When you think of essentials in life, nothing is more fundamental than the need for safe water and sanitation. Though most of us are lucky enough to never experience what it’s like to go without a toilet or safe, clean water, this is not the case for millions of people across the world.

For the third consecutive year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report in 2014 ranked water crises as a top 5 global risk. In fact, today as it stands, 750 million people lack access to clean water and more than 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet.

Like many problems, the ripple effect of this issue is truly alarming. Beyond the health ramifications, a lack of access to clean water and sanitation inhibits education, job creation, commerce and more. The interconnectivity of the water crisis is particularly evident when examining the lives of women in these communities.  Forced to skip work and school to search for clean water, it is estimated that women spend 200 million hours per day collecting water — precious hours that could be spent in productive employment or education.

However, when clean water and sanitation is accessible, not only do you see a drastic improvement in the quality of life on an individual scale, you see huge returns across the board.  It is estimated that providing sanitation alone to everyone who needs it would return $220 billion each year to the global economy.  Furthermore, The World Bank estimates that for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, at least $4 is returned as money saved from health care costs and increased economic productivity.

Adamant that the key to breaking the cycle of poverty lies in the elimination of the water and sanitation problem, non-profit organization Water.Org is striving to bring safe water and the dignity of a toilet to all. Co-founded by Gary White and Matt Damon, Water.org has transformed hundreds of communities in Africa, South Asia, and Central America by doing just this. In particular, they are driving the water sector for new solutions, financing models and real partnerships to create lasting change.

One of the key aspects of Gary and Matt’s work is dispelling the notion that there’s not enough water for everyone. In reality there is more than enough water to go around; the true challenge is that of distribution. In many slum communities, water literally runs in pipes directly under the feet of the people living there; they just lack connections to the system.

To address the root of the problem, Water.org has embarked on an ambitious market-based model called the WaterCredit Program. Breaking free from the dependency of charitable donations, this program unleashes the power of the poor by helping them access small loans to finance toilets and taps in their own homes.

“We approach the global water and sanitation crisis from the perspective of helping the poor tap into their intrinsic power as customers, to be able to secure water and a toilet, versus seeing them as beneficiaries of large subsidies” Gary White, CEO and Co-founder Water.org.

To do this they funded market research to prove to the MicroFinance Intuitions that these loans were feasible. The results were staggering. They found that a woman in Bangalore spends about 1,200 rupees each month for her family to buy water and pay to use the public toilet.  But with that same 1,200 rupees a month, she can actually get a loan to build a toilet and to get a water connection in her house — and after only two years the microcredit loan is paid off.  Not only will this save the family money in the long run, but immediately their daughters are free to attend school and the women have the time to go to work.

Today, Water.org has invested over $9.7 million in WaterCredit, which has in turn leveraged an additional $70 million in commercial and social capital.  After seeing a 99% repayment of loans a total of 48 Microfinance Instructions have got on board to help Water.org achieve their mission, and it’s transforming lives.  So far 1,668,896 people in five countries have gained access to water or built toilets in their homes.

And this is just the beginning.  It is projected that by the end of 2015 this number will grow to 3 million, and thanks to the WaterCredit’s exponential growth, it has the potential to reach 100 million people by 2020.

Building on this progress, the IKEA Foundation is helping Water.org expand this model by funding market research through Water.org’s New Ventures Fund. But in order for WaterCredit to expand, they need support.

Help them reach their concessionary loan fund of $55 million and give two million more people access to WaterCredit.

Visit Water.org today.

More people have a mobile phone than a toilet

Every 20 seconds a child dies to a lack of access to clean water and sanitation

“The misconception that everyone affected is equally poor and waiting for top-down charity is one of the biggest obstacles preventing universal access to safe water” Matt Damon, Actor and Co-founder Water.org.