Fact checking Water.org & Stella Artois controversy

Speculation has been circling for the past week regarding Matt Damon’s ad in the Super Bowl involving beer company Stella Artois and nonprofit group Water.org. Damon himself is a co-founder of Water.org. The mission of this non-profit, according to their website, is to provide access to clean water and sanitation in the developing world, as well as empowerment to natives through affordable financing.

Previously, nonprofits trying to fix a community’s water problem would provide short-term solutions by building wells and then disappearing. However, this wasn’t really solving the problem, as the wells would often malfunction or become contaminated within a few months. Locals without the knowledge or tools to fix the wells would have to return to walking several miles a day to retrieve water.

Water.org uses a different approach when solving the drinking water issue by placing the power in the local’s hands instead of handing out quick fixes. This is done by setting up a microlending system called WaterCredit. This method works with the previously existing financial systems in developing countries to offer loans for water and sanitation to individuals.

This is seen in many different ways including buying a faucet, construction of a borehole well and rainwater storage containers. According to Water.org, 99% of borrowers are women, and loan repayment rates are incredibly high, well above 90%. To date, over $2 million has been given out in loans, affecting about 9 million people across 11 countries.

In Damon’s recent Super Bowl ad, he speaks of Water.org’s partnership with Stella Artois to solve the water crisis. He makes a confident promise: buy a limited edition Stella Artois chalice, and your contribution will provide clean water to someone in a developing country for 5 years.

About $3 from each purchase goes directly towards the charity. Skepticism has flared about the reality of these numbers and whether or not a measly $3 can really bring clean water to someone for that long. Also, the price tag for the ad itself was not so small, costing Stella Artois about $5 million. Some critics believe Stella Artois should have just forked over this $5 million instead of making the public buy something.

When considering these two issues, it is important to first consider that Water.org doesn’t actually provide water to the people directly, but, instead, dispenses tiny loans to the people to acquire clean water on their own. The $3 per chalice goes towards these microloans that, in turn, provide long-term solutions for water. Additionally, the ad was purchased by Stella Artois and not the nonprofit.

It was intended to plant a seed of inspiration in the general public and make them feel as if they have a role in the water crisis, but, above all, it was meant to encourage consumers to purchase Stella Artois. While $3 for 5 years of clean water seems outrageous, it is actually feasible.

Microloans are becoming increasingly popular in nonprofits, as they take away the toxicity of providing free short-term solutions. Damon’s Water.org is just the first of these types of charities to be seen by the general public.


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