Feel Better, Millennials—Matt Damon Says His Generation Was Terrible

In his quest to bring clean drinking water to millions, the actor says he’s inspired by young people he meets along the way.

Water.org cofounder Matt Damon participated in a panel session about the global water crisis on Jan. 23 in Park City, Utah. (Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images)

Jan 28, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Esha Chhabra is a journalist who covers social enterprise, technology for social impact, and development.

Anyone experiencing fatigue over millennial bashing may find actor Matt Damon’s take refreshing.

“My generation had our heads up our own asses. That was Gen X. Today’s generation is so much smarter and interested in fixing these issues,” he told journalists at the Sundance Film Festival this week.

The issue the Bourne Identity actor is interested in is a water crisis that has left 663 million people without access to clean drinking water. Damon spoke of becoming a cofounder in 2009 of Water.org, a nonprofit that delivers microfinance loans to water-deprived communities.

Women often bear the brunt of the water crisis, Damon explained, walking long distances to bring water to their families—time that could be spent at school or work. During a visit to Zambia, Damon said, he was particularly inspired by a 14-year-old girl whose dreams of big-city success reminded him of his own early days.

After Damon asked if she planned to stay in her village, she responded, “No, I’m going to go to the big city, Lusaka. I’m going to become a nurse.”

Damon loved her spunk. “Something about her reminded me of Ben Affleck and myself when we were teenagers. It was like us saying we’re going to go to New York City and become actors,” he said, laughing.

Jokes aside, he noted that the girl’s dreams were only possible because she had access to clean water.

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“It just struck me that if this well was not a mile away from her house, she’d spend most of her day scavenging for water instead of going to school,” he said.

That’s why the Oscar-nominated actor announced “Buy a Lady a Drink,” a new campaign, in partnership with the Belgian brewery Stella Artois, that focuses on water and women in the developing world.

Damon said an initiative that would simplify a complex issue was needed. Hence, for each purchase of a Stella Artois chalice—the custom glasses feature women-centric designs by artists in Kenya, Peru, and Haiti—Water.org will receive funds to provide clean water to an individual for five years.

Damon started Water.org with Gary White, and the two have traveled around the world together to promote an alternative to charity.

“Gary is too modest to talk about this. But water credit has been revolutionary,” Damon said, nudging his cofounder.

Instead of personally digging wells and planting water infrastructure in communities, Damon and White provide loans that enable locals to build the facilities themselves. To date, they say, they’ve provided 3 million people with water credits, more than 90 percent of which go to women. The repayment rate is 99 percent, Damon said.

Of all the issues that Damon could support, why water? “It’s a wonderfully bipartisan issue, and there are solutions that show that it can work,” he said. “That’s what people want, despite the politics—stuff that works.”

See more of TakePart’s interview with Matt Damon (and his spot-on impression of former President Bill Clinton):