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 devastating problem for numerous societies and nations around the world: a lack of clean water.
Damon and Gary White founded Water.org, which says it has helped 5 million people access safe water and sanitation.
On Wednesday evening I attended a small, invite-only event in an illuminated chapel in Davos where Damon, White, and representatives of the PepsiCo Foundation and of the tech group Tradeshift highlighted the plight of people who lack clean water. The event was also a way to acknowledge those who had become involved with Water.org.
White, who is Water.org’s CEO, started the evening by signalling that he and Damon wanted to toast to all those involved with the group. The charity has benefited from corporates pitching in with funding and by raising awareness.
White then introduced Damon by saying, “Oh and who are you,” to which Damon jokingly replied, “Ben Affleck.”
Damon turned serious after that, telling the crowd that 663 million people globally do not have access to safe water and sanitation.
He added 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 the video of these comments as well as the rest of the statement:
And here is another video segment of the 2-1/2-minute speech, in which Damon highlighted how the West found its solution to this crisis 100 years ago and how he believed influential people needed to turn their sights to the developing world:
The lack of access to safe water and sanitation is one of the most devastating crises in the developing world.
According to Water.org, one in 10 people across the world lacks access to safe water — that’s the equivalent to twice the population of the US. Incredibly, one-third of the global population lives without access to a toilet.
At an event in Davos on Tuesday, Damon, White, Anheuser-Busch executive Ricardo Tadeu, and WEF Global Future Council cochair Usha Rao-Monari described the problem as being solvable but requiring more than just donations.
Here’s what Damon told Business Insider and others:
White, who comes from an engineering background, described the group’s unique nonprofit model. Rather than rely only on donations to help solve the water-crisis problem, the group 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, the money just moves onto the next person who needs it.
According Water.org stats, 938,000 WaterCredit loans had been disbursed as of June, with a 99% repayment rate. Ninety-three per cent of borrowers are women.
The nonprofit has partnerships with some of the world’s largest companies. Tadeu, the Africa zone president at Anheuser-Busch InBev, outlined how the company’s brand Stella Artois had donated $1.2 million to Water.org financially and had introduced awareness campaigns.
Such actions could perhaps be seen as an investment. The World Health Organisation in 2012 said every $1 invested in water and sanitation provided a $4 economic return.
In 2010, the Water and Sanitation Program said, “$260 billion is lost globally each year due to lack of safe water and sanitation.”
Rao-Monari of the WEF Global Future Council said the world’s attitudes regarding the water crisis needed to change. She said people often incorrectly thought of water as being “infinite” and needed to understand how the supply-and-demand gap for safe water would expand amid a growing global population.
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