Matt Damon has received plenty of awards but probably never one quite like this. In Davos today, the movie star was honored by the World Economic Forum for his work as co-founder of Water.org, a nonprofit organization whose motto is “safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all.”
Damon joked around at the beginning of his acceptance speech, pretending to accidentally read from a Golden Globes speech and then remarking that the other co-founder of Water.org, Gary White, had been working in the field since Damon was playing Humpty Dumpty in an elementary school play—“and I wish I could tell you that I was making that up.”
But then the man who played action hero Jason Bourne quickly turned serious, saying that disease caused by contaminated water “is a problem that has a solution. The poor themselves are the solution.” He told the Davos audience that Water.org is extending “water credit” to poor families so they can afford to install a toilet or connect their homes to a waterline that for them is “literally a lifeline.”
Bourne—er, Damon—said that Water.org had already helped more than 5 million people, and he noted that McKinsey consultants have estimated it could reach 100 million by 2020. He said the movers and shakers of Davos—“people in this room”—have the expertise and resources to help his organization reach that goal. “This award is a vote of confidence in what we can achieve and will achieve,” he said, “because we’re just getting started.”
Damon was one of four recipients of the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award, which honors artists who have made important contributions to improving the state of the world. The others include Juan Diego Flórez, founder of a poor people’s symphony in Peru; conductor Lorin Maazel; and Shirin Neshat, an Iranian-born artist.
Neshat, in her acceptance speech, urged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani—scheduled to speak in Davos on Thursday—to carry on the work of defending democracy and freedom, as Iranian artists and intellectuals have done. “Now we pass the torch to you, mister president,” she said.