Matt Damon accepts the WEF Crystal Award

It was my first day in Davos at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. And it started with a well-deserved award for the actor Matt Damon, not a film Oscar, but the WEF Crystal Award for his work on water.

When you live in Europe or the US, particularly when you're staying up here in the Swiss mountains of Davos, it is not easy to understand what real thirst is. I am not talking about a situation when you look forward to a cold beer after a long-distance ski tour, but real, life-threatening thirst.

Matt Damon witnessed this first-hand when producing the film ’Running the Sahara’ in Summer 2006. This was no Hollywood fiction but a documentary shot in the dry sand of the largest desert in the world, where temperatures often exceed 50 degrees Celsius. The people living and surviving there - nomad herders - move over long distances to find water and areas of often very thin grass for their livestock.

Damon reacted to what he saw and founded H2O Africa as a charitable initiative with the goal of raising money and awareness about water issues on this continent. In 2009, his organisation merged with another to become water.org, with Gary White as co-founder and CEO. In his acceptance speech he said that they both shared ‘a sense of disbelief that millions of people still have no access to safe water.’

Rather than simply distributing money or water to those in need, water.org aims to empower people in the developing world to gain and maintain access to safe water and sanitation. In Matt Damon’s words: ‘The poor themselves are the solution, as citizens and consumers working with a small loan, a water credit.’ And he draws attention to the issue in ways that people actually listen.

Congratulations to him and the water.org team, not simply for the award, but for this great initiative, his commitments and achievements.