An article on WaterCredit - Matt Damon and Damodaran

A U.S. group led by a movie star and a social entrepreneur helps Indians get access to safe water.

Water was a major issue in Mamatha’s life. From her home in the Rasoolpura area of Hyderabad, she had to walk two kilometers each day and wait hours for her turn to collect her family’s daily water. One day, her 2-year-old daughter, who accompanied her regularly, fell in a pit adjacent to the bore well where Mamatha was collecting water. Luckily, the girl was rescued but the experience left Mamatha and her husband shaken.

They were planning to move to a different locality when they heard about’s work in Rasoolpura, along with a local partner, the Society for Integrated Development in Urban and Rural Areas. Mamatha was able to get a water connection right at her house. Gone was the stress of walking long distances for an insufficient, unreliable water supply. Mamatha was also able to use the time she saved to earn money for the family. And she did not have to worry about her child’s safety.

Mamatha is one of thousands of Indians who have gotten access to safe water and sanitation facilities through’s programs. Its Web site tells stories of many more families in Karnataka, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu whose lives were changed by the Missouri-based group. was created in 2009 through a merger of H2O Africa, co-founded by Hollywood actor Matt Damon and WaterPartners, co-founded by social entrepreneur and philanthropist Gary White.’s headquarters is in Kansas City, Missouri, where the WaterPartners office was based since 1990. There is also an office in Tamil Nadu. is continuing the work of its parent organizations, helping communities in Asia, Africa and Central America develop and sustain solutions to their water needs.

According to the World Health Organization, only 2.5 percent of all water on Earth is fresh water. Of that, less than 1 percent is readily accessible for human use. Each day, people in developing countries walk long distances to get water for drinking, cooking and bathing. Often, this water is contaminated. has 11 projects in India, being implemented by five NGOs and six microfinance institutions. It is assisting them “with grant funds and loan funds for providing water and sanitation facilities through community based organizations like women’s self-help groups,” says Sait Damodaran, the country director, adding that more than 65,000 Indians have benefited from the projects. selects partner organizations through a rigorous monitoring system. Based on the track record and capability of the organization, the partners are certified for grant funding. “We believe in grassroots-level action rather than a top down approach in project formulation and implementation. We solicit proposals from our partner organizations and screen them before sanctioning,” says Damodaran. “’s responsibility will be only a grant support with technical and professional advice. The sole responsibility of implementation is provided to the partner organizations.” monitors the project implementation, outcome and its impact through its staff and external consultants.

Damodaran counts the WaterCredit initiatives through which communities got access to loans for water and sanitation facilities as the organization’s most successful projects in India. “People could realize the benefits of water and sanitation when these facilities were made available at their doorstep, which reduced the drudgery of women, children and elders. The medical expenditure incurred for water diseases was reduced considerably….” he says.

The WaterCredit microfinance program offers small loans to individuals who find it difficult to access traditional credit markets. The repaid loans go back into a revolving fund, and are then re-loaned to another individual or community.

“When there is a default by a particular borrower…community-based organizations such as women’s self-help groups are compensating for the default from their savings,” says Damodaran.

In fact, the benefits of WaterCredit extend beyond getting a water tap at home. In a video made during his visit to India last year, Damon talks about how women’s lives had improved because of these loans and how “a number of them talked about the dynamic in their household changing as they were no longer relying on their husbands for money.”

“One thing about WaterCredit is, it works so well it’s a little bit scary,” he adds.

Damon and White also met with a women’s self-help group in Tamil Nadu whose successful credit record, established thanks to WaterCredit, helped them get a loan for a cinder block manufacturing unit. “These women are testaments to not only the viability of microfinance in the water sector but they also form the foundation of future economic growth in these regions,” says White in a statement posted on

“Our early funding from Open Square Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, along with more recent funding from PepsiCo Foundation, has empowered these women to not just become entrepreneurs but to also set an example of what can happen through innovative solutions and partnerships.”

Courtesy: SPAN Magazine

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