The Asian Entrepreneur speaks with Jack Sim, founder of World Toilet Organisation and BoP Hub about his entrepreneurial journey. He started the Restroom Association of Singapore in 1998, WTO in 2001 and the BOP HUB in 2011.
Improving the State of Toilet and Sanitation Globally
40% of the world still does not have access to proper sanitation. WTO aims to deliver sanitation sustainably. WTO started SaniShop training the poor to produce latrines and toilet shelters themselves which they sold at affordable prices locally and made a profit to grow their business.
This process of self-help creates local entrepreneurs, jobs and health. Realizing that business models can solve poverty challenges, Jack started the BOP HUB to help scale up solutions for every other poverty sectors like Energy, Housing, Water, Lighting, Cook stove, Education, and Health.
The opportunity and mission
There are 7 billion today but all goods and services are produced only for the 3 Billion rich and middle class at the Top of Pyramid. As business become very competitive and profits are thin at the TOP, Multi-nationals are now entering the Base of Pyramid BOP marketplace very rapidly where 4 Billion new customers represents the biggest unserved group of customers and due to their big numbers, profits is easier with economy of scale.
Asia is home to 71% of all poor people earning less than USD8 a day. This BOP is a fast growing sector for cellphones, micro-finance, mobile banking, and low cost housing, water, energy, sanitation, education, logistics, transport are just a few of the next big growth areas. In short, the poor needs everything in large quantities and at affordable prices. The BOP is worth USD 5 trillion and is a wonderful Blue Ocean as compared to the Red Ocean at the Top of the Pyramid.
BoP Hub, a non-profit service platform
BoP Hub is a platform to help businesses enter and compete in the BOP marketplace. BoP Hub searches out opportunities for entrepreneurs interested to foray into the BOP and connect them to all the necessary contacts and resources they might need. Our mission is to Design Business to End Poverty. Today, this marketplace is fragmented and all the players are uncoordinated. By aligning the ecosystem of social, political, technological and economic resources in a synergistic network, BoP Hub can make the demand and supply efficient with good distribution and low wastages converting into sustainable and profitable businesses that create entrepreneurs, jobs and quality of life for the BOP.
The journey from rags to riches
Jack was born in 1957 in poverty Singapore at a time where Singapore was poorer than Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka and Philippines. He witnessed the rapid economic growth in Singapore and how the quality of life improves as income increases. This gave Jack the confidence that poverty can be solved through market solutions and good governance.
By performing badly in school with no potential career path, Jack became an entrepreneur at age 24. He discovered that one does not need any qualifications to start a business and doing business is easier than studying. After a series of 16 profitable small/ medium businesses ranging from trading to manufacturing, real estate development and education, Jack retired at age 40 upon attaining financial independence.
Since, Jack have been working as a social entrepreneur for the last 17 years full time without pay and felt privileged to be able to serve humanity.
Life’s too short
Jack believes that life is just a journey of 80 years and there is a need to make the journey as meaningful as possible. At 57, he has slightly more than 8,000 days before his 80th birthday. Jack takes great joy when serving others. This enables his consciousness to expand and encourages him to make every day a meaningful one.
Bridging the knowledge gap
At the age of 42, Jack was interested to understand more about how government works. he enrolled at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to study a Master in Public Administration and graduated last year at age 56. He started teaching Social Entrepreneurship as Adjunct Professor for MBA students in Tel Aviv’s College of Management Academic Studies, Taylor’s University and National University of Singapore.
A fresh start
There was an economic recession in Singapore and there was a growing feeling of failure in businesses when Jack was at the age of 40. Coincidently, at that time, the Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said that the people should measure their graciousness against the cleanliness of their public toilets. This inspired Jack to start the Restroom Association of Singapore with the mission to clean up public toilets.
The response was very positive and he soon discovered that there were 15 toilet associations around the world, which then led to the creation of the World Toilet Organisation. The purpose was to have a global voice for toilets and sanitations. Since WTO’s agenda was quite revulsive combined with a unique mix of humour and serious facts, they were adored by the media and Sanitation/ Toilet Agenda came to center-stage so that people can feel legitimate to begin to speak and address these problems. Last year, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted WTO’s founding day 19 November as UN World Toilet Day.
The future for WTO and BoP Hub
Jack would like to transfer WTO to new younger leadership who can bring the mission’s impact to the next higher level. WTO is now 14 years old and have an immaculate track record. It is ready for the next generation of leaders to bring it forward. As for BOP HUB, Jack would like to find another group of leaders to work together to make this a very efficient network. The next phase of life for Jack will be perhaps more about teaching the next generation. Jack has adjunct appointments at National University of Singapore, Taylors University and do guest teaching widely at INSEAD, Yale, Berkeley and Singularity University.
The motivation and goal
The inspiration comes from the certainty of death. As each day passes it is one day near to the end of the journey. Jack aims to do his best and not waste the opportunity to do something good. There is too much for one person to do much and that is why Jack is passionate about creating movements for others to lead.
WTO aims for everyone on Earth to have a safe clean toilet anywhere anytime they need to use one; and the end to poverty within the next 30 years. With all the technology, money and talent available, it can certainly be done if we create a movement of collaborative integrated delivery where everyone plays a role that he or she does best.
United Nations and the World Toilet Day
Jack is grateful to the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affair for their dedication and hard work to make this happen. Without collaboration with the Singapore government, this would not be possible. Making WTO’s founding day UN World Toilet Day is a big milestone for the Sanitation Movement and with this legitimacy, everyone in the world can use it to leverage local and international support for their lobby for better sanitation conditions.
A whole new perspective
By connecting with people heart to heart Jack believes that people want to do good and survive doing so. Today, society is designed to encourage individualism and people may struggle when asked to be selfish. If we redesign our norms that a Billionaire is one who improves the lives of a billion people that would be a more relevant definition of success.
Jack trusts that people would prefer this new kind of relevant billionaire as compared to billionaires who focuses more on building their wealth.