At 19 years old, Do Something Awards  Semi-Finalist Seth Maxwell was set on becoming a professional actor. Then, his friend showed him pictures and told the stories of people suffering due to lack of clean drinking water. Seth knew he had to do something. He started an organization called The Thirst Project . Seth and his staff now travel to schools, teach students about the clean water crisis, and encourage them to fundraise for clean-water wells.
1. How did you feel when your first learned of the problem you are addressing?
I was absolutely shocked. I couldn’t believe that one in every eight people on our planet does not have access to safe, clean water. I felt hopeless at first when I looked at how huge the issue was, but then I felt resolved to help as many people as possible.
2. How do you feel about it now?
I feel inspired every day by the progress we are making. I am blown away by all of the amazing students across the country who have joined us and declared that water is a human right!
3. What person or experience sticks with you from when you first started your project?
Mignotae Kebede was one of the first people who reached out to me to asking me to come to her school to speak about the global water crisis. She played a really instrumental role in developing The Thirst Project at her high school and showing us just how much potential the School Tours really could have. It was amazing to be able to see one of our first wells ever be built in Mignotae’s birth country (Ethiopia).
4. Who or what is your inspiration to keep going?
Few people have ever inspired me like a woman named Juliet. In August, the only water source Juliet had access to was a visibly contaminated creek about half of a football field away from her homestead. Seeing the impact that water has had on her and the eight orphan children she cares for is more than enough reason for me to fight every day for the work that we do.
5. Can you describe the moment you knew that you were actually making a difference?
I first knew I was making a difference when we hit the end of our first month of School Tours in 2008. I never in my life expected the first schools we reached to raise over $12,000 so quickly. I grew up without groups like Invisible Children or others like them at my high school or college, so I really had no idea what kind of power we actually had that went untapped in schools.
6. What was the most difficult roadblock you faced when you tried to start your project or while you were growing it?
The most difficult roadblock I faced when I started my project was the challenge of figuring out how to grow the project so that I could give it the attention it needed, but also eat my next meal. I wanted to be committed to giving 100% of our public gifts directly to building wells, and it was a challenging and emotional process to find the right people who would help us grow the administrative side of our organization before I could move back to L.A. to take care of myself.
7. What’s been the biggest lesson through the process?
It's critical to surround yourself with the right people. Every donor and every volunteer is a relationship. They should never be treated like a transaction; they are friends- partners in this fight. It’s also so important to surround yourself with people who are great at what you are not, who can partner with you, who can grow the organiztion with you.
8. What has surprised you the most about the journey that has taken you here today?
I’ve been most surprised by how quickly students respond. I can pitch how important our work is to adults, and there’s often a disconnect between their hearing and acting because they have too many responsibilities, or any number of other excuses. With students, once they learn that someone is hurting, action is almost immediate. It is truly stunning.
9. What advice do you have for other young leaders who are having a tough time getting their ideas off of the ground?
Get as many of your friends together as possible and cast the vision for what you want to do. Tell the story of the project you want to address and do it in a way that gets people to see how it is absolutely unthinkable that you would allow another second to go by without doing something about your cause. You can’t go it alone.
10. If you could have done one thing differently based on what you know now, what would it be and why?
I would have gathered more creative people around me in the digital and web world much sooner. I realized how important storytelling was in communicating the need to schools and students and donors, but we didn’t have as strong as platform online as I’d like to create a destination for schools and students to give, interact, and see progress.
11. If you could have any celebrity film a PSA for your organization, who would it be and why?
Tina Fey, no question. She's hysterical and every age group loves her.
What Can You Do?
Learn more about all of the Do Something Awards  Semi-Finalists.