Enemy Of The State
The Google/Facebook Of Microfinance
Fast Company: Can Matt Damon Bring Clean Water To Africa?
The devoted family man and method philanthropist was accompanying a 14-year-old Zambian girl who had no idea that her hiking companion was an Academy Award-winning international heartthrob. ...... Damon was on a quest to understand what it meant to be really, really poor. ....... Damon recalled his dreams at the same age, when he and best friend Ben Affleck were plotting their way from Boston to casting agents in New York. That connection opened the door for Damon. ....... Damon's dream was made possible by Amtrak ...... Nearly 1 billion souls lack access to clean water; three times that number lack access to proper sanitation. ...... "Of all the different things that keep people in this kind of death spiral of extreme poverty, water just seemed so huge." He pauses. "And it doesn't have to be." ...... a rainy spring day in Manhattan ...... "I have to pick up my daughter from school. Come along and we'll keep talking," he tells me. As we make our way from a conference room at McKinsey in Midtown (a board member works there) to a car waiting on the street, I watch passersby light up in recognition and try to catch his eye. In spite of his attempt to blend in -- Damon is wearing glasses, a splash of whiskers, and a Panavision baseball cap -- he is unmistakable. And he never fails to return a smile. "Clearly my strong suit is and will be trying to get people to care about this issue," he says of his primary role. "Our vision is clean water and sanitation for everyone, in our lifetime ..." he trails off. "So we better get to work." ....... For all his star power, though, Damon is more than just the pretty face of Water.org. He has turned himself into a development expert. ....... or personally thanking donors like PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Damon has quietly developed the cred of a program geek. ...... "there is no substitute for going there and talking to people in their homes." ....... "So I'd seen extreme poverty at an early age," he says. "I knew what it was, and I always cared about it." He has replicated her research process, immersing himself in the business of social enterprise until he found the cause that he felt passion for -- water. ....... Damon reads as equal parts hardworking, ambitious, grounded, and caring, the kind of celebrity you'd want your son to be if you had a son who could get both the girl and the point of fame. He's a son who'd make a mother proud. "She doesn't say it quite that way," he says. "It's not the way she talks. She says, 'I affirm him.' Hang on a sec." ........ Water.org is the smart and careful merger of two capable organizations: Damon's H2O Africa, which he founded as a way to funnel money to well-managed NGOs in Africa; and Gary White's WaterPartners, a two-decades-old group that had developed a series of highly innovative and counterintuitive approaches to water access. WaterPartners' strategy had less to do with digging wells -- which, if maintained poorly, can break down and leave a place in worse shape than before -- and more to do with encouraging communities to participate in the creation and ownership of water and sanitation systems that function as mini utilities. ....... known as WASH in philanthropic circles -- water, sanitation, and hygiene -- are among the least glamorous of all support efforts, yet are the most likely to lift a community out of poverty if done right ....... In a world where celebrities routinely rain shame upon their personal brands with public meltdowns, sex tapes, or undeclared children, and where professional philanthropists come under fire for spending a lot to do very little ....... Damon had studied White's innovations, particularly a microfinance instrument known as WaterCredit, as he brought himself up to speed on the water crisis. ........ Water.org is on track to raise $10 million in 2011, up from $4 million in 2010. The primary use of that money is not as a handout to well drillers. Rather, Water.org tends to negotiate deals between microfinance institutions and communities. It might help a village get access to a local banker, who will then lend money to build systems that tap into a well, or a previously inaccessible water or sanitation grid. Water.org may guarantee the loan, but repayment falls to the villagers, who work together to manage the water supply and organize credit payments. ........ Consider this odd couple of YouTube videos: Matt Damon speaks to the Clinton Global Initiative about water -- 3,669 views; Matt Damon does a spot-on impression of Matthew McConaughey on Letterman -- 13,492,392 views. ...... "I cold-called Zynga out of the blue," he says. "It was incredibly effective and took us about as far away from the pandering, puppy-dog-eyes style of messaging as you can get." Zynga confirms raising $300,000 for Water.org.Happy World Water Day
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