Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Matt Damon, Actor &Co-founder of Water.org, Gary White, Co-founder & CEO, Water.org and Ricardo Tadeu, Africa Zone President, Anheuser-Busch InBev, from the World Economic Forum 2017 with Tania Bryer
TB: Well, good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our CNBC sanctuary. There are a lot of you here, and ladies, I heard a rumor around Davos last night that you all changed your schedules to be here. Now, I'm not sure why, but I have a sneaking suspicion, because one of my panelists is the award winning Hollywood superstar, Matt Damon. Please welcome Matt Damon, Gary White and Ricardo Tadeu. Matt, if you could sit next to me, Gary and Ricardo. Matt, I'm not joking, I promise you, last night in the streets of Davos, every single woman was changing their schedules.
MD: I heard George Clooney was here.
TB: George, are you here? Gentlemen, welcome, thank you very much for joining me this morning on CNBC. You're here in Davos to talk about Water.org. Gary and Matt, we met here in 2014. Why is WEF such an important platform for you?
MD: Well, it's a great place to raise awareness for the work that we're doing. Also, you know, the people that we're working in service of with Water.org are really the most disenfranchised on the planet, and they don't really have a voice here. So I think we, along with some of the other NGOs that are here, do try to give them a voice, you know, as all these kinds of big, high level discussions are going on.
TB: Gary, Davos, and WEF, is criticized by a lot of the media to say it's elitist. You know, there's so much inequality in the world. 2016, there's been huge geopolitical shocks. What is everybody doing here? Is it important for you to be here?
GW: It is important, because, you know, everybody needs to have a voice, and have a stake in the future of the world. The poor, those that are disenfranchised, and the folks who are in power that can do something about it, and what we see is a complementariness to this, you just have to look at, kind of, the threats that have been identified by the WEF community over the past five years, water has been one of the top five threats every year. So there's already a preponderance to shine the light on these issues that do affect people living in poverty, but there is this huge gulf to bridge, we can't make any bones about that. And to me, this year in particular, with income disparity taking center stage as it rightly should, there is no greater manifestation of that than people who can't even afford to get safe water, and that is really a shame, and it's unconscionable, and we need to change it. And this is one of the many ways that we're doing that, through WEF, but also with our partnership with Stella. Stella is helping us bring that voice to many more people in terms of getting water and sanitation to those who need it.
TB: Ricardo, tell us why your company is involved? How did you partner up with Water.org, and why?
RT: I think that for Stella Artois, first and foremost it is very important to have really a cause that we believe that we can be a driving force behind it, and of course water is our main ingredient, and we try to find out who are the best people that know-, that could help us understand more about the problem, get more knowledge, and see how we can solve it. So we met, a couple of years ago, Water.org, we started a partnership, and it's doing very well. We have already helped 800,000 people to get five-year access to clean water, and this year we are announcing exactly the expansion of this partnership, because it worked so well for Stella Artois, and in the sense that it resonated so well with our consumers, and I mean, the execution was so good in the field that at the end of the day, we wanted to do much more. We want to go now for 3.5 million people by 2020, with helping Water.org.
TB: And you have 'Buy A Lady A Drink'. Explain that to us, please.
RT: Yes, that's-, I think that's one of the important things in terms of when a brand stands for something like this, is finding the right mechanics in the sense that really can add value for the brand, for the consumers, and really drive the resources behind the cause. So our 'Buy A Lady A Drink,' it's very simple. We are selling three different types of chalices. Those chalices, they are made from artists that come from the countries that we are helping to get access to water, so we have from Uganda, Cambodia, Brazil, and consumers all around the world can buy those chalices, and for every chalice they buy, they will be helping, granting five years of clean access of water to people. So that's a very important thing, that's a way that our brand can leverage on our scale, on our global presence, to bring awareness to the problem, and at the same time to give people an opportunity to make a difference, to do something. So this is one part of the mechanic, and the second part, which I think Matt likes a lot, it's something that goes not only chalices, but in the supermarkets, in bars, we are testing in the UK and in the United States, that people, when, if they buy a six-pack, or a 12-pack, they can give-, of Stella Artois, in a supermarket, they can get-, and provide six months, or 12 months, of access to clean water to people in the countries we are operating, so-,
MD: And we should say, it's called 'Buy A Lady A Drink,' because this is predominantly an issue about women and girls. Across all these cultures and countries where people are affected by this, it's the women in the families who are in charge of collecting water, and what that means is, oftentimes, young girls aren't in school, because they're literally spending their entire lives scavenging for water for their family, and so you know, through our programming, you know, with water credit which we can talk about later, you know, 93% of our borrowers are women. So it's an issue that really predominantly-, disproportionately affects women and girls.
TB: Matt, I remember talking to you here, as I said in 2014, and asking you why you wanted to become involved with this cause, and going back to your own childhood in Cambridge, in Massachusetts, and it felt like your mother, Nancy, who is an early education teacher, that she took you and your brother, didn't she, to Mexico, to Guatemala, to make you aware. Do you think it started from there?
