Okay, so maybe critics yawned when Matt Damon took the Jason Bourne franchise one movie too far last year. But in the world of global development, people listen when this Hollywood star talks. That's because Damon is among the handful of celebrity humanitarians who've really moved the needle when it comes to improving the lives of people in poor countries.
Damon's issue is water and sanitation, and he's been a key force in building Water.org, one of the top NGOs in this space. Part of what makes Damon effective, besides being a movie star, is that he has focused laser-like on a single issue and stuck with it tenaciously over years.
He also knows the WASH terrain well, in terms of how this area affects development more broadly. At a water and sanitation panel discussion at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Damon said, “The poorest of the poor pay more than the middle class in many countries as they were shut out of the infrastructure.” The discussion, hosted by Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), also included the announcement of a four-year, $4.8 million commitment by Stella Artois and the continuation of its “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign.
Initially launched in 2015, Buy a Lady a Drink was spearheaded by Stella Artois with a $1.2 million donation. The project aims to end the collective 200 million hours women and girls around the world dedicate every year to collecting clean drinking water for their families. Even though AB InBev has since acquired the Stella Artois brand, the campaign is continuing.
Not only has the pledge amount nearly doubled, but the proceeds from the sale of Stella’s limited edition beer glasses will continue to be donated to Water.org. If the past campaign is any indicator, the sale of those beer glasses not only equals big bucks, but delivers a big impact as well. Since its initial launch, over 225,000 glasses have been sold. According to Stella, the sale of just one limited edition chalice equals five years of clean water for a person in the developing world. Talk about return on investment.
Water.org has been a funding darling in the philanthropic sector for years. Over the course of a single recent year, the WASH outfit obtained nearly $19 million in funding from both unlikely and likely sources including the Caterpillar, Ikea and Hilton foundations. Other big names like Bank of America and the Helmsley Charitable Trust put up big bucks to back Water.org’s programs.
Matt Damon’s star power and good looks aside, this funding success has a lot to do with the group's WaterCredit program.
WaterCredit is a microfinance program that helps people in poor countries pay for such water and sanitation needs as toilets and sinks. As of June 2016, the WaterCredit program has helped more than 4 million people in eight countries to access safe water and sanitation.
Then there’s the matter of gender equality: 93 percent of WaterCredit’s borrowers are women. There is no ignoring how WASH stresses around the world disproportionately impact women and girls. That 200 million hours women and girls spend gathering water means they have less time to pursue other opportunities like going to school or working. Also, close to 50 percent of girls around the world attend schools without toilets. This leads to an increased number of girls missing school or dropping out altogether, especially when they begin menstruating.
In other words, Water.org isn’t just in the business of providing access to clean water and sanitation. Its efforts also speak to gender equality, economic stability, and education. All of which have been top funding priorities for a number of global health and development funders.