Profile / Rod Arnold: charity: water
Rodney L. Arnold
Chief Operating Officer
DOB: 16 April 1968
RESIDENCE: New York, New York
EDUCATION: Oral Roberts University,
Degree in Biology and Chemistry
23 March 2010
0800 — 0845 As we worked through the Apolis Haiti Initiative details — which consisted of empowering 920 people through the implementation of six wells located thirty miles outside of Haiti’s capital — we were introduced to the newly instituted Chief Operating Officer, Rod Arnold. Even before I met Rod, I’d heard about his experience as a VP of a branding firm and how Rod’s career changed course in the spring of 2009. Exactly one year ago, Scott Harrison shared the inspiring charity: water story of years of exponential growth and a need for a new caliber of leadership to take their organization to the next level. By late March I finally met Rod and was immediately impressed by his 42–years of wisdom and steadfast leadership that became more and more evident as the day unfolded. It was a pleasure to shadow him for a day, beginning with a punctual 8:45am office arrival.
23 March 2010
0845 — 1300 Walking into the 8,000 sq. ft., charity: water office, you can’t help but stop and absorb a stimulating sense of commitment and focus. Subtle branding and colorful, life–size images adorn the walls in a space where 19 full–time staff and 15+ volunteers are hard at work servicing the crisis of one in eight people around the world needing clean water. Rod gets straight to work visiting each of his seven departments he manages. He’s organized and diplomatic, while always keeping spirits high and eyes focused on long–term goals. It’s an inspiration to watch the way he entrusts his staff with creative freedom, and at the same time knows instinctively how to challenge people to take their work one step further.
Rod meticulously studies their budget with native New Yorker, Paul Lee, charity: water’s Associate Accountant. Lee has been with charity: water for the past two years, and compliments Arnold’s leadership with an equally passionate commitment for reinforcing the framework of charity: water’s long term goals. At 28–years old, Lee was raised in a traditional Korean household with a family story of American entrepreneurship as his father bought a dry cleaning business in the early eighties that he has owned ever since. His parents taught him the meaning of persistence when the Lee family gave the states a second try after his mother’s Philadelphia experience in 1977, where she was held up at gun point while she was working in her little hole–in–the wall lunch shop. Paul was born in the Bronx and quickly understood the meaning of hard–work as a local paper boy, a dependable pharmacy truck driver and an avid tennis coach. When Lee is not riding his mountain bike he and Arnold find themselves keeping the wheels intact to what we consider one of the most progressive non–profits in America.
23 March 2010
1300 — 1430 It was nearly impossible to extract Arnold out of the office for lunch. His dedication to hard–work is evident in his tireless attention to detail, the way he takes time to recognize and appreciate every member of their team, and his continuous push to keep things on a methodical schedule. Yet once he was out the door, he turned his full attention to our conversation about family and travel. It was incredible to first hear the story that began Rod’s 21–years of marriage to Michelle Mosely. As Michelle listened to country while learning how to walk in Tennessee, Rod was in South Dakota sitting in the Mt. Rushmore shadows of our American presidents. Rod and Michelle met on a blind date at Oklahoma’s Oral Roberts University and instantly shared a common heart of advocacy for developing economies. After six months of dating they were married in the spring of 1989. The Arnold’s are not your traditional American family. Their family’s life has been spent servicing global needs in more than 25 countries over the last 15 years. It all started in July of 1990 when Rod decided to defer his medical school acceptance at University of Kansas, and opted to roll up his sleeves sooner than expected with a medical outreach opportunity in Peru’s capital, Lima. It was there in Lima that Rod introduced Michelle to the locals and their soon–to–be first born. The first of four children, Benjamin Lee Arnold, was born in 1992 and quickly became acquainted to the tropical jungle climate as Rod taught Ben the word “padre.” We could have talked for hours, thankfully his phone reminded us that it was time to head back to the office. As we left Spento pizza and headed southwest back through SoHo into the West Village, I asked Rod for his insight on leadership. I love learning from visionaries that enjoy their role while recognizing the privilege and daunting responsibility. Rod shared a few pearls as we made it back to their 200 Varick Street lobby. Heading up the elevator to the second floor, we bantered back and forth with suggested book referrals. Spilling out to the second floor and making our way down the hallway, Rod shifted focus and began to prepare for the afternoon staff meeting.