MD: Definitely. I think when I look back at my life, from where I sit now, it's clear that that travel played a huge part. I mean, just travelling in, you know, throughout Guatemala and, you know, in rural Guatemala and rural Mexico, and seeing the way other people lived, without being, kind of, finger wagged, or anything like that, by my mum, just being able to observe it. So I've definitely modeled that with my own parenting, I mean, I take my kids everywhere, and I feel like it's a real privilege to be able to travel like that, and it's a real tool for empathy, to be able to, especially at a young age, go around the world and just look at how other people are living.
TB: You have four daughters, Matt. How do they react to what they see on the ground when you take them to these different places?
MD: Well, I mean, I haven't taken-, you know, depending on their ages-, you know, it's-, but no, but they-, you know, a lot of times, it's funny, I talked to Don Cheadle about this years ago, my friend, who's the actor, Don Cheadle, and he had, when he did the film Hotel Rwanda, and he shot in South Africa, and went to the townships with his kids, and I said, 'Well what did you say to them?' you know, because I was just interested as a parent, I've always admired the way he parented, and he said, 'Nothing,' he said, 'I just let them look,' he said, 'And they were dead silent, just taking it in,' you know, and a lot of it is just allowing, and I think that's what my mother did with me, she just let me take it in, and if I had questions I asked them and she answered them. But it really is something to be exposed to a completely different way of living, at a young age.
TB: And because, of course, you have the platform of being a very famous actor, and being known around the world, Matt, why did you choose water? Why did that become your cause?
MD: Well, in looking at issues of extreme poverty, I was just staggered by how water and sanitation really underpinned everything, and the magnitude of the problem just shocked me, and the fact that I was so unaware of it, and that nobody seemed to be really talking about it, it's one of those things that in the west it's very hard to relate to, right? I mean, you see people raise money for cancer, or you know, curing cancer, or AIDS, you know, and that's all relatable, we all have family members, or friends, or people who've dealt with this stuff, and you know, clean water-, access to clean water and adequate sanitation is just not something we think about. We solved this problem in the west 100 years ago, and so to clear that first hurdle of just explaining that there's an issue has been a challenge for us. But the reality is that every 90 seconds, a child is dying because of lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and that's just totally unconscionable, and unnecessary. I mean, we-, you know, this is a problem that has solutions, right, and that's the other exciting part about it, and that's the part that energizes us, is we really can fix this. We can actually be the generation that eradicates this crisis completely. It's just going to take a comprehensive effort.
GW: And I think it's that messaging that you and I talk about a lot, like, how can we break through and communicate this, the severity of this? Because not everybody can go to these countries and see it, and I think that's really what, you know, this is unprecedented for us, what we have with Stella, both in terms of helping us reach those 3.5 million people, but by being this platform, it's kind of a way to invite people into the issue, if it's as easy as buying a beer, or buying a chalice, and then we can go from there, and so the powerful message that we can bring to people is that that action is going to bring safe water to someone today. You know, this is real, it's going to happen. But then also them investing in us in a way that allows us to do what we do best at Water.org, and that is to innovate. And so we can then drive the innovation engine to say, 'Okay, it's great to get water to people today, but this is a crisis of such magnitude, we have to have game changing solutions, we have to look over the horizon,' and that support allows us to then generate those new ideas so that we can match the scale of our solutions to the scale of the problem. And that twofold approach, water for people today, and solving the crisis in our generation, tomorrow. That's what we're about.
RT: And one interesting thing also is internally in the company, when we first addressed the issue, many people internally were not aware about the situation, and then, well, there's 660 million people without access to clean water, they said, 'Wow,' and then the first time was a matter of telling people what the issue was, and then after seeing results, then people get really engaged an excited about it, which is internally also very inspiring.
TB: But it is, it's incredible, isn't it, because I'm sure everybody here can't quite understand that people don't get access to clean water and sanitation, and to make it relatable, and to make it part of people's psyche around the world, it's a difficult message to put across. What is your vision for Water.org? What would you like to see, going forward, Gary?
GW: Well, I think, we talked about this a lot, even with Stella Artois and Ricardo, and I think we're honing in on the message, and you know, some of the research we've done shows that the global water crisis is ascending in terms of people's level of awareness, and that's a very positive thing, and not least of which because of platforms like this, and being with you a few years ago, and really, really getting the message out, but it is an all hands on deck thing, and this isn't something that Stella just wants to build a wall around. With them, I mean, inviting in other partners, and that's been so key to us, is we can reach out to other partners, corporate partners, foundation partners, that invest in water today and that innovation engine of Water.org. I mean, we've been very fortunate with the IKEA foundation, with Niagara Bottling, with the PepsiCo foundation, and several others that have invested in us so that we can go and create those game changing ideas like water credit.
