Alexandre Meunier Interviewed by Somuchpoker’s Gaelle Jaudon
Somuchpoker: We know the One Drop, a foundation created by Guy Laliberté that works for access to drinking water and hygiene, for its association with the WSOp and the creation of the Big One for one drop. But could you explain a little better for those who don’t know outside of poker how you work and what exactly you do?
Alexandre Meunier: There is a huge awareness in the world that there are inequalities in access to a wide variety of things and water is one of them. There are over billions of people in the world who do not have access to clean water in their homes or to hygiene and sanitation services. And that creates a whole range of problems, whether it’s even access to education or gender inequality, and the ability to live a healthy life. All of this is related to water issues. Guy Laliberté, who is a great traveler, quickly realized these issues and when he started his foundation 15 years ago. He quickly realized that this water issue was really a driving force to make many changes, which had to be addressed to have an effect on a multitude of issues for the planet.
One Drop does projects on a model called ABC for sustainability. A for access. Of course we need to have access to water, but we also need to develop autonomy so that people do not have to depend on organizations like ours in the future. Our goal is really to not be necessary once our work is done. The B for behavior, because one of the most important things is behavior change. It often happens that even if people have access to water, the way it is managed makes it unsustainable. Unfortunately there are thousands of dollars invested every year in infrastructure to bring water to the most remote areas of the world, but as there is no sustainable practice created around this infrastructure, more than 50% of these investments are thrown out the window after 12 months. That’s what we’re trying to do with One Drop, to bring new practices to existing projects to allow people to take ownership of these projects and create autonomy. To enable them to adopt the right behaviors to maintain these projects in place over the long term. Today, we have 14 projects in 11 countries, which should affect and help the lives of 2.3 million people. Each project represents interventions that last between 4 and 6 years and our largest project to date is Lazos de Agua, with the goal to provide access to drinking water and improved sanitation and hygiene to around 250,000 people in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Paraguay by the end of 2022. It is a very thorough work on each project, there is a lot of preparation and research.
SMP: You’re working from the office in Montreal actually, but how many are you? What is your structure?
AM: There are about 30 of us in Montreal and our organizational model means that we work with intervention partners in different locations. We have managers who are employed by One Drop in different places around the world and they manage local teams that work in other humanitarian organizations.
SMP: There are different areas of partnerships and themes within One Drop, you have One night for One Drop, which are gala evenings and shows, Art for one Drop, and of course All in for one drop in the poker world. How do you manage these areas which are all very different?
AM: We work 24 hours a day! But more seriously, we choose to work with partners who already have experience in each sector and we come up with our little extra. I think the WSOP example is very interesting. They have already built a great brand, they have great expertise in organizing tournaments. We went to them with a proposal, saying we had an idea that was totally new and a little bit crazy. It was the Big One for One Drop, the $1,000,000 buy-in No Limit Texas hold ’em tournament hosted at the WSOP in 2012, won by Antonio Esfandiari. A lot of people thought it was too crazy and that we would never have more than 8 or 10 players. We set a cap of 48 players and it was quickly reached, we even had to turn down 2 players!
We obviously have projects that we carry out on the field, but on the other hand we have to finance them, and as it happened with the poker world, we often start with a passion of Guy Laliberté. He is a huge inspiration for our organization, his creativity is part of his DNA. All the partnerships that have been created come from his passions, including Cirque du Soleil. Since the pandemic, we have not been able to have another One Night for One Drop, but we are back this year. We have just announced the return of a great event in Las Vegas in partnership with the great chef Alain Ducasse, the Cirque du Soleil and the MGM, which will take place at Mandala Bay on November 12. It will be a great gala show, which will replace the concept of One Night.
SMP: Las Vegas is an extremely important city for your organization. On your website I saw that $149 million has been raised since 2007, $58 million of which was in Las Vegas alone.
AM: We have a particular anchor in Vegas, whether it is of course with Cirque du Soleil but also the WSOP. Every 20 meters in Las Vegas you can see signs and casinos with Cirque du Soleil shows, there are 6 in all that operate daily. It’s a huge machine that has helped transform Las Vegas and opens a lot of doors for us in this city.