23 March 2010
1430 — 1600 The purpose of the staff meeting was to objectively analyze the March 22nd release of the Haiti Unshaken campaign. It was inspiring to watch Arnold command the room with humility, and steer the conversation with ease and diplomacy. The fact that charity: water welcomed our team from Apolis to sit in on the dialogue spoke volumes to their trusting and welcoming attitude. A spirit of openness and collaboration is clearly extended to every member of the team as they transparently shared their strengths and weaknesses. The meeting’s focus was on optimizing web traffic and maintaining the campaign’s explosive momentum. The Unshaken campaign encompasses eleven large scale water projects that went through a number of proficiencies — multiple site visits and each of the chosen local H2O partners provided a proven track record of 10+ years in water and sanitation. We have always been impressed by charity: water’s ability to track results and pinpoint the impact of their work — precisely the reason we entrusted the organization with our Initiative. Arnold closed the meeting by sharing news of upcoming hires and celebrating the individuals who made the Unshaken campaign run smoothly. As everyone left the meeting it is easy to say that charity: water doesn’t play by the rules of the non–profit marketplace. Their standard for excellence is the obvious reason they are set apart from the rest of the pack. Ironically as non–profit competitors are known for a watered–down concept of doing good, charity: water simply does good things better.
23 March 2010
1600 — 1800 Rod’s contagious work ethic and confident, systematic approach made it obvious that his genuine character is well suited for charity: water’s high demands. As Rod shares upcoming Haiti plans with Vik Harrison, I am reminded how much relies on her trademark aesthetic. Vik grew up in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Her artisan parents shared a prideful obligation to perfection as Vik regretfully associates to all the late night computer lab hours at New York’s School of Visual Art. Her academic diligence prepared her for creative roles at brands like Amex, Honda, Pepsi and Clinique. After two years of curating corporate marketing campaigns she came across the quote, “The same design that fuels mass over consumption also holds the power to repair the world,” by David Berman. Vik took a closer look at the non–profit sector and realized how few non–profits value a real sense of work–ethic, a commitment to excellence, or a desire to showcase an engaging level of transparency. She decided that her years of design could serve a new degree of function and chose an opportunity with charity: water as Director of Design and Branding. After spending a year working alongside Scott Harrison as a colleague, building charity: water. A professional partnership developed into a romantic relationship, as Vik and Scott were married in September 2009.
By 6pm, Arnold has pushed tirelessly for over nine hours, and at 6:15pm he’s on the subway, headed home. His 40–minute commute is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the day, take in a TED podcast and then shift gears from work to family. As soon as he walks into the house, he sets the day aside and turns his full attention to his wife and four children. This is his favorite part of the day — laughing with the family over dinner, reading bedtime stories, walking down to the corner pub for a nightcap — just connecting with the most important people in his life. Before we part ways, Rod out of humor, reminds me of the Greek origin for ‘charity’ being ‘love’. This is an interesting paradox, as today’s compassionate society begins to re–think charity with the overarching question, “Will today’s current non–profit pace catch up to the overwhelming flood of need and suffering?” I later relayed this question to our close friend, Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable, as he too shares the goal of infusing the non–profit sector with responsible elements of free market capitalism. We all seek to take part in this optimistic endeavor that looks beyond the cloud of critics, and focuses on the fundamental desire to witness real and sustainable change within our generation. Pallotta contributed a quote of encouragement to Rod when he said,"The team at charity: water is pointing the way to the future of getting as good at the game of selling compassion as Budweiser is at selling beer. They’re leveling the playing field. They’re taking the advantage away from things that don’t really matter and giving it to the things that do.” I come to appreciate this priceless quote as my time with Rod comes to an end. Shadowing Arnold for the day was an educational lesson in humility and leadership. He truly leads an inspiring life that I was glad to shadow and I am proud to share.