More Than Just Clowing Around

By:Jan Mazotti Issue: Conscious Capitalism Section: Jewel Of Collaboration

Guy Laliberté’s Effort to Save the Planet One Drop at a Time

Clowning Around This last September Guy Laliberté, the Founder of Cirque du Soleil, blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) to bring awareness and instill action around one clear purpose: to raise humanity’s awareness of water-related issues.

Broadcasting live from the ISS, Laliberté said, “I am an artist not a scientist, but water has touched me and inspired me. Water is a source of life. A child dies every eight seconds because of contaminated water and I knew it was urgent to act.”

For these reasons, he created the One Drop Foundation to fight poverty by providing access to water and raising awareness among individuals and communities about the need for mobilization in order to make safe water accessible to all.

Moving Stars and Earth for Water - A Poetic Social Mission

Clowning Around

Bringing artistic representations of the importance of water from 14 global cities on five continents in an exquisitely collaborative way was the goal. Forty-five celebrity activists, including Al Gore, Peter Gabriel, U2, Salma Hayek, Shakira, Matthew McConaughey and Garou read poetry, sang, danced, and shared the facts. On October 9, Laliberté told the audience that water is the, “Basis of most social problems and at the heart of many humanitarian crises that face human kind – health, education, environment and poverty.”

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore presented the basic facts. He addressed the linkage between the water crisis and the climate crisis and how it threatens the future of life on Earth. He talked about how global warming and pollution play a role in the rapid evaporation of water from our oceans. He talked about the eco-infrastructure and how the snow packs are deteriorating. “In order to solve the climate crisis and in order to save the beauty and the habitability of our planet so that we will have fresh drinking water for people and the water we need for agriculture, we have to have a worldwide effort to solve the climate crisis,” Gore said.

During the show, world renowned professor, scientist, and environmentalist, David Suzuki reminded viewers that water is, “The key connector between all forms of life on earth - past, present, and future.” He reminded us that with so little of such a precious resource, “You think we would use it wisely. Unfortunately this is not the case. We are depleting water resources rapidly.

Imagine water for all, imagine children swimming in clean water around the world and imagine a celebration of this blue planet!”

Traveling the globe and space, the webcast visited South Africa, where Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai continued the story. The Mission circled the globe touching people in Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Mexico City, New York, Sydney, London, Marrakesh, Mumbai, Osaka, Santa Monica, Tampa, and Moscow. As part of the U2 concert in Tampa, Bono introduced Laliberté by saying, “He’s on a mission to talk about how precious water is on the planet.” Perhaps it’s time for us to pause and reflect, perhaps it’s time for us to change, and perhaps it is time to imagine another way.

Yann Martel, acclaimed Canadian novelist, was contracted by Laliberté to create an original poetic work, where a drop of water would serve as the main character. It would unfold in installments throughout the broadcast touching regional issues along the way. For example, in South Africa, the poem touched on the importance of education and water, while in Japan it addressed the melting of the ice caps because as an island, the rising oceans are of concern.

Throughout the broadcast, Cirque du Soleil performers from all over the world were featured. The production costs were an estimated $6 - $10 million on top of the $35 million he personally paid to get to the ISS.

For Laliberté it was a way to incorporate the expertise of Cirque du Soleil with the trip to the ISS. It was a way of using the moment to make something bigger - not just something personal. “Through art, I want to draw people’s attention to environmental issues, to raise humanity’s awareness,” he said.

One Drop’s Global Efforts

Because water is the main cause of death globally, the ONE DROP Foundation is mobilizing people all over the globe to find sustainable solutions to water access problems and to adopt better usage practices for the scarce resource. It is an effort to provide water to over a billion people who do not have access to water in sufficient quantity or quality. It is a global solidarity effort around water.

Water access issues are at the core of many human rights and community issues. Poverty exacerbates the problem. Poverty heightens water access problems, which in turn drive poverty issues deeper. In most cases, the poor pay up to 10X more for water than the wealthy. Average daily water use is also affected. For example, in Mozambique the average citizen uses only 10 liters of water per day, while the average U.S. citizen consumes 575 liters per day – over half on basic sanitation and hygiene activities.

It is a fact that 80% of illnesses in developing countries are water related. These illnesses further push families into poverty because they cannot attend school or work. Gender roles are also affected by water access. It is often the role of women and girls to collect water for their families, thereby preventing them from formal education in their country. By simply adding water pumps closer to homes, it increases collection and efficiency and allows females access to education. And, these efficiencies can add up to $100 USD per year to the family budget.

Another issue is over-consumption.

Over the last 100 years, the world’s population has tripled while water use has increased sevenfold.

Agriculture consumes 70% of the world water use, while industry consumes 20%, and households consume 10%.

Using a tripod approach, ONE DROP focuses primarily on young people and women by raising awareness, education and mobilizing people through art and culture; improving access to water while promoting responsible water management techniques; and by providing microcredit loans.

