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Turning water into rice

A group of Northeastern students on a Dialogue of Civilizations program to Singaraja, Bali, last summer had their sights set on making a difference in the lives of the town’s young orphans. With that goal in mind, they developed a proposal for a social enterprise that would provide purified water to local schools and food to a local orphanage.

The young humanitarians named their proposed venture Toya Wirasa, which translates to “watering your shared emotions” in Bahas Indonesian.

Last week, they learned their business plan had been accepted to the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in Phoenix this March.

The CGI U was launched by former President Bill Clinton in 2007 and convenes students, innovators, thought leaders, and civically engaged celebrities to discuss and develop innovative solutions to global challenges. About 1,200 such leaders are expected to attend the 2014 conference at Arizona State University.

The students—Anette Blystad, SSH ’14, Emily Godward, SSH ’17, Oceane Langreney, SSH ‘16, and Colleen Maney, SSH ‘14—visited Bali as part of Global Corps Bali, a Dialogue of Civilizations program run by international affairs assistant professor Denise Horn.

Open to Northeastern students of any major or college, Dialogue programs aim to connect students with their peers in different national, cultural, political, and social environments and provide them with a global experience that builds upon their academic studies in Boston.

“The Global Corps Bali model is interesting because you work side-by-side with Balinese students,” Maney said, noting that two such students helped create Toya Wirasa’s business plan. “I know that was a big draw for me because it added a totally different perspective and dynamic to my learning.”

In addition to providing food for children, the group’s plan aims to create a self-sustainable enterprise that would help reduce the orphanage’s dependence on monetary donations. Toya Wirasa’s utility, they said, lies in its potential to tap into the current water purification market in conjunction with local schools and work with nonprofits to donate rice to the orphanage.

“We decided from the beginning we wanted to work with children and specifically orphans because there were a lot in the area,” said Langreney, one of three group members who will attend this spring’s conference. “It was just figuring out how we could help them in a sustainable manner.”

The students noted that their first few project ideas failed, but said their shortcomings gave them the opportunity to focus on a more solvable problem. “The Dialogue’s structure is great because it made us fail a couple times so we could understand what we were doing wrong and then improve,” explained Blystad.

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