Hollywood star Matt Damon comes across as a genuinely nice guy in an industry that’s famous for its hedonistic excesses and self-obsession. You would think that he’d be busy promoting his latest movie ‘Elysium’ that was released globally on August 9th. Instead he’s here in India to help solve its acute water crisis through his non-profit, Water.org: the non-profit that he co-founded with Gary White.
Damon’s Water.org has been working since 2008 in India after his organization received a $4.1 million grant from PepsiCo Foundation, the philanthropy arm of beverages and snacks major PepsiCo. To date Water.org had helped more than 250,000 Indians gain access to clean drinking water and sanitation.
The project received a further boost in 2011 when PepsiCo Foundation made its biggest contribution in its 50-year history by awarding it a second grant of $8 million ramp up the project. In an exclusive interview with Press Trust of India (PTI), Damon spoke of doubling up efforts to impact more than a million people by March 2016. For MNCs like Pepsi who have been criticized for depleting water resources in the countries they operate in, partnerships like the one with Water.org helps take the sting off the criticism, and helps portray them in a positive light.
While Water.org is a nonprofit it does not believe in giving its solutions for free. Instead it works with local partners to help the poor procure affordable loans to finance the access to clean water and sanitation facilities. In India, the nonprofit works with 20 microfinance institutions (MFIs), in seven states to provide loans to low-income communities that are in the range of Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 under the ‘Water Credit‘ initiative.
What’s interesting is that CharityWater, another US-based non-profit that provides free drinking water and sanitation facilities to developing countries globally, has launched a campaign to fund projects in India. All money raised in September by CharityWater will go to fund projects in India.
Background to India’s water and sanitation woes:
India is near the bottom in terms of quality of potable water. Out of a list of 122 countries rated, India stands second last at 120. According to social enterprise WaterAid, 37.7 million people are afflicted with water borne diseases every year. Over a lakh children die of diarrhea every year that is mainly caused by unsafe water. It’s an open secret that India is the world’s capital when it comes to open defecation, with more than 90 per cent of rural population having no toilet access in India. A recent World Bank study found that 23 per cent of infant mortality is caused due to poor water supply, sanitation and hygiene.
According to Water.org: “Every $1 invested in water and sanitation generates an approximate $8 return in the form of saved time, increased productivity, and/or reduced healthcare costs for the average family. With access to safe water and a toilet, parents can work and children can stay in school.”