Technical projects, supported by ONE DROP, provide water access, food security, and promote gender equality in developing communities. Performance is measured by number of lives saved, number of girls that go to school, number of people living in dignity, and the number of protected ecosystems. Take ONE DROPs work in the Estelí region of Nicaragua. Infrequent and irregular rain has contributed to very limited access to safe drinking water. Regional policies, especially deforestation, have resulted in few infrastructures to collect rainwater and have contributed to low groundwater retention and increased vulnerability to natural disasters, such as hurricanes. ONE DROP, in partnership with local water partners, will directly impact the lives of over 1,200 families by improving access to safe water, ensuring food security, supporting personal efforts at equality and awareness in Estelí. Or, in the dry tropics near the Guacirope River basin of Honduras, ONE DROP is on the ground, supporting local partners and their efforts to directly impact 1,000 families and over 15,000 men, women and children. Going forward, ONE DROP has planned projects in Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.

ONE DROP is funded by a $100 million contribution from Laliberté that spans the next 25 years, as well as from donations from Cirque du Soleil’s 4,000 employees and from the public. Other funding commitments have come from Canadian and international partners including Oxfam, the RBC Foundation, and the Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco.

How You Can Play a Role

There are many things you can do to. Here are just a few...

* Get the names of local organizations that work toward protecting water and get involved. * Think about what you eat. A kilogram of meat requires 5 to 20 times more water to produce than is used to produce a kilogram of cereal. The average North-American uses 5,000 liters/day to feed itself; with half going to meat production alone. Eating a hamburger is equal to a two and half hour shower! * Install a water saving toilet. Non-efficient toilets use nearly one-third of a home's total water consumption. A new toilet could cut up to 45,000 liters of water use per year. * Use environmentally friendly hygiene and cleaning products. It will help keep water supplies cleaner. * Bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more than tap water. Annually, $100 billion is spent on bottled water around the globe. Just a quarter of that amount would provide access to safe drinking water to the whole planet. * It takes 10 liters of water to make a sheet of paper. The pulp and paper industry is the third largest water polluter, producing over 100,000 tons of toxic refuse each year. Use both sides of a piece of paper or think before printing emails and other documents.

Today, there are over 50,000 people signed up to make a difference with ONE DROP.

“Today, I continue to dream of a fairer, more just world - a world where every human being has access to clean water and can live in dignity and health. The wildest dreams can come true when we all invest our energy, willpower and creativity. One drop at a time, one step at a time, we can do it. We can create a ripple effect,” said Laliberté.

What the Drop of Water Had to Say a fable by Yann Martel

Clowning Around


Sun and Moon were arguing, again.

Brother and sister, they’d wandered the Universe

and found in this corner a good home.

Sun adored being the star of the show,

so many admiring planets spinning in his orbit.

Moon, more modest, was drawn to Earth.

Now Moon was looking at her brother glumly.

“What’s the matter?” asked Sun.

“My planet is drying up,” replied Moon.

“Earth, that speck of dirt? Why do you care?”

“Because it’s my garden. I love Earth,” Moon pouted,

as she slid into a lunar eclipse so she wouldn’t have to see her brother.

“If Earth is drying up,” continued Sun, “why don’t you adopt a nicer planet?

There’s Saturn, for example, or Jupiter, they’re both impressive.”

“You don’t understand anything. You’re the dimmest of stars!” bawled Moon.

“Is that so?” huffed Sun, bursting with solar storms.

“Excuse me,” came a small voice from planet Earth.

“What?” said Sun and Moon together. “Who are you?”

“I’m a drop of water,” said Drop of Water. “I need your help.”


Drop of Water spoke:

“I take many forms, so that all may be pleased.

I can be liquid, as heavy as gold,

as silky as music,

as quenching as poetry.

I can soothe dry throats

and make fields blossom.

I can rush through pipes,

gushing into pots and sinks,

so that while I work,

children may go to school.”

Rio de Janeiro

Drop of Water continued:

“Fresh, I can push and flow down the broadest arteries,

Amazon, Mississippi, Danube, Nile, Euphrates, Volga, Yangtze, Mekong,

so that great green bodies might be fed.

Salty, I can answer the needs of sailors and seas,

so that fish and ships might float in the blue.

And salty or fresh, from blue oceans or green jungles,

I am the softness in the breath of lungs

that restore the planet.”


“So what’s the problem?” interrupted Sun.

“Look at those beaches, there, there and there,” pointed Moon.

“The ones covered in thick, oozing black?” asked Sun.

“Those very ones,” said unhappy Moon.

“I rather like them. They take my heat in very well.”

“Perhaps, but look at the sad eyes peering through,

blinking seabirds, and hear the coughing fish, gasping for air.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” said Sun, looking closer.

“And look at those rivers and oceans, there, there and there” pointed Moon again.

“With the lovely slicks? My light plays off them so beautifully,” said Sun.

“But look at the lifelessness beneath them.

They’re floating graveyards,” replied Moon.

“I hadn’t noticed,” said Sun, looking closer.

