What’s Matt Damon Got to Do With Microfinance?

> Posted by Center Staff
A snippet of news we came across recently draws an intriguing line between Matt Damon, microfinance, and access to safe drinking water in Africa.
Reeta Roy, the president and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, penned the post for the foundation’s blog many weeks ago. But the story’s still fresh: an organization called Water.org is powering a “market-driven and sustainable approach [that] facilitates the collaboration between microfinance institutions and NGOs in order to provide financial products to communities living in poverty so they can access clean water and sanitation.”
“About 60 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to clean water, and 30 percent to sanitation,” writes Roy. “Annually, this gap results in 800,000 deaths due to diarrheal diseases, 88 million missed days of school, and $20 million in lost time collecting water. Sub-Saharan Africa loses nearly 5 percent of its GDP each year due to the water crisis — the value of which exceeds all foreign assistance in the region.”
The poor in many developing countries, notes Roy, pay 12-15 times more for access to clean water than their higher-income neighbors in the same city.
Despite this clear existence of market demand, there have not been sustainable ways to finance basic water needs until Water.org introduced WaterCredit in South Asia.
“To date, WaterCredit loans have benefited more than 200,000 people who have gained access to safe water and sanitation,” writes Roy. “Loan repayment rates globally have been high, nearly 99 percent. These loans are income-enhancing, enabling women to monetize their time that would have otherwise been spent walking long distances or standing in queues to collect water.”
Beyond what’s been achieved so far, The MasterCard Foundation and Water.org are partnering to expand the WaterCredit model around Africa, and to create and test a WaterSavings model to help families secure other assets such as water tanks, latrines, and pipes. The partners will share what they learn with the microfinance and development communities.
So where, you’re asking, is the Matt Damon connection? Well, in 2009, Damon co-founded Water.org along with Gary White, the organization’s current executive director.
Proof once again that microfinance benefits from the work and support of people one might not expect — surely a good thing for everyone.