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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, Economics major ’14, Emily God­ward, International Affairs major ’17, Oceane Lan­greney, Human Services major ‘16, and Colleen Maney, Political Science/International Affairs combined major ‘14—visited Bali as part of Global Corps Bali, a dia­logue 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.

– By Joe O’Connell

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