Hollywood superstar Matt Damon, who found fame with his role of a mathematically gifted janitor, is on a mission in India to help more than a million people have access to safe water and sanitation in the next three-and-half years.
The ‘Good Will Hunting’ star and also the co-founder of non-profit organisation Water.org, has been working in India since 2008 to help needy people access small loans for water and sanitation purposes through its micro finance institution (MFI) partners.
“The target for spring 2016 is to reach an additional eight lakh people, which will put us over a million in total, which is great and we are on track to do it,” Damon said.
Besides, it is also aiming to reach out to around two lakh people for sanitation purposes till 2016, he added.
Matt Damon’s US-based Water.org started ‘Water Credit’ initiative in India in 2008 after it received a USD 4.1 million grant from PepsiCo Foundation, the philanthropy arm of beverages and snacks major PepsiCo.
In 2011, the non-profit organisation received another grant of USD 8 million from PepsiCo Foundation to scale up the project. It works with over 20 MFIs across seven states in the country and helps poor people get loans in the range of Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 10,000 under ‘Water Credit’ initiative.
The 42-year-old actor who first came to India about ten years ago to shoot a part of his second Bourne series movie “The Bourne Supremacy”, is touched by his experience and life in rural India.
“I love it here. I love coming here. I first worked here as an actor. I love the energy and going into these villages, I mean the children. I am a father… it is impossible not to see your children’s faces in these kids and the village visits are incredibly exciting… so that part of it is very good, very moving,” Damon said.
Goa, where the movie was shot, “was a great way to be introduced to India,” he quipped.
When asked about his philanthropic journey in India so far, Damon said the visible change in the life of those benefited from the project makes all the effort worthwhile.
“Form a selfish personal standpoint, (it) is just wonderful and it’s the best part of the whole thing.
“(When) we started with the first grant, the target was 1.6 lakh people and we blew through that target, which was great for us and we ended up with 2.5 lakh people,” Damon said.
While admitting that working in India had its challenges, Damon, however, said it wasn’t something which could not be surmounted.
To stress his point, citing the loan repayment rate, he said: “These loans are paying back at 98 per cent, so that’s wonderful.”
When asked about PepsiCo Foundation’s role in the success of the project in India, Damon said: “It was their (PepsiCo Foundation) idea to get behind the idea of Water Credit early.
They saw what it was and supported us and that’s what allowed this thing to blow up the way it has.”
Besides India, the NGO is also working in various other nations including Haiti and Ethiopia with different partners.
Water.Org Co Founder and CEO Gary J White said that mobilising people in India as customers and not someone dependent on aid, was really fantastic.
When asked as why they chose India for the project, White said in India around 90 per cent people have access to water but still around 100 million are out of the system.
“So this realisation plus we knew this potential for economic and financial invasion and that there is a very vibrant MFI sector here and very vibrant culture of people taking micro loans. These were the combinations that led us to see India as a place where we could help a lot of people,” White said.