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The Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) invited Mr Jack Sim, Founder of World Toilet Organisation to speak at its Annual Co-operative Leaders’ Conference (ACLC) in April 2019.  At the conference, Jack spoke on his experience in starting the World Toilet Organisation to campaign for better sanitation standards in toilets worldwide. As a result, this has created a massive transformative movement. He also spoke on another movement, BoP Hub which focused on future business opportunities involving the less fortunate in society. Jack believes that the co-operative model is best suited for BoP Hub.

The Co-operator is glad to have the opportunity to interview Mr Jack Sim, Founder of World Toilet Organisation and BoP Hub for the June issue.

 

A billionaire is not one with billions in his bank account. He is one who helps billions of people.

- Jack Sim, Founder of World Toilet Organisation and BoP Hub

Jacksim WtoThinking out of the box seems second nature to Jack. It explains the choice of his social project.

To most, answering nature calls is a very private matter, but Jack chose to take this to the world stage. He founded the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) in 2001 with the mission to build toilets for the poor.

Far from going it alone, the WTO makes toilet-building everyone’s business. Jack’s work takes him all over the globe, covering countries from the first world to the third, from Ireland to India, and South Africa to Samoa.  He initiated and led many discussions with politicians, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), institutions and investors.

Jack, whose work has earned him the nickname “Mr Toilet”, explained: “There are about 2.6 billion people worldwide who do not have access to toilets. They live in some of the world’s poorest areas. Open defecation is a serious problem. Air-borne and water-borne diseases are real, everyday threats. Imagine a river that is filled with human wastes. This river is also where the local community drinks from and washes in. The situation is a ticking time bomb, a big public health concern. The lack of sanitation facilities in schools poses challenges for girls to observe menstruation hygiene.”

“We need to first convince leaders of these countries the need to build toilets. We then mobilise support and funding for this effort. It is not an easy conversation for certain people or culture. When we organise public outreach, we partner with celebrities and media companies to reach out in the most effective way. We incorporate humour to break certain taboos,” he continued.

Since its inception, the WTO has made inroads worldwide - 53 countries and still counting.  In the province of Andhra Pradesh, India alone, six million toilets have been built. At the state level, President Narendra Modi has committed to build 100,000 million toilets across India.

For his contributions to humanity and the environment, Jack has received many awards and accolades: Time Magazine Hero of the Environment 2008; Channel News Asia’s Asian of the Year 2010; Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Points of Light Award 2016; and Luxembourg Peace Prize 2018, to name a few. The most important milestone, and endorsement of the WTO’s work, is the declaration of 19 November as World Toilet Day by the United Nations in 2016. It beckons new opportunities for the WTO to extend the reach of its work.

His involvement in the WTO cause over the years has led to the appreciation of the scale of global poverty.  “If you picture the world’s population profile as a pyramid, the poor are at the bottom of the pyramid as they constitute the largest group - 4 billion of them. There’s so much potential for change to unlock.  Imagine if we empower each of them to improve their lot in life, what a different world it would be,” Jack enthused.


The co-operative approach is efficient. It aggregates demand and supply, and mobilises resources to where they are needed quickly, guided by proven business models and best practices.

 

Putting on his visionary thinking cap once again, Jack conceptualised the Bottom of Pyramid Hub (BoP Hub) in 2011 with the mission to free BoP communities from poverty.  The Hub does this through the creation of efficient market places. It will be a vibrant ecosystem that transcends physical borders, where businesses come together to co-create, co-design and co-distribute goods and services, in an environment of co-operation and mutual respect. Here, members choose collaboration over competition as the preferred way to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes - the co-operative way.

Jack explained, citing an example: “Take for instance a spice farmer in an Indonesian village who sells chilli to the middleman. He is paid little because of the involvement of multiple intermediaries in the agricultural value chain. Under the BoP Hub, a social entrepreneur will be identified to process and package the spice and distribute the end product, bottled chilli sauce, and the farmer is given a stake in the enterprise. The business benefits from the use of technology and best practices. The farmer’s earning potential increases with the improved product and a distribution channel.  It’s a fair and just deal.”


The co-operative benefits not just the individual farmer, but governments working to promote economic growth. “What has worked well for the farmer can be replicated across communities and provinces, creating a multiplier effect on the country’s GDP. Similarly, what has worked well for spice, can be replicated to other food produce, creating several engines of growth at the same time,” Jack pointed out the power of scalability to create transformative changes. For social entrepreneurs and investors, the BoP Hub’s (business) matchmaking role helps identify where they can make a difference. The opportunities are limitless, for with economic growth, there will be demand from the population for more types of goods and services - education, healthcare, infrastructure development and IT.

“The co-operative approach is efficient. It aggregates demand and supply, and mobilises resources to where they are needed quickly, guided by proven business models and best practices. These capabilities make BoP Hub an accelerator platform. It could be the next economic pillar,” Jack said. There is strength in numbers; more entrepreneurs, MNCs and SMEs have found compelling reasons to come onboard. Enterprise Singapore, a government agency promoting and supporting enterprise development, will also be a part of it. The Hub will be located at World Trade Centre for the Poor, a 65,000-square foot building in Ubi, slated for completion in September 2019. The building is financed by loan and personal savings.


jacksim wto sncf aclc Jack Sim at ACLC 2019


Jack’s creativity and entrepreneurial flair inspire many. He is a sought-after speaker at events here and abroad. For the man himself, his figure of inspiration is his mother. Jack related that she was a beautician who provided affordable make-up services for wedding couples, 3,000 in total. She grew the business to include bridal gown rental and a range of relevant services, turning it into a one-stop marriage agency. “Most importantly, she was a nurturing mum and trusted me to do what was right,” he recounted fondly. This became a motivating force for Jack to go on and excel in life, unhindered by the lack of academic qualifications. He founded 16 profitable businesses, including the Australian International School and the biggest brick and tile factory in Malaysia. At 40, he attained financial independence and became a social entrepreneur. This turning point makes heads turn - many wonder why he chose not to stay in the comfort zone, carrying on business as usual and perpetuating his wealth?

“Nothing is perpetual, we all die one day. When that time comes, I ask myself which of these scenarios is more comforting. One last look at my bank account? Or the many lives that I have touched and made a difference to? It is clear to me what is more important,” Jack mused.

 


 

For budding social entrepreneurs, Jack offers some food for thought:  

  1. Start doing. Experiment and tweak along the way. Clarity comes from experience.
  2. Be focused on what is useful and important. Is it to impact lives? Or is it to satisfy the next want (... and the next) fuelled by the consumerist culture?
  3. In relating to others, the ‘feminine’ approach of nurturing and collaboration helps foster trust and consensus. A Mother who facilitates the family's health and progress as Mother Nature facilitates our ecosystem for sustainability. This will help us balance the current ‘masculine’ approach, which is characterised by competition and win-lose outcomes, breeds fear and tension. A good balance of Yin and Yang will bring us a kinder and more sustainable development model.

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