How You Can Help Women Get Access To Clean Water

Matt Damon really wants you to buy a lady a drink, but not in the way you're probably thinking. Here's the deal: 663 million people lack access to clean water. It's a problem that disproportionately affects women, who are spending 125 million hours each day collecting water for their families., an organization Matt Damon co-founded, and Stella Artois joined forces for the second year in a row to help bring clean water to women around the world who don’t have access to it.

The "Buy a Lady a Drink" campaign encourages Americans to purchase limited-edition Stella Artois chalices designed by artists from Kenya, Peru and Haiti. For every hand-designed chalice sold in the U.S., Stella Artois will donate $6.25 to to help provide five years of clean water for one person in the developing world. Last year the campaign, which focused on women’s long journeys for clean water, brought five years of clean water to over 290,000 people.

This year, through new short films, Buy a Lady A Drink wants you to see the positive impact that access to clean water can have on women and their families. “I’ve seen how the lives of women and their families can change when they get access to clean water,” said Co-Founder Matt Damon. “Access to water is access to education, access to work, access to the kind of future we want for all humankind."

I attended a panel at Sundance Film Festival where cofounders Matt Damon and Gary White, and Global Vice President of Stella Artois, Todd Allen, discussed this year's initiative and how this generation can be the ones to end the global water crisis.

1. Why The Chalice Works

So what's behind the chalice? For one, White, Damon and Allen all agreed that the idea is simple: buy a chalice and a human life is impacted. The idea of "1 chalice= 5 years of clean water" is a concrete way for people to really see that they're making an impact and leaving their mark on a big global issue. Through three new short films, they'll also show how women in developing countries are being impacted by clean water.

White says it also allows you to be a social messenger at a low-cost way.

2. How Damon Got Involved

Damon's first experience getting involved was through a trip organized by One, Bono’s organization, two decades ago. "I went on a water collection with a girl in Zambia and it was one of those epiphany moments for me," he says. "She came home from school and we were in a little village in rural Zambia and we went for a walk together. She was about 14 years old and we walked about a mile to fill up these jerry cans." He began asking her questions through an interpreter about her life and what she wanted to do when she grew up. She told him she was going to move to a big city and become a nurse.

"There was something about the way she said it. It reminded me of me and Ben Affleck going 'We're going to go to New York, we're going to be actors!' and I really related to this kid," Damon says.

At the end of that experience, it struck him that if this girl hadn't had that clean water a mile way, she wouldn't be going to school or dreaming big — she'd be scavenging for clean water all day to survive.

"Every life in the family changes when they have access to clean water," Damon says. "When people lack access to water they really lack golden dreams, too, which is really almost a sub-human existence."

3. This Is Another Innovation That's Been Incredibly Successful

In addition to initiatives like the Buy a Lady a Drink campaign, White mentioned that finding new entrepreneurial innovations is crucial to ending this crisis. He explains that charity and philanthropy are important but are never going to solve the crisis alone. "When we think about solving it once and for all, were going to have to innovate," he says.

So what are these solutions? "Gary's too modest to admit that he's invented something pretty incredible and it's called Water Credit," Damon says. Gary realized there was another category of people in developing countries who don't need people to come bring them water for free, but they were paying more for water (about 25 percent of their income) than the middle class. They were also waiting in line for about four hours for clean water.

Damon says White took the idea of micro-finance, where you develop a business plan and take out a loan. He figured, if you give someone a $200 loan and they suddenly can put a water tap in their house, you can buy their time back. "It's been incredibly successful and we've reached three million people," Damon says.

And, 94 percent of these loans go to women, who pay back at over 99 percent. "It keeps expanding and the appetite for these loans keep expanding," Damon says. After people have paid back their loans, they'll often take out another to get a toilet.

White adds that this also frees up philanthropic capital, which can then goes to those who are in extreme poverty.

4. Is Access To Clean Water A Political Issue?

"Starting in this country, I'm very happy to say it's a wonderfully bipartisan issue," Damon says with a chuckle. "Across the political spectrum, people get behind this because the ideas are good and the solutions work."

As for other countries? "Governments do play a role," Damon says. "We haven't been denied access to anyone. Our message is an open and welcoming one to governments and acknowledgment that they need to play in a role in this and everyone needs to come together. There's not a one-size-its-all solution and it's going to take all the major players coming together."

White adds that there were some policies in India that would make micro-financing difficult but they met with the government and were able to get the policies changed.

5. What About People Who Can't Contribute Financially?

One college student in the panel mentioned she was passionate about helping but lacked the financial means to contribute to the campaign. "There are a million different ways you can have an impact, Damon says. He suggested taking classes about the issue, going on websites and organizations devoted to the cause, and learning as much as you can. "Your ideas are just as important as your money," Damon says, going back to how new innovations can be the solution.

"Your generation is so much smarter than my generation," Damon says. "You guys are thinking about these things much earlier than Generation X, which was my generation. We kind of had our heads up our own asses."

6. They Think This Generation Can End The Water Crisis

Damon explains that it's hard for people to relate to the world water crisis because it's not something most people grapple with directly or indirectly. "We're never 20 feet away from a source of clean drinking water," he explains.

Unlike cancer, which affects family members, friends, etc., a lot of people don't have a direct or indirect connection to the issue. Yet, he feels strongly that we can put an end to it and leave our legacy. "We can absolutely be the generation that ends this crisis," Damon says. "We just need the will to do it."

Images: Getty Images for Stella Artois; Coursey of Stella Artois