TJ Foltz attended Syracuse University to become a sportscaster, not knowing he would eventually answer a much higher calling soon enough. TJ would go on to join a youth ministry where he went to work for Geneva Global, a philanthropy company that helps high net worth individuals make the world a better place.
This was where Foltz came to learn the extent of the problem that would consume his reason for living: the World Water Crisis. Still full time in ministry, he started Humankind, an alternative bottled water business whose profits are sent to fund clean water projects in Haiti, Asia and Africa. TJ’s dream is to have enough people buy Humankind water that the amount of money raised completely eradicates the world’s water sanitation problems.
We at Elite admire TJ’s regard for the health of the general population along with the work he puts in just to make sure generations to come can have cleaner drinking water. In this interview, we get a more in depth look at the dynamics behind Foltz’s cause and what it takes to expand a business in the non-profit world.
Humans tend to be motivated by self-serving initiatives rather than altruistic causes. One can argue that our world is driven by selfish ambitions. What urged you to pursue a cause that is “for the greater good,” so to speak?
First of all, no one has truly pure motives. I want my two sons to think their dad is a great guy. I want people to think well of me. If we wait to have 100% pure motives we’ll never do anything. We’re still human beings. That said, the honest answer to your question is two words: my faith. I believe in a God that showed love by example and sacrificed for us.
So I believe we do our “Father” proud by living likewise. If that sounds trite or old-fashioned, so be it. My heroes are people that lived that way. I remember watching a documentary on Mother Teresa. I’m not comparing myself to her, but I remember intentionally watching to see if there was one single thing she did which I could not do.
One skill, one talent, one act of strength of which I was incapable. Not one thing. There was not one thing in the video which she did that the average person could not do. It was a series of simple acts that were just wholly selfless. And her kindness motivated so many others to do likewise. It has a multiplying effect.
What do you conceive to be the imperative issues that must be tackled to resolve such a daunting task that burdens so much of the world?
Awareness. So many folks simply do not realize the extent of this crisis. Bad water kills more than AIDS, malaria and measles COMBINED. It’s shocking. Somewhere between 5 and 10,000 children will die TODAY for no other reason than the lack of clean water. Half the hospital beds in the ENTIRE WORLD are filled with somebody either sick or dying from water-borne illness.
As a country we give roughly $300 billion to charity. It is estimated as little as $6 Billion could end the crisis. Heightened awareness could change our priorities. I am absolutely convinced that water is the lowest hanging fruit on philanthropy’s tree. The amount of money and effort spent to actual lives saved is ridiculously low. This needs to be the humanitarian’s priority in my opinion.
Has there been any significant progress over the last few years in the pursuit of this cause?
It is getting better but WAY too slowly. In 2010, Kofi Annan and the UN declared that it’s every human being’s right to have access to potable water. God bless Mr. Annan for saying that, but saying it and seeing to it are two hugely different things. There have been innovations that make water solutions either cheaper or more portable or both, but we have to step it up.
Besides inventors like Dean Kamen making strides to tackle the clean water crisis, are there any other groups or organizations that you have partnered up with?
We have six partners right now, and are vetting a seventh. As you might imagine, when we won the contest at WalMart, we were instantly inundated with offers from various water “dot orgs” who wanted the proceeds of this bottled water. Dean Kamen is an absolute genius.
The issue with his brilliant gizmo (it’s called a SlingShot, it vaporizes and distills any kind of nasty water using very little energy) is cost. Like all technology, the cost usually comes down with increased production. But there are other strides being made in filtration, rain catchment (harvesting the rain during short rainy seasons) and even in well-digging. Cheaper, more portable rigs are the products of people with big hearts and big brains.
What are the significant milestones that Humankind Water has planned for the next 5 years?
Obviously our first goal is to have success with our bottle of water. But we’d like to expand our product line as well. We’re talking about expanding Humankind Water into Humankind “Wellness” and including a line of vitamins and supplements.
The idea of water for water is so clear and simple though. We’re also talking about adding a washable, reusable sports bottle, and maybe even our own line of sink filters. Again…you drink this water here…they get clean water there…
Are there any other world issues that the foundation and team at Humankind are supporters of?
We applaud everybody doing honest to God philanthropy wherever they are. We never want to compete against anybody in what they’re trying to accomplish. The fight against AIDS is obviously always on our minds and hearts.
As you know, no one “dies of AIDS”, medically speaking. Your immune system is weakened and you lose the ability to fight off disease and infection. So obviously water and HIV go hand in hand. The water issue is also a women’s issue.
The average woman in Africa is forced to walk 3.75 miles to get water, and when they do, it’s often contaminated. Bringing solutions closer “to home” has a ripple effect on the economy, the family, education. In many villages kids have to go get water, denying them key hours in a normal day to get schooling. Obviously a lot of these crises are tied together.
What do you feel are the boundaries or obstacles are currently preventative of making significant headway in clean water initiatives?
Awareness. Like I said, just a TINY percentage of what Americans give in charity would wipe out what is, in my opinion, the world’s greatest physical crisis. And then there’s education. Even where solutions are offered it has to go hand in hand with education so that people realize what is making them sick. Local ownership is also everything when it comes to sustainability.
What countries are in the most dire need of assistance?
Haiti, India, huge portions of Africa such as Chad, Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi…the list goes on. Parts of South East Asia, particularly Cambodia. Even places in South and Central America it’s still a huge issue.
Would you say that their situation is worsened by high consumption–ie first world countries?
There is enough water in the world for everybody to drink clean water, period. We just need to care enough to get it to them. I know my brain works differently than most folks. I, like you, watched in fascination as we put a really cool land rover on Mars. This thing is trucking all over the red planet looking for signs of water. Like I said, I’m fascinated.
But it does hit my mind that maybe a remote control car on the other side of the solar system should not be as high a priority for us when we have almost a billion people ON OUR OWN planet without clean water. If I asked the mothers of the 5,000 kids that will die today how much energy we should spend looking for water on Mars, I think I know how they’d respond. And I know how you’d respond if it were your child drinking sewage.
James Delancey | Elite.