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Water and Sanitation

Untapped Potential: Matt Damon and Gary White Want to Ease the Global Water Crisis With Innovation

Matt Damon-water org-Gary White
Matt Damon-water org-Gary White
Gary White and Matt Damon

An estimated 1 in 10 people lack immediate financing to access and maintain safe water systems, and 1 in 4 individuals can’t afford sanitation systems.

Actor Matt Damon and entrepreneur Gary White are fighting to change those numbers. Together, they cofounded, a nonprofit, and WaterEquity, an asset manager. White is CEO of both groups.

Through WaterEquity specifically, Damon and White help link communities in need with private investors. Those investors grant loans to individuals in those communities, who can then take the funding and set up safe water and sanitation services while repaying the loans over time.

“We believe that access to capital is the most important barrier to overcome in order to solve the global water crisis,” said Damon and White, who were each inspired to get involved in helping reduce this worldwide issue on trips to Africa and Guatemala, respectively. “Millions of people pay high prices for water from vendors or collect water from unsafe natural sources. Both options cost families time, money, opportunities, and health.”

Financing via small, affordable, loans, on the other hand, allows for families to get quick relief that is longer-lasting than implementing temporary fixes. And the improvements have a domino effect.

“Every repaid loan creates the opportunity for another for another family to get the safe water and toilets they need,” the two noted.

For Damon and White, the mission is about providing clean water — an essential resource for health — but it’s also about offsetting the harmful effects of climate change, which disproportionately affect low-income communities, and reducing gender inequality to provide opportunities for women to advance. It’s also about giving investors the chance to funnel their money toward a humanitarian cause. Currently, economists estimate an $18 billion market demand for funding water and sanitation services from these communities, and by 2030, that amount is projected to reach $1 trillion, according to WaterEquity.

Finding inspiration

In Guatemala City, where White traveled in his early 20s, he witnessed a small girl filling a bucket from a contaminated barrel of water, which would next no doubt sicken her. She had no choice.

“At that moment, I realized that for billions of people like this little girl, every day is a struggle to meet their most basic needs and I felt compelled to do something about this injustice,” White said.

In Zambia in 2006, Damon recalled meeting a girl who aspired to move to Lusaka, the capital of the country, to become a nurse; without access to clean water, the dream would never even had been entertained much less likely to be achieved, he reflected.

“This experience made me realize the water crisis was not only responsible for the senseless deaths of millions of children who don’t have access to clean water, but it was also stopping millions more from realizing their full potential,” he said.

Fighting inequity

That little girl’s story is relevant: Data suggest the burden of collecting water falls to women. When communities have easy access to safe water, women benefit, Damon and White explained. Collectively across the world, girls and women spend 200 million hours per day collecting water.

“This is time spent not working, caring for their family members, or attending school,” they noted.

“Empowering women and girls with access to safe taps and toilets at home gives them their time back, time they can now spend earning an income or learning at school. For every year a girl stays in school, her earning potential increases by as much as 25%, setting in motion a virtuous cycle of opportunity for women and girls, lifting up entire communities,” they added.

The effects of climate change, from fluctuations in precipitation and rising sea levels to drought, influence people’s ability to tap into and maintain safe water and sanitation systems. Communities that are already disadvantaged from those perspectives suffer most.

“When those systems are not positioned to withstand the impact of these events, people living in poverty are most affected,” Damon and White explained. “To lessen the impact of shortages tomorrow, we need to expand access to water today.

“When people are connected to strong and resilient water systems, they can better withstand the challenges that may come later. Water is one of the best investments the world can make to fight climate change and end the cycle of poverty,” they noted.

Damon and White believe the global water crisis, as widespread as it is now, is solvable.

“The people affected by the water crisis are the very same people who can lead the solution,” they said. “The biggest breakthrough we ever had at was simply to invest in them. These people are breaking the cycle of poverty and making our economies more resilient to global shocks like pandemics and climate change.”

So far, Damon and White’s work has contributed to 48 million people obtaining access to safe water and sanitation, reported on its website. To help with the effort, donate online to the cause via

“Small donations make a big impact: just five dollars can give someone access to a tap or toilet that will change their life,” Damon and White said.

Giving the life-changing gift of safe water is the way to end poverty, achieve global equality, and make a bright future possible for all. Donate to to give people in need access to safe water and the health, hope, and opportunity that flow from it.

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