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Mr Jack Sim, or globally known as ‘Mr Toilet’, is the founder of the World Toilet Organisation (WTO). By the age of 40, he had set up 16 profitable businesses and chose to retire, switching his focus to pursuing more social work. In this time, he had Founded the Restroom Association of Singapore in 1998. World Toilet Organisation in 2001 and created the UN World Toilet Day (19 November) which is recognised by all 193 UN member states.
What did the road to founding the World Toilet Organisation look like? Was this something you have always wanted to pursue or was there a specific moment that set you on this path?
Mr Sim’s journey started off as Singapore was going through a period of significant economic growth, he claimed he was able to ‘ride’ this growth and set up 16 profitable businesses by the time he was in his 40s. At this point, he chose to retire, a decision that was fueled through the rationale of ‘making the most out of his time’. Once he had attained Financial Independence, he felt as though the better use of his time would be to help others as opposed to making more money. As put by Jack, “service is the highest value of exchange for time”. As someone who grew up in a ‘kampong’, Mr Sim did not have access to the proper toilet infrastructure most of us are lucky enough to experience. He was able to empathise and truly appreciate the importance of living with proper sanitary toilets, resultantly setting him on a mission to provide people all over the world with an adequate toilet system through the World Toilet Organisation (WTO). His approach to solving transnational issues such as universal sanitation revolved around enacting genuine change as opposed to ‘talking about the issue’, he wanted to take an act of prevention before waiting for an event that would incentivise us to take action.
There is often misconception amongst youths that they have limited impact in contributing to solving certain transnational challenges. How can we demystify this notion? What can the youth do to enact genuine change in these issues?
Mr Sim referred to the misconception that we often think the world is a very large place, whereas it is in fact a lot smaller than we think. Using the example of Singapore, one can often be limited by the ‘Islander’ mentality, whereas we should instead look for interdependent channels and opportunities beyond our borders. The second misconception Mr Sim spoke about was access resources, stating that we don’t need physical resources to enact genuine change. We instead need to possess an open mindset which acknowledges that all the resources we would need are accessible to us, our next step is simply to think about how we incentivise these resources to join us. For example, when Mr Sim did his sanitation work at the World Toilet Organisation, he spent the first seven years without a single employee or co-worker. He instead leveraged various tools such as the media, where he told poignant messages on the importance of toilets while smartly mixing a humorous element. This ended up evoking a considerably large following for Mr Sim. Thirteen years later, this morphed into what’s known as the UN World Toilet Day, a historic day every year which is recognized by all 193 member states in the UN. He referred that this model is largely applicable to all fields, whereby if we wish to solve a problem, we should learn to leverage the resources around us and acknowledge their incentive for helping us out.
Can you think back to what was perhaps the most challenging moment in your journey, how did you overcome this and what can the youth learn from it?
Very often, Mr Sim finds himself in a situation where he runs out of money, resultantly, this can often prompt people to leave his projects. However, he has always carried on despite the severity of the financial situation, reason being is that these problems he chases need to be solved sooner or later. Once he truly believed in the necessity of the cause, he claimed that it became a lot bigger than himself, it became about the mission; once we turn something into a mission, it is almost impossible to abandon this mission. This applies to all the tasks we embark on, if we fail to enjoy it and find a sense of passion behind it, we won’t be doing it to our full potential.
If you could leave the youth with one piece of advice, what would it be?
The advice given to us by Mr Sim wasn’t something we would usually come across in the usual interview, nonetheless it was incredibly pertinent. He stated that we should literally set a timer to the day we die, whether it’s 80, 90 or 100. We should pick a date and find a countdown timer which gives us a visual representation of the time we have left. This encapsulates how precious each day of our lives are. If we could acknowledge this and use it to motivate our daily actions, we will operate with a lot more passion and courage.
FROM THE GUEST STUDENT
Very honoured to be able to get his interest into the small projects that individual passionate students are trying to curate and make a small ripple of change within our own communities. Jack Sim is extremely down to earth in his advice and also his own business practices as he reminisces how he started his business previously and how he ended up where he is today. I personally felt that he has a radical character and is daring enough to try things that push boundaries – he mentions how he painted lamp posts and neighbourhoods and started movements just to extract creativity in a seemingly boring society. The best learning point I took away was about intention and how we should question the intention behind our every action taken.
– Kok Chung Ong, Environmental Engineering student at NUS