SMP: The WSOP $1,111 One More for One Drop No-Limit Hold’em tournament will be held on July 7th and is always a very popular event. Initially, many poker sites predicted the return of the million dollar buy-in Big One for One Drop this year, with 3.5% of the prize pool going to the foundation, the last one was in 2018 with Justin Bonomo winning. But finally no, why not do this event again?
AM: Yes it is true that the Big One for One Drop was a great success. By the way, the photo of Antonio Esfandiari’s 2012 victory with his father is still a photo that we are asked for very often. I also want to say that Dan Colman, who won in 2014, was a great gentleman with our organization. He had his reasons for not wanting to do an interview. He had a certain way with the media and certain things he didn’t like but with One Drop he was really great. I also read a lot of rumors about the Big One for One Drop coming back to the WSOP this year, which I found very amusing. People have been speculating that with the WSOP moving to Paris and Bally’s Hotel that there would be a big event like the Million Dollar One Drop. We would have loved it, but the poker world has changed a lot since 2012, even more so in 2017/2018. Very high buy-in tournaments like this one with an 11% rake have become unthinkable.
Before the first One Drop in 2012, the highest high roller had been a $100,000 tournament. We had just made poker history with this million dollar tournament, and that’s why a lot of people wanted to sign up too. They just wanted to be there, and didn’t really care about the prizepool in the end. But high rollers have come a long way since then, with many of the big casinos running events for $300,000 or more and no fees. So with all this new competition, even if we’re organizing a tournament for a good cause, asking for a $1 million tournament with lots of rake quickly becomes unthinkable. But I’ll be back for the One More for One Drop on July 7th, I go to the WSOP every year for our tournament because it’s so important to thank the people, both the WSOP staff and the thousands of players who come to participate. I want them to see that they really mean a lot to us and that we are grateful.
SMP: Last week was the first WSOP-Circuit in Africa with a Little one for one drop tournament at the Casino Plaza in Dakar. What was it like to have this first event in Africa, and I guess it’s a precursor to others?
AM: Yes, it was the first WSOP Circuit Festival in Africa and they were kind enough to include our tournament in the program. At the moment we are not in contact with any other casinos in Africa, it’s more the opportunity that came to us through the WSOP. For us it’s an ideal partner, we would follow it everywhere, so when they offered us this we didn’t ask any questions and went for it!
We are also very interested in Europe. We contacted a number of casinos to gauge interest and they all said they were very interested. All the casinos have been enthusiastic and want to contribute to this cause. Right now we are in discussions with about 10 casinos in 5 different countries, and we will soon be announcing new events that will be held in late 2022, both poker festivals and more recurring events. This is the concept we are proposing to the casinos, both the possibility to integrate a Little One for One Drop tournament into an existing festival, or to create a One Drop festival of its own with 4 or 5 tournaments. So far the response has been very good and these are the new features that will be introduced in 2023/2024.
SMP: In the end, what would you say is the most rewarding part and on the opposite the most frustrating in your job? Because I think you can face many difficulties too.
AM: There are many very satisfying things about our work, the first of course is also the most cliché. Through my work you see people having their lives transformed and that’s the foundation, that’s why I’ve done my whole career in the philanthropic sector. It’s something that’s very important to me and the number one factor in happiness and satisfaction. The other most interesting element is also to see the magic of an event starting. Whether it’s an event with Cirque du Soleil or whether it’s a poker tournament, when you see all the people there, all the excitement before the event starts… When the event finally starts there’s such a sense of satisfaction, to see these people who have come for us and to contribute to help the lives of thousands of people, and who are having a good time, it’s a great reward.
The most frustrating thing I would say is when we try to develop a new project but our way of presenting it doesn’t work and people don’t buy into our idea. We have to go back to the drawing board and find another way to convince them. We pay a lot of attention to the way we present projects to our future partners because they are the ones who will make change possible. So when we see in their eyes that they are not convinced and do not understand our ideas, we say to ourselves that we have not done our job well and it is of course very frustrating. We have an absolutely gigantic graveyard of projects, but… we also have a big fridge, ideas that are very good and feasible but sometimes don’t have the right timing! So we put them in the fridge and bring them out when the time is right.