Drive to export students' cheap water plan

A group of MBA students at the Hult International Business School in Dubai hatched a plan to produce cheap drinking water and use toilet waste for fuel and fertiliser.

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DUBAI // A group of MBA students are still hoping to turn the concept they devised for a $1 million (Dh 3.6m) safe drinking water and sanitation challenge into reality.

The Hult Global Case Challenge was staged in association with the Clinton Global Initiative, which was set up by the former US president Bill Clinton to produce solutions to pressing global problems, and Water.org - a charity co-founded by the film star Matt Damon.

The five members of the team at Hult International Business School in Dubai, which came second to an Italian contingent at regional finals in the emirate in March, found a way to provide cheap drinking water and turn waste into fuel and fertiliser.

Competing in other regional finals were teams from Hult campuses in the US, London and Shanghai as well as top international institutions including Harvard Business School, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and INSEAD.

"We called our project the Life Centre because it was designed to provide not only water and sanitation facilities but also to bring the community together by providing ancillary services," said Orville D'Souza, a team member who fits his studies around a full-time job as a business development executive in marketing for Ras al Khaimah Tourism.

One segment was a water station that used basic technology to filter water at a cost of just two cents per litre. Another involved toilets.

"The waste from the toilets would be converted very cheaply into biogas, to be used as cooking gas, and fertiliser, which we would sell to farmers," said Mr D'Souza. "This would make a good profit, which would be put back into the project to pay for more centres."

Although their dream of winning the challenge's top prize is over, the students envisage using their ideas to serve populations of up to 500,000, first in India's cities, then Nigeria's. Both countries have an ample water supply from rivers and groundwater, but a shortage of safe drinking water.

"Right now we still busy doing our MBAs and getting a job, but this project is still very passionately in our hearts," said Mr D'Souza. "We want to take this idea forward because this is our baby and we believe in it. Making a difference to people's lives is a big motivation and we want to do it."

The other members of the Dubai team are Anna-Maria Anesti, 31, from Greece, Marta Walus, 27, from Poland, Canadian Sami Arafeh, 29, and Oussama Alachkar, 44, from Lebanon. Mr Clinton announced the challenge winner, a team from the UK's Cambridge University who passed on their cash prize to Water.org, at a ceremony in New York on April 28.