Jack Sim, the founder of the Restroom Association of Singapore and World Toilet Organization, and a leading global advocate for sanitation. Formerly in the construction industry, he founded the World Toilet Organization in 2001, after attaining financial independence at age of 40 as a businessman, and deciding to devote the rest of his life to social work.
For “creating good will and bringing the subject into the open” and “mobilizing national support in providing on-the-ground expertise” he received the Schwab Foundation award for Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2001. He was elected a Fellow of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public in 2007, and as of fall 2007. He was assisting in the United Nations plans for the International Year of Sanitation in 2008. Sim was named one of the Heroes of the Environment for 2008 by Time Magazine.
Jack broke the global taboo around toilets and sanitation by bringing it to centre-stage with coverage in the global media with his unique mix of humour and serious facts.
Jack Sim was born in a slum in Singapore in 1957. At that time country had the British night-soil bucket system and it was very traumatic for a child to see everyone’s shit in the same bucket with the big houseflies and sanitary pads, etc. But he saw how good sanitation in Singapore transformed poor people into healthy productive middle-class folks once they had proper toilets. By 40, he had made some money but felt that since people normally die at 80, it’d be loss-making venture to sell time to buy more money. Because he cannot buy more time, he must not exchange it wastefully. So he looked for neglected issues in society that he could dedicate himself to and live a useful life and found that toilets were a taboo that nobody wanted to speak openly about. So he started to clean up Singapore’s public toilets and motivate the owners to clean up their act. Jack discovered there were 15 toilet associations around the world without a global coordinating body, so he started World Toilet Organization (WTO).
World Toilet Organization (WTO) is a global non-profit committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide. WTO empowers individuals through education, training and building local marketplace opportunities to advocate for clean and safe sanitation facilities in their communities. WTO established World Toilet Day and the World Toilet Summit in 2001; this was followed by the World Toilet College in 2005.
Through its various initiatives, WTO continues to provide an international platform for toilet associations, governments, academic institutions, foundations, UN agencies and corporate stakeholders to exchange knowledge and leverage media and corporate support in an effort to promote clean sanitation and public health policies. WTO achieved a key milestone for the global sanitation movement when 122 countries co-sponsored a UN resolution tabled by the Singapore government to designate 19 November, World Toilet Day as an official UN day.
World Toilet Organization was granted consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 2013.
Jack legitimized the issue of toilets and sanitation, and drawn much-needed attention to the issue before anybody was willing to talk about it. In 2013, in a breakthrough moment for the sanitation movement after 13 years of advocacy and mobilising global support for the severely-neglected sanitation crisis, WTO’s founding day on 19 November, was officially declared UN World Toilet Day. Jack was awarded the Singapore Green Plan Award 2012 by Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) for his contribution to Environment. In 2006, Jack was invited to launch The German Toilet Organisation in Berlin. He is also a founding member of American Restroom Association.
Impact made on the society on ground
As well as its massive global advocacy work, WTO also started the SaniShop franchise – a social enterprise, providing a market-based sanitation solution. The Sanishop model is successfully operating in Cambodia, India and Mozambique. It provides training to masons, and local sales agents, to produce and sell affordable toilets in their local communities, as well as raising awareness about the importance of toilets, and providing training on toilet maintenance.
WTO plans to launch a massive awareness and behavioural change program in India to reposition the toilet as a status symbol, and address open defecation. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat mission is a truly historic effort that has brought sanitation to the fore in India. This is an opportunity that must not fail. 111 million toilets will be built in 5 years, but Jack says, “We also need to ensure that people want to use toilets, and they don’t continue to defecate in the open. We want to complement the clean India mission by making the toilet a status symbol and an object of desire, to create demand and drive mind-set and behavioural change commensurate with the speed of toilet construction. We are going to need support from all sectors to make the toilet a status symbol, and to drive demand by making the toilet a fashionable lifestyle item: religious leaders, Bollywood celebrities, cricket players, the government, the private sector, and the media. We already made commitments from a two partners to join us to make this happen, and we are looking for others to partner with us for this program.” u