Sanitation: The brown issue nobody wants to talk about, but Jack Sim won’t let it go unnoticed

“It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as people get toilets,” says Jack Sim, the founder of the World Toilet Organization.

At the age of 40, Jack was the proud owner of 16 companies, which gave him enough money to retire. He said, “Everyone will die one day, so I asked myself the purpose of life.”

According to Sim, he decided to spend his time on a purpose that could give the highest value. It was the service to society and the service that nobody wanted to do – to work for sanitation or make toilets.

In 2020, at least 22 per cent of people still lack basic sanitation services. Additionally, 46 per cent of the world’s population did not have access to proper sewage treatment despite the known adverse effects on health. It does not seem to reach the UN goal of making basic sanitation and water access available to everyone by 2030.

Sim said that people tend to pay more attention to environmental issues, particularly blue and green, compared to less glamorous brown issues such as sanitation. 

This makes it difficult for companies to showcase their efforts towards improving sanitation; thus, highlighting environmental initiatives like planting trees or providing water was easier, instead of talking about sanitation efforts, he added.

“Through our persistent efforts, the United Nations General Assembly declared the founding day of WTO – the 19th of November as World Toilet Day, which helped bring attention to the sanitation issue and improve its standing,” said Sim.

Worked with different governments

Sim said, “Since 2004, our efforts have successfully encouraged the Chinese government to prioritise sanitation, resulting in the remarkable cleanliness of all public toilets.”

In India, the team began working towards better sanitation in 2007, under the leadership of President Kalam, in collaboration with Sulabh International and the Crown Prince of the Netherlands.

At that time, Jairam Ramesh made efforts when he was the Union Minister of Rural Development. Then Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign helped India achieve the status of open defecation free in 2019, Sim said.

He also worked with the Brazilian government in raising 10 billion USD in investment towards sewage treatment plans since 2019.

Sim added: “Further, we convinced the Senate to change the law, allowing private-public partnerships to aid in the process. With a new president in office, there is a need to push for increased investment of up to 150 billion dollars to ensure the successful implementation of  waste water treatment in all of Brazil.”

Last year, we worked with Nigeria, where all 36 states are now striving towards open defecation-free status, and we plan to continue our support to achieve this goal, he added.

A lot has been done, and a lot needs to be done

As per Sim, several big countries, including China, India, Brazil, and Nigeria, have improved people’s lives. However, many countries, such as Pakistan, parts of Africa, Latin America, and some ASEAN countries, still need to prioritise sanitation.

It is widely believed that spending money on sanitation may be perceived as expensive, but not investing in it is even more costly. Lack of hygiene leads to poor health, low productivity, and economic stagnation. Moreover, sick people in a country hinder its growth potential and can result in a loss of tourism income.

Sim and the team are now working with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to build a strategy to convince governments in Asia to increase their priority for loans for water and sanitation.

“They are borrowing for road infrastructure, power plants, and more but little to no focus on sanitation,” said Sim.

Need to convince

The issue of toilets requires one to convince others of its importance. While talking to a government, government officials or anybody, you must convince his aspirations.

For example, if a politician’s aspiration is to win an election, be popular, and stay in power, and a toilet can give them a ticket to achieve the same, they will build toilets.

It’s important to present the story of the toilet in a captivating manner. One must strive to make it an alluring and desirable object through the skilful use of narrative and framing. By conducting thorough research and referencing reliable sources, one can provide the necessary information to a bureaucrat when they require evidence to support their cost-benefit analysis.

Then comes the movie stars like Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, and others, who can help spread the word.

“We leverage everyone, incentivise them, and they do the job,” said Sim.


Although it may be difficult to contemplate, death is a certainty for all of us.

Sim said, “Instead of wasting time and energy on quarrels and insignificant matters, consider setting a mental countdown clock to remind yourself of the preciousness of life.”

“Focus on finding purpose and meaning, whatever that may be for you, and pursue it with passion and dedication,” Sim concluded.

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