Caryl Stern knows it may sound a little corny, but, she says, she feels privileged to have her job as president and CEO for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
“I get to get up every morning and do something I really care about and I’m really proud of,” she says. “To be one piece in this big wheel that gets to save lives is a privilege. I took this job the year I turned 50; I always say it was my 50th birthday present to myself. Because even on my worst days, I don’t go home sorry I’m here. I feel really lucky.”
We recently spoke with Stern, a mother of three boys, about UNICEF’s Tap Project, a clean-water initiative; balancing work and home life; and how majoring in art helped inform her approach to the work she does today. An edited version of the interview follows.
MORE: What is the Tap Project all about?
CARYL STERN: It was started by a guy named David Droga, who got the challenge to put together a campaign that would get people to pay for something they normally get free . . . Every time you go to a restaurant, they put a glass of water in front of you for free, yet there are close to 4,000 children in the world dying today because they don’t have access to a glass of clean water. They die from lack of water or they die from waterborne diseases. So [Droga] decided if the American public knew that they could pay a dollar for that glass of water, they would if they knew that water bought enough good, clean drinking water for a child for 40 days. So [in 2007 ] we created a campaign where [during World Water Week, which takes place each March] at select restaurants across the country, when that glass of water is put in front of you, you get the opportunity to pay a dollar for it.
MORE: How has the campaign grown since that first year?
CS: We’ve continued to do the restaurant program, but then we expanded it to a host of other opportunities. Kids and schools across American do water walks, where they take an empty gallon jug, fill it with water and carry it either around a track or for a certain number of hours. They get sponsors, the way you would for a walkathon, and they do it in solidarity with what a child in Africa does every day . . . It teaches the child a lesson, but it also enables that child to raise money on behalf of the children of Africa and other places, and that helps bring good drinking water to children.
It also expanded into home parties where people started to host dinner parties and invited their guests to pay a dollar for the water they were drinking. It has gone into some corporate sponsorships. We have a great partnership with Acqua di Giò and Acqua di Gioia, which are Giorgio Armani fragrances.
MORE: It sounds like an amazing campaign.
CS: Over 3,000 volunteers worked this year, about 786 restaurants across the country participated and we’ve raised in total since 2007 more than $3 million for this project.
MORE: How can people still donate, or get involved for next year‘s World Water Week?
CS: People can give throughout the year—they’re not limited to that week—by going to the Tap Project website. We’ve also developed a host of educational materials, so kids can get involved. We’re not just raising money—we also have lesson plans for them about water, from both a conservation and a child-survival [perspective].
MORE: You have three boys—your hands must be very full!
CS: One is married now, so now he’s somebody else’s problem! But I still have two at home.