This content is from: Portfolio

Ladies, Matt Damon Wants to Buy You a Drink

The Hollywood star’s Water.org nonprofit has joined forces with brewer Stella Artois to provide millions of women and their families worldwide with clean drinking water.

  • Georgina Hurst

Plenty of women would kill to have Matt Damon buy them a drink. The A-list movie star, named the sexiest man alive in 2007 by People magazine, became a Hollywood heartthrob in the Jason Bourne action films and has an Oscar and a Golden Globe to his name. But on January 21, 2014 in Davos, Switzerland, Damon was honored not for his acting but for his social, environmental and humanitarian work. The World Economic Forum gave him the Crystal Award for his efforts to make the world better through Water.org, his nonprofit dedicated to delivering safe water and sanitation improvements to the world’s poor.

This year Damon, 44, also shot a video to promote Stella Artois's new Buy a Lady a Drink project. The Belgian brewer launched its first global social impact campaign, designed to provide women in the developing world with clean drinking water, through its sponsorship of the Sundance Film Festival. At January’s festival Stella Artois featured three short films that tell the stories of several Indian women impacted by the water crisis who have benefited from Water.org’s help. “The videos showcase not only the struggles inherent to a lack of access to clean water but also how improved access to clean water has transformed their futures,” explains Gary White, co-founder and CEO of Water.org.

Women and children in developing countries spend a collective 140 million hours gathering water each day, often in unsafe conflict zones and disease-stricken areas, according to Water.org. The World Health Organization estimates that the result is $24 billion in lost economic value each year on top of the nearly $260 billion forgone annually from lack of adequate water supply and sanitation. More than 840,000 people die from water-related disease each year.

Stella Artois is aware of the damaging effects that its business has on global water supply. On average it takes five barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer. Growing barley accounts for more than 90 percent of that total, and some of Stella Artois’s agricultural suppliers and beverage plants are in water-stressed regions. This inspired parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s biggest brewer and a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, to help conserve and protect fresh water. Buy a Lady a Drink is its first high-profile campaign.

Stella Artois donated $1.2 million to Kansas City, Missouri–headquartered Water.org in support of universal access to water. Consumers can show their support by buying one of 20,000 limited-edition chalices online through Amazon.com and other retailers. Stella Artois’s donation and the chalice proceeds will help provide small loans used to secure resources needed to build wells, water taps and toilets through Water.org. Each chalice funds five years of clean drinking water for one person.

“We have found that these loans are superior to onetime donations, considering that as loans are repaid they can be redeployed to more people in need of safe water,” says Water.org’s White. Globally, 99 percent of the loans are repaid, he adds.

Water.org was born from a July 2009 merger of WaterPartners International, a developmental aid nonprofit founded by White in 1990, and Damon’s charitable group H20 Africa (not to be confused with Africa’s annual electronic dance music party). Damon established H20 Africa in 2006 when executive producing the documentary Running the Sahara, which chronicles three runners’ 4,000-mile journey from Senegal to Egypt to raise awareness of the then-1.2 billion people without safe drinking water.

Water.org has already helped more than 3 million people in Africa, Asia and Central America by installing wells and pumps in villages and extending loans through its microfinance WaterCredit initiative. Over a ten-year period an investment in WaterCredit reaches five to ten times more people than a traditional grant, White claims. One billion women are expected to join the workforce in the next decade, and clean water close to the homes of those who lack it will give them and their children time to attend school and to generate additional family income. Damon and White’s organization will expand its reach to another 100 million people in the next five years, New York–based consulting firm McKinsey & Co. projects. That’s outstanding progress, considering that 750 million worldwide are still without access to clean water.

Follow Georgie Hurst on Twitter at @Ghurst_iimag .