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For people interested in getting involved in philanthropy, actor Matt Damon suggests becoming the student first.

If the experts are asking questions and constantly learning, why shouldn’t the uninitiated? “Once you give yourself permission to not know [everything], that’s when life gets exciting again.”

That’s what Damon said in a recent interview with Philanthropy Age as he described his own learning curve in his efforts to bring clean water and sanitation to areas of Africa and Asia where it was lacking.

Damon already knew that millions of people die each year from water-related illness, and that a child dies every minute due to inaccessibility to clean water. That’s why he created H20 Africa – to provide funding to NGOs and small projects that were doing good work in bringing clean water to remote areas.

“People talk about the global water crisis and what’s coming down the road,” Damon said in the interview. “[… but] for 748 million people, the crisis is already here.”

But Damon wanted to do more, to have a greater impact than what H20 Africa was achieving. In 2009, he merged H20 Africa with Gary White’s WaterPartners to create Water.org. An expert in the field, Gary White had established a successful record in a world where half of all water projects fail. And so began Damon’s real education in how to help well.

With a mission to solve the water crisis in our lifetime, Water.org has a stronger focus on larger, more innovative solutions with the potential for success in the long term. “One idea we pioneered is Water Credit,” says Damon. "Water Credit is a small loan for a family or community to get a water connection or a toilet. We convinced banks to make loans that weren’t being made by sharing the financial risk with them. This brought new funds to people in need. The idea works. Water Credit is taking off around the world because it benefits more people, faster. That makes it a solution critical to ending the crisis. "

“More kids are dying from this than from AIDS, measles and malaria combined,” says Damon. “It’s the most serious problem out there.”

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