Jack Sim is a successful businessman who left his business to become the worldwide voice for sanitation, fighting for the dignity, rights, and health of the vulnerable and poor. He had a vision to provide humanity with clean, safe, and convenient public toilets, and has managed to bring attention to the issue of inadequate, unhygienic sanitation conditions in developing countries.
What was your initial idea when you founded World Toilet Organization? Why did you launch this project?
When I reached financial independence at the age of 40, I was looking for something useful to do before getting to 80. I read the newspaper one morning and the Prime Minister was lamenting that Singaporeans’ graciousness should be measured by the cleanliness of our public toilets. So I thought I would start a Restroom Association to clean up the public toilets in Singapore in 1998.
By 1999, I realised there were 15 toilet
associations around the world without headquarters. So I offered to form the World Toilet Organization and they all agreed to join in. Next, I realised that there were 2.4 billion people without proper toilets. So I felt this was a larger issue than dirty toilets and, ever since, I have been seeking to solve all toilet issues with powerful advocacy and market-based economic empowerment models.
But toilets were considered a disgusting subject. So I broke the taboo by mixing it with humour. I played the pun of WTO on World Trade Organization and it worked wonders. The global media loved it and their massive reporting eventually made WTO so popular that our work became legitimised as serious and formal support and funding also came by itself. We declared our founding day 19 November as World Toilet Day. Last year, we reached 1 billion audience level. I was amazed it grew so well.
Then, we started SaniShop, a micro-franchise to train local entrepreneurs to produce latrines and sell to local people at the very low cost of USD 35 per family. We sold 21,000 latrines in 3.5 years.
What motivates you day after day in your tasks as the founder and president of World Toilet Organisation? What do you like about being a social entrepreneur?
I feel useful and creative everyday doing things I have never done before, creating things that never existed before. I am learning so much. I started 6 other non-profit organisations while running WTO. What motivates me is knowing that I have very little time left before I die, so it is important for me to make the most of the time I have left and be useful.
Life now is addictive. I am greedy for more challenges each day. It is easy to solve problems and enjoyable when we can unite people to do good things for society.