New York

Drop of Water spoke again:

“I can be smaller too, so small that sometimes I,

a drop, am a whale next to the water molecules I meet,

who tirelessly support all living matter,

as discreet as the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.

No sap or blood can flow without water in it.

There’s no life that doesn’t know me intimately,

there’s no life that can live without me.

I am the heart and soul, the primeval soup,

of all that cares. I arrive with birth and depart with death.”

Mexico City

“I can mix the fresh and the salty too, for the good of all,

as when the salty sweat of the farmer pours from the furrow of his brow

into the furrow of the earth he has freshly watered.

Of all that moves, I am proudest of the slow growth of grains,

who never forget to nurture their soul, which they call moisture.

Of all the clothes I can wear hanging in my closet,

I am proudest of the one called food.

When I am food, I am celebrated by all

and every mouth seeks to undress me.”


Drop of Water went on:

“I can also be mist, supplying fogs, clouds and morning dews,

or I can be ice, sharing my cool with drinks and penguins. So you see,

I’m pure and simple, eager to please, willing to accommodate.

Drink me, heat me, freeze me, sprinkle me, swim in me,

I give myself to each and every with open heart,

yet so many exploit me.

My dear brothers Chad and Aral are vanishing,

and my sweet Murray-Darling is most undarling.

If I cannot move freely and abundantly,

how can I give freely and abundantly?”


Sun, struck by concern, peered harder still, and the day became hot.

“What are those ants that crawl in your garden?” Sun asked his sister.

Moon replied, “They’re called humans, my brother.”

“And what do you think of humans, Moon?”

“They’re beautiful but they’re foolish.

When there’s trouble in the world, the men send their women home,

and when there’s trouble in the home, the women send their men out,

so that too often humans are thinking with only half their brains.

They forget what it was like when they were children,

when boys and girls played as equals, splashing water on each other.

Instead women and girls carry jars of water on their heads

to-and-fro from well to home, leaving exhausted prints in the sand.

Are we not all equal before God?”


“And what are humans doing about their plight?” asked Sun.

Drop of Water replied: “Though blameless, I have been judged

and unfairly condemned. I am treated like a raw material.

Oil, that impenitent criminal, mocks me,

‘Can you not turn to vapour? Then save yourself and me!’

I remind Oil that Jesus on the Cross had only one complaint:

‘I am thirsty.’

His final attachment to life on Earth was precious water.

Have we still not learned that with loving kindness

we should slake the thirst not only of gods but of each other?

Surely what He deserved by grace, we deserve by right.

To partake of water is no less a need than to partake of love.

Oil laughs, as remorseless as vinegar.”


“I despair,” said Drop of Water, “and I retreat to colder, calmer climes.

I seek peace in the meditation of ice.

Icebergs are Buddhist monks I send forth,

released into the world from the great monasteries of the Poles.

Their mantra is the blue light humming within their frozen cores.

Their message is peace and oneness,

but alas they simply vanish.

Every year monks leave me and never return.”


“Still I give,” continued Drop of Water, “or I take, as the need may be.

So when I am holy Ganges, and I am always holy Ganges,

I give to the living and I take away the dead.

Nothing has more good karma than water,

which never seeks release from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth,

but always returns to serve others.”

Santa Monica

“I am moved by your plight,” said Sun.

“What do other creatures say,

the ones that aren’t half-brained?”

Drop of Water replied:

“The ones that live within me are constant in their lament.

They weep and give me their salty tears in hopes of nourishing me.

From shrill krill to barking sharks to blues-singing whales,

all mourn the ruination of their neighbourhood.

As for creatures of the land,

they come to see me every hot day,

bears to my lakes,

hippos to my rivers,

zebras to my water holes,

and all drop their heads in sadness.

Lastly the creatures of the sky,

their misery is such that they buckle and plummet,

and those that can float find comfort directly on me,

while those that would sink seek refuge in lifeboats they call nests.”


Sun turned to his sister Moon and said:

“You are right to love your garden.

It is beautiful.

Water is a hundred billion clasped hands,

a great chain that embraces the globe,

I see that now.

This planet is like no other I know,

a solitary kite in the sky,

a whistle in the dark,

a song amid the dreary,

a dance in the middle of foot-dragging,

a dazzle of colour splashed onto a drab wall.

Truly this garden of yours is a gem,

a sapphire of incomparable blue.”


“Is there any hope?” asked Sun and Moon together.

“Oh yes,” said Drop of Water.

“In the beginning was water

and to water there is no end.

Water is a child, holder of future,

so let the child be.

It’s a question of balance,

between abundance and scarcity,

between use and abuse.

A day will come soon, I hope,

when I will be owned by none and shared by all,

when I will be sullied by none and nourish all,

when I will be taken freely and given freely.

In the beginning was water

and to water there is no end.

Water is a child, holder of future,

so let the child be.

A day will come soon, I hope,

when we will start over,

at peace with water,

at peace with our future,

one planet, one drop.”

What the drop of water had to say - Copyright © 2009 Yann Martel by arrangement with Westwood Creative Artists Ltd.