TB: And of course, governments are key in partnering, or supporting NGOs. Matt, I was interested in a speech you gave to MIT last year, because obviously you've had a political change in America, you have President Trump now, and in the speech-,
TB: Oh, you mean we've still got a couple of days. Anything could happen, is that what you're telling me? But in your-, you came out publicly to support Hillary Clinton, and in the speech at MIT you said you were nervous. Do you still feel nervous now about President Trump?
MD: Sure. Look, first of all, you know, I wish him well, and we all must. A successful American President is good for all of us, and we really have to, you know, be rooting for him right now. Obviously, it's no secret that I didn't vote for him, but-, and yes, I think there is a sense of-, we're heading into new territory here, you know. He's obviously not a career politician, he's not-, you know, he's been occupied with his own business interests, which are relatively narrow, given the scope of what a president actually has to deal with, so I imagine he's really working hard right now to master, you know, a whole-, you know, there are so many sectors, he's got-, he's just got a lot of work cut out for him. So in terms of our work in foreign aid, like, we don't-, we have yet to see what his angle is on that. He hasn't spoken publically about it, so we can just hope for the best at this point.
TB: Matt, he has attacked 'liberal Hollywood'. He's attacking your community. How do you feel about that? I mean, do you think Meryl Streep was right to use the platform that she did?
MD: Well, he's right, she's totally overrated as an actress.
TB: There goes that movie you're going to do with her, Matt!
MD: Well, Ben Affleck said it on the Jimmy Kimmel show later that day, he said, 'You could say anything about her, but the one thing you cannot say about her is that she's overrated.' Look, you know, I thought what she said about bullying was very important, and I think in-, and you know, about people in power, you know, bullying people with less power is unhealthy, and it's behavior that children will model, and-, and so-, but look, let's see. He's about to become the most consequential person on the planet, with more power than, you know-, it's a massive burden, you know, for these-, you look at these people who've assumed the Presidency, they instantly go completely grey, you know.
TB: Yes, well, President Obama has, yes.
MD: It's such an enormous amount of responsibility, so I suspect that he will change the way-, I think once-, you know, a sentence from a President can move a market on the other side of the world, and I think these guys get-, become aware of that very quickly, and you see them become very circumspect with how they speak, and very measured, and I think we have to assume that will happen with him, as well.
TB: Just quickly, what are your hopes from him, they? What would you like to see him do?
MD: I would like to see him be successful. I really would, that would be-, you know, that would be-, that really would be great for all of us, and I mean it when-, you know, I think of that, you know, that note George W Bush left for Clinton, that made its way around the internet, that beautiful handwritten note, and he said, 'I'm rooting hard for you,' and it was just the most graceful and, you know, wonderful, and heartfelt sentiment, and I think that's what-, in this moment, that's what we all have to me feeling, that we need to be rooting for him.
TB: And just finally, when can we have a world, what year can we have a world with access for the whole world to clean water and clean sanitation?
RT: That's a good question, we talk a lot about this, I mean, sometimes we discuss if it's our generation or the next generation, but we will make sure it's our generation, but at the end of the day it depends a lot on engagement of people everywhere. Engagement of other companies, other brands, all are invited to participate. The good thing is that the solutions are scalable, I mean, we really are inviting more people to come. We are providing a chance for people around the world to participate, so in our calculations, if ourselves, Stella Artois, we can in five, ten years, double our efforts, and we bring to the table 50 more brands or companies around the world, that could be a solution.
TB: Gary, what year?
GW: Well, we have the marker laid down also with the SDGs, right? SDG number 6, 2030, we've got to get it done, and it makes sense that we're going to have to scale faster, it's going to have to be investment from the top down, and investment from the bottom up, which we're trying to catalyze among people through microfinance, and if we can do that and, you know, turn this generation loose in terms of innovation, I talk a lot about the energy and the brainpower, and the youth that invest their time in generating the next version of the iPhone, right? I mean think of the billions of dollars that go into innovation to do something like that. If we could put the same emphasis and power, and the social entrepreneurial spirit behind something like this, we could solve it. You know, Matt said it, we did it 100 years ago, right, for most of the world, or for a good portion of the world, and if we can invest in that, then the shape of the curve that's kind of going like this, now, that would take us, you know, another 100 years maybe to get this done, we can bend that curve, I think, tremendously, by just doubling down on this.
TB: Matt, will you give me a year, do you think?
MD: We always say in our lifetime, but we can be the generation to do this, we really can, and you know, the generation behind us, you know, these millennials, I'm just really impressed with. They're just really-, they have a level of awareness, perhaps because they're so much more connected than we were, or perhaps because there's been some kind of change, but they're really dialed in, and that gives me a lot of hope too.
TB: Thank you so much, Matt Damon, Gary White and Ricardo Tadeu. Thank you so much for joining me today.