Matt Damon Has Helped 16 Million People Get Access to Water
Farmers in Tigray, Ethiopia, were able to overcome a drought and boost their crop yields when they tapped a nearby water well. A female entrepreneur in Nairobi, Kenya, was able to expand her business after buying two water tanks. Families in Mahahalli Village, India, no longer needed to pay water trucks when they came together to build a well.
These stories are bound together by both the transformative power of water, and the entrepreneurial potential of people who are given access to resources.
As unlikely as it sounds, they’re also connected to Academy Award-winning actor Matt Damon.
Through his nonprofit organization Water.org, more than 16 million people have received access to quality water and sanitation over the past decade.
And after so many successful case studies, Damon recently told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the group is raising more money than ever, meaning it will be able to help higher volumes of people each year.
“Our model is undeniable now," he said Thursday in an interview with CNBC's Squawk Box.
"We're at 16 million [lives affected] now, so we are hitting a million a quarter now,” he added.
Damon was joined by Water.org co-founder Gary White, a former contender for Global Citizen’s Waislitz Award, who explained how the organization has been able to gain traction in recent years.
"A lot more corporations and brands are talking about working in social impact investing," he said. "Our first visit here, we had the seed of an idea, like, 'Well, we think we can do this social impact fund and help get water to millions of people, and we came back two years later and we had launched it. And now we came back this year and have $60 million of assets under management."
Water.org is first and foremost a microfinancing organization. Through small-scale, affordable loans that are earmarked for water development, Water.org is able to help people invest in long-term water solutions that have the potential to break them out of cycles of poverty.
For example, many people who live in extreme poverty around the world have to walk hours every day to collect water for their daily needs. Through microfinancing and guidance, communities have been able to develop wells that improve water access and allow people to focus on other priorities, like going to school.
Water.org uses a microfinancing model because it allows for scale. As soon as the loan is paid back, the money can be deployed to another person in need.
“We have these evidence-based models that pay back at 99%, so there really is a success story about just nudging the markets toward the most vulnerable people, and it turns out they want to participate in their own solution,” Damon told CNBC.
Globally, more than 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water at home and 4.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation options, according to the World Health Organization.