CEO & Co-founder of Water.org
Gary White is an observer, an innovator, and a problem-solver. He obtained three degrees in civil and environmental engineering, and as a passionate, problem-solver he created a solution that has empowered millions of people in need with access to safe water and sanitation.
When Gary traveled to Honduras in his early twenties, he visited impoverished communities where he observed first-hand the adversities faced by those living without access to safe water or a toilet at home. While in one village, he was struck by “how many above-ground graves there were, and how small most of them were.” Young children were dying due to water-related diseases.
Gary knew access to safe water and sanitation was the answer to a bright future for the families he met in these villages – a future with more hope, health and possibilities. He returned to the United States determined to end the global water crisis.
“Any society with the guarantee of safe water has a chance to realize its full potential.”
A dinner in Kansas City that changed the world
One November evening in 1990 Gary gathered friends and family for dinner and a conversation that would eventually change the lives of millions.
"I brought together my friends and family, about 100 people. We had dinner in the basement of the parish where I grew up. I shared my experiences working on water projects in Latin America. We raised about $4,300 that night. We raised enough money to get the village water.”
A year later, Gary launched WaterPartners International. This Midwest-based non-profit is now known as Water.org.
Through WaterPartners, Gary passionately pursued his vision of bringing safe water to communities in need. One well at a time, lives changed. But, not fast enough. The urgency of the water crisis called Gary to do more. He spent countless hours traveling and studying the global needs and economies of families living in poverty until one day he arrived at a solution that to date, has changed the lives of more than 60 million people.
Insights that led to innovation
The idea started when Gary was in India. He met a woman who was paying a loan shark 125% interest to buy a toilet. She was living on $2 USD a day and absorbing a crushing debt. Gary recognized this was incredibly common – there are millions of families spending a large portion of their income on temporary water and sanitation access. The expense traps them in a cycle of poverty.
Gary knew there had to be a better path to empowering people in need with water and sanitation, affordably.
“People living in poverty are not a problem to be solved. They are a market to be served.”
An idea that is changing charity
Gary believed that people in need could be part of solving their own water crisis if given the opportunity. They know what water or sanitation solutions they need at home, and they need financial help to access them.
"That’s when I had an idea. What if we loaned these women the money to install their own water tap or their own toilet? They could use the money they were paying each week to a water vendor to re-pay their loan instead. And when repaid, they would own their toilet and have long-term access to water."
Gary shared his idea with financial institutions, connecting the forces he believed would help solve the water crisis—financing and the people in need of water and toilets. Lenders were intrigued and inspired. For the first time, microfinance institutions started lending for water connections and toilets, establishing WaterCredit as a viable solution for millions in need of safe water and sanitation.
Smart power meets star power
During this time, Gary attended the annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York. There he met actor Matt Damon who, as a result of his passion to help communities in Africa get safe water, had founded his own water charity. Gary and Matt quickly determined they could have significantly more impact around the world if they worked together. In 2009, Matt, Gary and their organizations came together to become Water.org.
When Gary and Matt realized that lenders didn’t have enough money to meet the demand from borrowers wanting loans for water or sanitation solutions, they created another organization called WaterEquity – an impact investment manager dedicated to solving the global water crisis.
In their book, The Worth of Water, Gary and Matt invite us to become a part of this effort—to match hope with resources, to empower families and communities, and to end the global water crisis for good.
A leader in the water and sanitation sector
As Co-founder and CEO of Water.org and WaterEquity, Gary leads the organizations to create and execute market-driven solutions to the global water crisis. Gary's entrepreneurial vision drives innovations in the way water and sanitation projects are delivered and financed, innovations that now serve as a model in the water and sanitation sector.
From a makeshift office in his home, Gary has led Water.org to become an international organization with more than 100 people changing lives in 11 countries around the world.
Awards & recognition
- International Peace Award from Community of Christ – 2019
- Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship – 2017
- World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Water – 2014
- Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur – 2012
- TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people – 2011
- Skoll Foundation Social Entrepreneur – 2009
- Philanthropy World Hall of Fame – 2008
News, press & perspectives
For more of the latest news and press releases about our work in the water and sanitation sector, visit our New, Press & Perspectives page.
The Worth of Water
In their book, The Worth of Water, our Co-founders Matt Damon and Gary White share how access to safe water or sanitation has changed the lives of millions people around the world. We talked with Gary about the inspiration behind the book and the writing process.
Access to clean, safe water is essential in the fight against climate change
Why addressing the water crisis is critical in fighting the climate crisis - an interview with Water.org Co-founders Gary White and Matt Damon
An idea that is changing charity
Our smart solution has proven that if you invest in women, they’ll change their world. Hear more from Gary White about why we created WaterCredit.
Join Gary's vision of water and sanitation for all.Donate today