‘The distinction water could make’: Matt Damon and Gary White talk about clear water entry

Actor and philanthropist Matt Damon and social entrepreneur Gary White shared their experiences working in international water fairness on Thursday, emphasizing the financial and social impacts of water accessibility. They had been hosted by the category SUSTAIN 345: World Leaders and Innovators in Human and Planetary Well being: Sustainable Societies Lab. The experiences Matt Damon and Gary White mentioned within the occasion had been additionally lined in a ebook the 2 co-authored known as “The Value of Water”—the namesake of the occasion.

Damon and White based the nonprofit Water.org, and the impact-driven asset supervisor WaterEquity, which search to coach people-at-large on water shortage and provide microfinancing options to folks in want of loans for clear water and sanitation functions respectively. 

Their initiatives have been acknowledged by varied establishments. Damon and White had been each honored in Time Journal record “100 most influential folks” in 2011 for his or her work with Water.org.

Damon started the occasion by talking on his private introduction to water shortage. 

“It was a problem unimaginable to narrate to, as a result of I used to be by no means quite a lot of steps away from clear water,” he stated. “There was a lot abundance in my very own life.”

White and Damon stated that they’d taken separate journeys overseas to Guatemala and Zambia respectively, the place they noticed the results of water shortage and have become dedicated to the difficulty. 

Damon was on a water assortment journey with a 14-year outdated lady in Zambia in 2000. On the lengthy stroll to gather clear ingesting water, which averages 3.7 miles in elements of the world, the lady instructed him about her purpose of dwelling in a giant metropolis and changing into a nurse.

“It jogged my memory of me and Ben Affleck and our desires to go to New York,” he stated. 

Regardless of the lengthy stroll, the existence of a borewell within the first place enabled her to go to highschool as a result of she didn’t must spend her days buying water. In response to a 2018 article by UNICEF, ladies spend a median of 200 hours a day securing clear water, barring them from many academic and vocational alternatives. 

White stated this story exemplifies why the difficulty is so multifaceted, on account of its results on the societal equality and financial system of an impacted nation. 

“This lady had desires of contributing to the financial engine of her nation, which couldn’t have been achieved with out water entry,” Damon stated.

Damon additionally famous that water entry is a security situation for girls.

“Many ladies take out loans for latrines so that they don’t danger being sexually assaulted when going to alleviate themselves elsewhere at night time,” he stated. “Water is the way in which to interrupt the cycle of poverty, to guard and save lives, and make a brilliant future potential. It will increase entry to schooling and time to work, and households are extra wholesome.”

To additional emphasize the disproportionate influence of water shortage on ladies, Damon famous that 97% of people supported by WaterEquity’s investments are ladies.

WaterEquity describes itself not as a charity, however a monetary group that makes an attempt to extend funding in folks impacted by clear water shortage and their communities, and that at its coronary heart is the social impact-driven mission.

“There was by no means gonna be sufficient charity on this planet to resolve this situation. It was about serving to them entry inexpensive loans and creating worth,” White stated. 

As a part of their work, Water.org identifies alternatives throughout Asia, Africa and South America to assist native monetary establishments develop and scale their water and sanitation microlending profiles. WaterEquity, in flip, gives funding capital to those monetary establishments to allow them to scale their lending actions. This sort of microlending entails monetary establishments providing low-interest loans to those that want cash to take care of clear water sources or washrooms.

“It’s not an earnings producing mortgage, it’s an earnings enhancing mortgage. It’s about getting [impacted people] their a refund,” stated White, emphasizing their perception that financial exercise misplaced on account of water shortage is an avoidable situation. “Our job helps microfinance corporations see the financial worth of serving to folks get water.”

Moreover, Water.org companions with NGOs and native governments to assist create an enabling surroundings for WaterEquity to put money into large-scale infrastructure initiatives that work on growing the entry and availability of fresh ingesting water to low-income communities 

As of March 2023, WaterEquity has enabled 716,000 microloans to low-income shoppers the world over. In response to their web site, WaterEquity has dedicated over $350 million in capital and reached 3.8 million folks with secure ingesting water or sanitation. 

“The truth that it’s a no brainer now, means it’s completely sensible,” stated Sara Singer, professor of drugs and sophistication teacher.

“I do have plenty of hope that this situation will probably be solved inside our lifetimes,” Damon stated. “We even have to consider the local weather, backsliding, and sustaining our infrastructures.”

White believes that 500 million folks could possibly be reached with this resolution.

“Now that we are able to present a risk-adjusted return for buyers, it’s as much as us,” he stated. “The capital can come from the bottom-up.”

White and Damon in the end hope that their microfinancing mannequin will change into extra commonplace, saying that they hope different asset managers undertake their mannequin to assist attain extra impacted folks. 

Singer stated that it is very important maintain conversations like this on campus. She defined that opening up the occasion to the broader Stanford neighborhood past the classroom was an vital and calculated transfer as a result of it is crucial for college students to learn about points and options surrounding water entry.

“What [White and Damon] have executed is extremely revolutionary,” she stated. “They’ve recognized a really highly effective monetary mannequin for addressing a large drawback, and to do it in a approach that doesn’t depend on charity and empowers the folks it’s supporting, particularly ladies and underserved communities.”

She additionally stated that they profit from speaking with Stanford college students, because it’s vital for the “smartest and most motivated folks they will get” to affix their initiatives. 

Gordon Bloom, a lecturer for SUSTAIN 345 and director of the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Lab—Human and Planetary Well being, stated that this 12 months has been significantly particular due to the brand new Doerr College of Sustainability. 

“Our work may be very carefully aligned. Simply the truth that we’ve all this new momentum round problems with sustainability…It’s been nice,” Bloom stated.

“We face this monumental problem, and we are able to actually make a major contribution to this disaster,” he stated.  

Josh Hechtman ’25 and Charles Scheiner ’25, co-leads of the category, helped manage the occasion. Hechtman stated that the category was an vital exploration of sustainability at a systems-scale for him.

“We had nothing that basically bridged the whole lot collectively. Sustainability isn’t only a science drawback, it’s a cultural drawback, it’s a political drawback. It’s rooted in so many elementary points and elementary elements of our society,” he stated.

Damon ended the occasion with recommendation on pursuing significant social influence work.

“Establish your ardour, what’s wanted on this planet, and discover the intersection” he stated.

This text has been up to date to make clear the variations between Water.org and WaterEquity.