Social Entrepreneur Seth Maxwell has the goal of providing clean water to every single community in Swaziland. And he is on his way of doing it at age 28.

At age 19, 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.

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Show Notes for Seth Maxwell

  • 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.”