How Virtual Reality Is Inspiring Donors to Dig Deep for Charitable Causes


By Marty Swant

One evening last December, 400 men and women in tuxedos and gowns met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to take a trip to a small village in Ethiopia. Few of them had ever been to the East African country before, and while they were scheduled to depart that evening, nobody had a plane ticket. In fact, they wouldn't need one for the nine-minute virtual visit they were about to make.

The group was gathering at the Met for an annual black-tie fundraising banquet benefiting Charity: Water, a New York nonprofit that builds water projects around the world, providing access to clean water for thousands of people every year.

After dinner and before the fundraising portion of the evening began, volunteers from the organization passed around Samsung Gear VR headsets so attendees could watch a virtual reality movie documenting a week in the life of a 13-year-old girl, Selam, and her family who were getting clean water for the first time. The video begins with the girl—whose mother died a year earlier—collecting water she fears is full of leeches and diseases. It ends with a team of workers arriving by truck to drill the well before water gushes into the hot desert sky.

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