Worldwide, women and children spend a collective 200 million hours a day travelling to collect water, time they could better spend pursuing education or generating income. The fact that the collected water is often contaminated, contributing to more than 3.5 million deaths each year, and costs “three to four times more than for someone who isn’t poor,” adds up to a tragedy that Gary White is dedicated to banishing. “People are initially shocked by the fact that this problem exists and how huge it is,” Gary says.
“There has to be a better way,” Gary figured. Co-founder Matt Damon, who had became acutely aware of these water issues during a trip to Zambia, was similarly dedicated to the cause, leading him to Gary and the creation of Water.org. While Matt’s celebrity status certainly boosts Water.org’s attention and prestige, his drive is authentic and he’s delved right in to become a development expert himself.
Gary states, “As a social entrepreneur, almost by definition, you have a different way of looking at the world, finding things that don’t make sense and trying to make sense of them.” Gary saw a way to shift the existing process of water collection by enlisting communities to develop and manage their own water projects, and offering micro-loans through WaterCredit for individual households.
This results in a community-owned investment that generates income for the locals, and which can benefit from the oversight of an established organization. Because women often bore the burden of water collection previously, Water.org ensures that women share in the ownership and decision-making of these cooperatives. The organization also provides information on sanitation and hygiene practices, greatly improving their health and survival rates.
Gary, who holds three degrees in Civic and Environmental Engineering, has worked alongside these communities at every step, doing everything from conducting academic research to pitching in on well construction. His awards and accolades are numerous; he was notably inducted into the Philanthropy World Hall of Fame in 2008.