Three student entrepreneurs are in a race to solve the problem of sanitary toilets for 4.2 billion people worldwide while helping farmers grow better crops.
For centuries, environmentalists have been preoccupied with finding sustainable ways to nourish the earth. On the other hand, 4.2 billion people worldwide do not have access to sanitary toilets. At what juncture do these two random facts meet? At the intersection between student entrepreneurship and a globally acclaimed business startup challenge. Three 4th year School of Law students at the American University of Nigeria (AUN) have matched the problem of waste disposal and unsafe fertilizer use with a novel solution. Aisha Muniru Mai, Amira Hamid Abbo and Hauwa Hamidu built a model lavatory to help turn faeces into plant food.
As one may imagine, the project cunningly code named: Number Two is quite the conversation starter for the young women. The matter of bowel movements is a delicate subject not to be broached in civil company but the three young women had to stand in front of an audience to extol the virtues of a toilet that turns bowel movements into a gold mine for mother nature. The three ladies make up AUN’s team Global Citizens which clinched top spot in Abuja Regionals for this year’s Hult Prize.
Supported by former US President Bill Clinton, the Hult Prize is a globally acclaimed social entrepreneurship challenge for profitable impact. The winning team will receive seed capital; a grand prize of 1 million dollars(USD). All they have to do is prove their project solves a global issue and impacts positively on the environment.
Team Global Citizens member, Aisha is definitely vested in improving the environment. “For me it’s the belief that my actions and voice matters. It’s the understanding that with the little I have I can make the world a better place for someone.” This she said motivates her to be a global citizen. Nevertheless, it seems their entry into the Hult Prize was predestined by a strong hand of faith. The accidental entrepreneurs were thrust into the competition with just hours to spare. As the deadline for applications loomed, armed only with the residual knowledge of introductory entrepreneurship courses from their first year, the girls raced against time to enter their pitch for the campus selection stage. “We basically had one day to come up with a business plan, pitch it to the judges to get to the finals” Amira recalled. Judging by the final results, their frenzied pitch was worth the hassle.
Amid the pressure, Hauwa looked to familial support to stay adrift “I love pushing myself and exploring new opportunities. My family supports me wholeheartedly through all my endeavors. They are always willing to listen to our Number Two business pitch so they can give us tips from an unbiased point of view”. Hauwa also believes a strong network of family and the AUN community were greatly instrumental to their success “Hult Prize Campus Director Mirian Fonkam and Faculty Advisor Mr Fardeen Dodo were ever ready to avail their knowledge and experience to help us succeed. My friends and colleagues have also encouraged and supported our cause immensely. Moreover, beloved Professors like Jennifer & Ferdinand Che took time of their busy schedules numerous times to counsel, listen, and assist us in any way they could.”
These college connections proved to be a key recipe for success as the budding lawyers cum entrepreneurs found AUN’s liberal arts education gave them a segue to test the waters outside their core studies. “As a future lawyer, venturing into another profession while practicing is not really encouraged if that venture is not agriculture centered. Number Two is an agricultural business which has the potential of being highly profitable and environmentally friendly. So, why not just kill 2 birds with one stone? Hence, I can be a lawyer, and also a self-employed Global Citizen making a difference in my own way.” Said Amira.
“AUN provided us with a lot of support in the early stages of the birth of our business Number Two. The vast collection of individuals working at AUN all with their various specialties came in handy to different situations we were involved in. The vast expertise of staff and their support so far has been highly appreciated.”Amira further explained.
For Hauwa Hamidu, Amira Hamid Abbo and Aisha Muniru Mai, the journey to becoming student entrepreneurs at AUN was by chance. All three young women joined AUN’s School of Law with hopes of becoming legal luminaries. Now in their fourth year the three musketeers decided to make the most of their school years before beginning the next phase of their lives.
The Hult prize was not their first foray into AUN’s rich extra-curricular culture. All three were part of the Model United Nations team which made a trip to New York in 2019 courtesy of AUN to deliberate on pressing global issues. Now they are on track, one step further towards achieving another great feat. “Winning Hult would be amazing! Right now as we speak Hult Prize has made me better because I wake up every day with purpose and the zeal to make a difference. So, winning Hult would provide me with the tools to achieve that.” Said Aisha.
AUN’s quiet reflective environment away from the mad dash of Nigeria’s capital cities provided a serene environment for team Global Citizens to fine-tune their craft. They put to good use the Robert Pastor Library for brainstorming sessions and often powered through cafeteria lunches talking about how to improve their project while fellow students passed them by on their merry way, oblivious of the ground-breaking ideas the three ladies were unraveling to help make the world a better place. AUN’s team Global Citizens is incredibly driven and passionate. Mid May, the team pitched online to executives of Jaiz Bank, which is a potential investor in their start-up. Additionally, a former Hult Prize Foundation staff agreed to mentor the team throughout their developmental stages.
Team Global Citizens is now actively on the lookout for sponsors, investors and donations to make more samples of their prototype to show at the next level. In the run-up to the 2020 Hult Prize, over three hundred thousand students from all over the world vied for the prestigious prize. Having crossed that hurdle, the ladies are now optimistic they have a good chance of bringing home this amazing victory.