How a united determination to overcome the water crisis brought Matt Damon and Gary White together to launch Water.org.
Ten years ago, an engineer and an actor got together, determined to find answers to the desperate situations we witnessed all over the world. We had each been working for many years amid one of the greatest needs and most far-reaching philanthropic efforts of modern times: the global water crisis. In 2009, we merged our separate organizations and created Water.org.
The idea that brought us together was a simple one, as any uniting idea should be: that everyone should have access to clean water. We had both met families living at the base of the economic pyramid who struggled every day to pay for each liter of water; we saw those with the lowest incomes pay the most for it and get the most contaminated water for their money. We met people who had to spend much of their days looking for water and for a place to use the toilet. We saw this enormous daily expense, and we realized that families could be healthier, more productive, even better educated, if they could access small, affordable loans to finance household taps, toilets, and other lasting improvements to their lives.
We named this solution WaterCredit, and with it Water.org has enabled more than 25 million people to obtain the means to a lifetime of safe water and sanitation. We partnered with microfinance organizations across 13 countries to mobilize 5.7 million loans worth US$ 2.1 billion in commercial capital for water and sanitation. The proof of the model is a repayment rate of 99%. Along the way, the original partnership between our two water organizations turned into partnerships involving hundreds of organizations.
Any society with the guarantee of safe water
has a chance to realize its full potential.
In the simplest model of partnership, organizations partner to share a burden. I do what I do best, and I
count on you to do the same.
A more sophisticated model recognizes the potential for synergies, how together we can carry even more of the burden, to become greater than the sum of our parts.
But the benefits of partnership go beyond even this.
Perhaps because of how Water.org started, we tend to see partnering in another light. Every partnership offers an opportunity to learn from people who operate in very different spheres, and to learn together as we advance together.
We always feel like “actors” is an odd word to use here — and not just because one of us is an actor of some experience. The word is also an imperfect fit whenever talking about water, because everyone is an actor. Everyone must make decisions about their water. For some, that means paying a monthly bill and turning the tap. For others, it means walking an hour each way to collect it, a brave and exhausting daily action.
What interests us is not just water actors, but water investors. This highlights the active investment of what many other organizations dub their “beneficiaries.” Yes, they benefit from our work, but so does everyone else – businesses that will have healthier workers and governments that will have healthier and more productive citizens.
Millions of people can make lasting investments in safe water or a toilet if empowered to do so by the investments of others. Investment on every possible level is what will end the water crisis and bring water and sanitation access to all. We are proud to partner with all the investors, to align our efforts, to leave no one behind, and to continue to learn and to innovate together.
785 million people (one in nine) lack access to safe water and two billion people (one in three) lack access to a toilet.
Providing access to safe water and sanitation can empower people with time for school and work, while contributing to improved health worldwide.