• 02.25.14

Do Without Your Phone For Just A Minute And Improve Someone’s Water

UNICEF’s innovative new campaign gets smartphone addicts engaged in clean water issues by challenging them to simply disengage.

Do Without Your Phone For Just A Minute And Improve Someone’s Water

For technology addicts, doing without a phone can be trying, even just for a minute. But as part of a new fundraising challenge, the sacrifice may be worth the effort. Fighting the urge to check emails could help send millions of dollars in aid to the developing world.


UNICEF’s new Tap Project campaign is based around our mobile addiction. For every minute a person puts down his or her phone, the children’s charity will send the equivalent number of “fresh water days” to someone who really needs them.

Go to with your phone’s browser, and follow the instructions. The app works with the internal functions to calculate how long you go without moving the device. If you want, you can start the clock before you go to bed. It runs for a maximum of 24 hours.

“We thought, ‘What if we could create a parallel between how in our country some people can’t live without their phone, and how in the developing world kids can’t live without access to clean water?” says José Carbonell, a marketing manager at UNICEF. “We decided to gamify that and ask, ‘Would you be willing to sacrifice your phone as a way of experiencing that sense of sacrifice?’ though obviously on a smaller scale.'”

There’s really no equivalence between a basic need like water and messing around on your iPhone. But the point’s well-made, and the response so far has been impressive. Four days in, phone-users have already given up 7 million minutes. Armani is footing the bill at the moment will be footing the bill in March (the project currently has other sponsors), and Carbonell says other sponsors will come on-board soon. UNICEF will probably also raised the stakes to 10 minutes per day of clean water, so it doesn’t bankrupt anyone.

The money will go towards building and maintaining water wells, putting in water pipes to rivers, and buying purification technology. Worldwide, 768 million people still live without clean water, leading to a rash of related disease. Every day, 1,600 kids die from diarrheal diseases, 90% of which are thought to be because of poor water and sanitation.

Carbonell says the mobile campaign helps UNICEF reach a broad audience, including younger folks it is not always in touch with. “One of the nice things about going mobile is that you can reach everyone. But this really gives us an opportunity to have a conversation with a younger demographic.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.