Matt Damon’s water crusade has helped 16 million people so far

Water.org co-founders Matt Damon and Gary White say the conversations with investors about social responsibility are getting easier these days. The numbers prove it: Its WaterEquity impact fund — the first-ever impact investment manager with an exclusive focus on ending the global water crisis — has now grown to $60 million since it was created in 2017, and the charity has provided more than 16 million people throughout India, Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines with access to safe water and sanitation.

One of the major barriers to safe water and sanitation is affordable financing. Water.org addresses the barrier through access to small, easily repayable loans. According to Damon, they have provided 3 million loans that pay back at 99 percent. “Our model is undeniable now,” he said.

Within three years of its launch, in 2009, the organization had already reached its first million people with clean water, said Damon. “We’re at 16 million now, so we are hitting a million a quarter now,” he said.

Since the organization started, White said he has seen a real change. “A lot more corporations and brands are talking about working in social impact investing,” said White. “Our first visit here [at Davos], we had the seed of an idea, like, ‘Well, we think we can do this social impact fund and help get water to millions of people, and we came back two years later and we had launched it. And now we came back this year and have $60 million of assets under management.”

He added: “What’s exciting is that this matters to consumers. The difference between now and four years ago is you hear these companies talking about all this social responsibility. They’re not just saying it; their consumers are pushing them in this direction.”

Historically, Water.org has partnered with foundations, financial institutions and brands rather than individual investors. Among them: Ikea Foundation, Stella Artois, Pepsico Foundation, Caterpillar, Bank of America and the Conrad Hilton Foundation.

Damon said he doesn’t see this changing: “The problems are so massive in dollar terms, you will never get there with philanthropy alone. You have to bring in the real money,” he said.

Damon is happy with the charity’s progress. “We gave very conservative projections. But we have these evidence-based models that pay back at 99 percent, so there really is a success story about just nudging the markets toward the most vulnerable people, and it turns out they want to participate in their own solution.”

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