KANSAS CITY — For nearly two decades, WaterPartners has been working quietly to bring safe water and sanitation projects to developing communities around the world. But now the mission of the Kansas City-based nonprofit has a little glitz: actor Matt Damon.
Damon, co-founder of the H2O Africa Foundation, a nonprofit that sought to help African communities gain access to safe water, has joined with WaterPartners to create a new organization, Water.org.
WaterPartners, founded in Kansas City in 1990 by Gary White, helps communities in South Asia, Central America and Africa gain access to safe water and sanitation through grants and micro-credit financing.
Having Damon — whose films include "Good Will Hunting," the Bourne trilogy and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" — as an ambassador and advocate for the cause is a boost for the organization, which has been "under the radar in Kansas City," Water.org spokeswoman Nicole Wickenhauser said Wednesday.
She expected having Damon as a co-founder of Water.org would have a "tremendous impact."
"A few more people are familiar with Matt's face than with Gary's," Wickenhauser said.
Damon was not immediately available for comment, she said.
White said WaterPartners and H2O Africa had been discussing the merger for months.
"It allows us to take this cause to a whole new level," he said. "The whole global water supply crisis isn't getting enough attention. And clearly Matt brings new visibility to that issue."
White, 46, said with the new incarnation as Water.org and Damon's advocacy, he expected to double or triple the number of people served over the next two to three years.
WaterPartners had a 2008 budget of $5.4 million, largely from grants. In 2008, WaterPartners helped about 142,000 people, more than triple the number of people served in 2007.
WaterPartners and H2O Africa were dissolved in creating the new organization, Water.org, which will keep its headquarters in Kansas City.
Damon helped create awareness for water supply problems in Africa with H2O Africa, which was founded in conjunction with the "Running the Sahara" expedition and film project.
H2O Africa made grants to international nonprofits, such as WaterPartners, which then worked with local groups. H2O Africa had about $500,000 in remaining grants, with about $350,000 of that going to WaterPartners. The remainder went to continuing water projects in Africa, Wickenhauser said.
In 2008, the PepsiCo Foundation gave WaterPartners $4.1 million to help people in India gain access to clean water. A portion of that money would be used for its WaterCredit microfinance program, which offers small loans to individuals who don't have access to traditional credit markets. Those people then use that money to obtain their own water connections.
But Water.org would also continue to serve poor communities where microfinance would not be an option, and is also considering projects in Haiti.
"We want to continue to serve those in absolute poverty," White said.