SINGAPORE — Jack Sim has a new moniker these days and it makes him optimistic. According to Mr. Toilet himself, he’s in on the joke. “When we make people laugh, they listen. Although the subject is very embarrassing, it’s become very palatable.” This 57-year-old made his fortune in the construction industry. He wanted to make a meaningful contribution to the world, so he founded the organization that has toilets for the poor in focus.
The World Toilet Organization
The World Toilet Organization, founded by Jack Sim in Singapore in 2001, has made a vast difference in the sanitation and normalcy of toilets in third-world communities. Projects funded by the World Toilet Organization in Cambodia, Singapore, China and now Australia have changed the way impoverished people think about sanitation, and have improved their lives. This nonprofit coalition of leaders from more than 40 countries tries to come up with innovative solutions to tackle the world’s sanitation and water problems.
As recently as 2015, around one billion people or 15 percent of the total global population still practiced open defecation, or rather, people were still going in open fields, latrine trenches and the same water sources where they drink from instead of toilets known to most of the people today. The lack of sanitation results in 1,000 dead children as a result of completely preventable diarrheal diseases.
It is not an exaggeration to say that adequate toilets and sanitation can save human lives. In addition, the very access to toilets can significantly improve living conditions. Clean, safe and secure toilets also mean that more girls can attend school when menstruating. Investing in toilets makes fiscal sense, too. For every $1 spent on water sanitation a $4 return is created in reduced health care costs. Sanitation means less sick people, and less sick people mean more robust economies.
Work of SaniShop
In 2009, The World Toilet Organization launched the SaniShop in Cambodia. The project is a social enterprise that improves sanitation conditions by empowering local entrepreneurs. The SaniShop is a business model that trains local people how to build and install toilets, essentially running their own stores to stimulate demand in a community and raise awareness about proper toileting and sanitation.
The SaniShop has fulfilled one of Jack Sim’s loftiest goals. As he says, poverty can be transformed if a person thinks of it from an entrepreneurial point of view. So, in order to resolve the issue, people need to be taught to produce the toilet. This drives supply and demand. If everything is efficient enough, the problem can be solved. Since SaniShop Cambodia was launched, over 11,000 household latrines have been installed.
World Toilet Day
The positive impact of the World Toilet Organization has even made the United Nations take notice. The U.N. has partnered with the World Toilet Organization to create an observance day called World Toilet Day to inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. For the U.N., World Toilet Day is all about achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is to ensure availability and sustainable management of sanitation and water for all by 2030.
World Toilet Day is held on November 19 each year. For Mr. Toilet, World Toilet Day is another big step in raising awareness. “Having a toilet has to become a norm and it has to happen very quickly,” says Jack Sim. “The first thing is to get people to discuss it. Then they’ll realize it’s unfair and take action.”
Some might contend that giving so much attention to toilets is an odd, or even ineffectual, means of addressing the global sanitation crisis, but the World Toilet Organization and Mr. Toilet’s optimistic approach have proven naysayers wrong. The proof is in every flush of the toilets found in impoverished homes worldwide.
– Rachel Kingsley