Matt Damon’s India connection

The 2016 MIT Commencement speaker is trying to impact the world beyond the silver screen.


Until recently, the biggest connection that actor Matt Damon had to MIT was his role as the school’s janitor in the film Good Will Hunting. But next Spring he will come to campus playing a new part, as the 2016 MIT Commencement speaker.

Damon grew up in MIT’s home city of Cambridge, MA and attended Harvard University before dropping out to pursue a career in acting. He has starred in numerous films, his most recent hit being The Martian, but his off-screen interest in improving water access and sanitation in India is what puts him on our radar at the Tata Center.

Among other humanitarian ventures, Damon co-founded Water.org, which is a non-profit that aims to provide the global world with clean water and sanitation. The main focus area for Damon’s clean water project is India, where access to clean water and sanitation for people living in resource-constrained communities is a key issue. Damon traveled there himself in 2013, and his organization has been active there for over five years. They help people get microloans to install clean water and proper sanitation services, with more than 500,000 such people in 11 Indian states receiving loans by 2013. Damon believes that the ramifications of this go way beyond water and sanitation, especially for women and children. Without having to spend hours collecting clean water, he argues, women have the time to go out and seek employment, improving life prospects for them and their families.

In an interview with the New York Times Damon said, “Going out, doing these side visits and talking to women about how empowering and liberating this is for them is the funnest part,” he continues, “To hear that they no longer have to leave the house when the sun goes down and walk out for open defecation because there is no toilet, it’s very emotional to talk about these very, very real changes. It is sheer joy.”

While Damon’s approach to solving water problems in the developing world is very different from ours, the goal is the same: Collaborating with communities to improve quality of life for millions of people. Our water projects range from solar-powered desalination technology that provides drinking water for 5,000 people per day to strategic planning for India’s rural water supply. One of our projects, “Accelerating India’s upgrading to clean, continuous water supply,” shares similar goals to Damon’s Water.org, with a focus on making reliable piped water available throughout the country.

The Tata Center for Technology and Design hasn’t been in any Hollywood films (though we do have a Youtube channel), but one thing we share with Matt Damon is a concern for the future of resource-constrained communities in India and around the world. We look forward, along with the rest of MIT, to welcoming Matt to campus next year.

Image: NASA