit, friends were getting killed or going to jail
The idea of race was a big issue for Brandon
“I’ve got to do something bigger with my life. It may take a long time, but I’m going to start today.”
When Brandon started Edwin’s Restaurant, he was still paying off school loans
“You can work 100 hours per week.”
Edwin’s schedule when starting Edwin’s Restaurant: 8am-10am Edwin’s Restaurant, 10am-midnight work at a restaurant, midnight-2am Edwin’s Restaurant
“You just do that seven days a week.”
“People think you have to rest one day. You don’t have to. You can work on a project.”
Brandon works from 8am until 1am six days a week currently, and 10-12 hours on a Sunday
“When you hit it like this for a decade, things start to happen. You really chip away at what needs to get done and built.”
Brandon had to figure out how to start and run a nonprofit organization
While Brandon worked as a full-time chef, he started small, by teaching culinary skills in prison. That’s how he started
A documentary about Edwin’s Restaurant will be coming out in early 2017, with 4 years of footage
“Nobody’s going to invest in you if you don’t invest in yourself.”
Brandon invested $1,000-$2,000 to purchase the startup equipment like knives
Small family foundations began supporting Brandon
One in three people have been involved with the justice system in the US
Stigma makes it hard for people with criminal records to find jobs
Yet it’s a crutch. If you have a special skill and the desire to work, there is no trouble finding a job, even with a felony. It’s hard, but that’s if you don’t have a skill.
“Hard work doesn’t have a language.” About succeeding in France
50% of people who leave prisons go back to prison eventually
In the prison program, a typical student will get trained for four hours each Saturday on the fundamentals of cooking
At the restaurant, students get interviewed and join the training academy
The first three weeks of the academy is extremely challenging. Students memorize many facts and get tested.
Half of the students quit during the training
Applicants are not judged based on previous offenses or education level
Edwin’s Restaurant will help students get licenses, bank accounts, insurance, and other life basics
Students go through an additional 5.5 month training program where they rotate through all the different positions: host, server, bartender, food runner, pastries, cold food, fish, meat, prep working, business management, etc.
The days are 10-12 hours each day of class, setup, restaurant work, meetings, etc.
Case managers help the students in their lives
“You need a MAKE IT HAPPEN kind of approach no matter what.”
Building up the self-esteem of the students is a high priority for Brandon Chrostowski. He does so by giving bigger challenges and helping them overcome those challenges, day after day
“It’s about coming together as a family.”
If a student is having problems with drug addiction, Edwin’s Restaurant will help them through rehab, sponsor programs, strengthen their network, uphold them to high standards
Before, drugs affected 30% of the students at the academy. It has been reduced to about 10% now.
“Everyone here has a life plan. And as they are succeeding in their life plan, they’re winning. And that winning is addictive... And anything that might make you lose… you’re more apt to say no.”
Some of his students were homeless and slept on couches.
In three months, Edwin’s Restaurant raised $1.3 million to build a campus with free housing, 25 beds for his students, including a fitness center, library, and basketball court.
Brandon’s mentor used to challenge Brandon to do more, teaching him the MAKE IT HAPPEN attitude
“Continue trusting your instincts.”
Brandon does not own a TV to avoid the fear-driven media
Brandon had no doubt that the project was going to work. It was simply about building it.
Brandon felt thankful everyday, and very little fear
Being a social entrepreneur is tough. Brandon went through a divorce because he wife thought he was too obsessed with the project. Twice he was left without a home.
Brandon Chrostowski feels grateful for life and for being alive
Brandon Chrostowski is hoping to add a butcher shop
“It’s a day at a time.”
The first days of Edwin’s Restaurant was like the “Wild West.”
Alvin was one of the first students. He was sent to jail mid-way through the training but he kept studying in jail. He persevered and is now running a restaurant in Detroit.
95% of the customers know what the restaurant is about when they come.
Edwin’s Restaurant is rated as the #1 restaurant in Cleveland
A hamburger at Edwin’s Restaurant costs $33!!
The cost to run the academy is offset by the profits made through the restaurant
“People will come for the mission maybe once. But they’re not coming back unless the experience is stellar.”
According toBrandon Chrostowski, the potato-wrapped grouper in a red wine butter sauce is the best meal at the restaurant
“Quit thinking about it. Just do it.”
“Shoot, aim, fire.”
“Quit screwing around, quit making excuses, quit overthinking things. Just do it.”
You don’t have to be in New York City to start an innovative program
“Sometimes the right place is where you’re at.”