DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — Matt Damon is one of the most famous actors on the planet and he’s using his fame for good.
Damon was at the World Economic Forum this week to raise awareness of a problem that devastates a number of societies and nations around the world — a lack of clean water.
Damon cofounded Water.org with Gary White, CEO of the charity, which has so far transformed the lives of 5 million people by helping them access safe water and sanitation.
On Wednesday evening, I attended a small, invite-only event in an illuminated chapel in Davos where Damon, White, representatives of the PepsiCo Foundation, and tech group Tradeshift, highlighted the plight of people around world who lack clean water. The event was also a way to say thanks to everyone there who had become involved with Water.org.
Gary White started the evening saying: “We here to celebrate tonight” all those involved with Water.org. The charity has benefited from corporates pitching in with funding and raising awareness for the charity.
White then introduced Damon by saying, “Oh and who are you,” to which Damon jokingly replied “Ben Affleck.”
Damon was serious after that, telling the crowd the startling figure that 663 million people globally do not have access to safe water and sanitation.
He added that that trying to tackle the water crisis “is personal to me, someone with four daughters, as this is an issue that predominantly affects women and girls, who are made to do the water collection, and often it’s girls that are leaving school early or missing school entirely, in order to scavenge for water.”
Here is one of the most personal parts of the two and a half minute speech:
And here’s another segment:
The lack of access to safe water and sanitation is one of the most devastating crises in the developing world.
According to Water.org, 1 in 10 people across the world lack access to safe water — that’s the equivalent to twice the population of the US. Incredibly, a third of the global population lives without access to a toilet.
At another event this week in Davos (on Tuesday), Damon, White, Africa Zone President at Anheuser-Busch InBev Ricardo Tadeu, and Usha Rao-Monari, Co-Chair of WEF Global Future Council, highlighted how the problem is solvable but takes more than just donations.
Here’s what Damon told BI and others at the event:
Water.org CEO and cofounder White, who comes from an engineering background, talked about the unique non-profit model the group has. It does not just rely on donations to help solve the water crisis problem, it does something called “WaterCredit,” an idea created by White.
It’s a microfinancing solution, with small loans made to provide just enough funds for a change in local infrastructure to create better access to safe water and sanitation. It is a “pay-it-forward” system, where the loans — which are $187 on average — are affordable and easy to repay. Once the loan is repaid, if just moves onto the next person who needs it.
According Water.org stats, as of June 2016, 938,000 WaterCredit loans have been disbursed and there is a 99% repayment rate. 93% of borrowers are women.
The funding would only be possible with partnerships with some of the world’s largest companies, such as AB InBev. Ricardo Tadeu, Africa Zone President at Anheuser-Busch InBev, outlined how AB InBev’s brand Stella Artois has signed a deal to help Water.org financially, as well as by raising awareness with its immense branding reach. Stella Artois donated $1.2 million to Water.org, but has also been instrumental in drumming up awareness through campaigns.
This isn’t just about corporate social responsibility or helping those in need — all this helps boost the economy. The World Health Organisation in 2012 said for every $1 invested in water and sanitation provides a $4 economic return.
At the moment, “$260 billion is lost globally each year due to lack of safe water and sanitation,” according to the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) in 2010.
WEF Global Future Council’s Rao-Monari said the world’s attitude needs to change when it comes to the water crisis. She said people often think of water being “infinite” but actually it is finite and we need to understand that the supply and demand gap for safe water is going be stretched as the world’s population continues to grow.
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