Tackling the toilet taboo with World Toilet Day champion Jack Sim

Date: 11th November 2016

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21 November 2016

Following World Toilet Day, WSSCC Membership Officer Daniela Valencia caught up with long-standing member and founder of the World Toilet Organization, Mr. Jack Sim. In our interview below, he shares his reflections on this year’s celebrations, the progress achieved to date, persisting challenges and his words of wisdom for WSSCC members who are fighting to increase access to basic sanitation and hygiene for the 2.4 billion people that still lack access today.

WSSCC: Mr. Sim, what are your reflections on this year’s World Toilet Day?

Jack Sim: It has been 16 years of hard work. In the beginning, the subject was a taboo and embarrassing to discuss. At the time, access to toilets was framed as a water issue rather than a sanitation issue to be addressed by those working in the water sector and this proved challenging to overcome.

Had it remained solely a water issue, it would have been drowned out and overlooked as the water sector covers such a wide range of areas. Sanitation has been seen as the less glamorous issue and yet we have managed to turn it into a movement that brings all people together. WSSCC was one of the earliest supporter of World Toilet Day alongside other key organizations before being officially recognized by the UN.

This was crucial in helping the movement gain momentum and gather the attention of the media. The idea of seeing everyone as a global citizen and giving respect to shit was very important.

WSSCC: Despite the gains made, approximately 1/3 of the global population still lacks access to adequate toilets. Can you tell us what keeps you motivated year after year, to continue fighting for access to improved sanitation and hygiene for all?

Jack Sim: When I began my work in 2001, there were 2.4 billion people without access to proper sanitation which then increased to 2.6 billion. Now, it is 2.4 billion and going down. The big ship has turned the corner despite population growth during this period.

We cannot stop until every single human being on the planet has access to proper sanitation wherever they are, not just at home but in school, workplaces and religious centres, slums etc. We are not always at home. We are working, studying and, for this reason, we need proper sanitation and hygiene for everyone, everywhere. Having access improves quality of life and human dignity.

We also need to pay attention to management of toilets’ waste, which still needs proper treatment to avoid polluting the environment, to have clean water to bath and prevent illness. The work that remains is immense and this is what motivates me.

WSSCC: You’ve been widely recognized for your contribution to the world of WASH and have emerged as a successful sanitation advocate. What advice do you have for your fellow WSSCC members who are looking for innovative ways to advocate for WASH at local and level national?

Jack Sim: Find what you are good at and contribute by doing work in that area. Find a way to advance the cause by using those skills. Whether you are an expert in technology, advocacy, implementation or resource mobilization, focus on that.

You also need to remember to work in alignment with everyone else, don’t forget that you are just one part of a broader, concerted effort that is needed to really solve the problem at hand. Often, we are so occupied with the work we do, that we forget to think about what others are doing and how they could help us meet our goals through faster, cheaper, better and even easier means. If we can share knowledge, tools, resources etc., we can help each other do our jobs better and in turn, save time, be more effective and a greater number of people.

It means informing ourselves, recognize others, appreciate what they are doing and help them where you can. If you help them, they will help you. That behaviour and collective effect is what allows you to move beyond a zero sum game approach to multiplier effect whereby the benefits are multiplied exponentially as more actors join and contribute to common goals.

WSSCC: We have over 3000 members across 100 countries and are committed to strengthening our membership. Based on your experience, can you tell me why is it important that organizations like WSSCC, bring together actors from different sectors (i.e. government, academia etc.) to harness their experience and knowledge?

Jack Sim: It’s important that we use knowledge and experience in alignment with other actors.

What we need to do is find out how different sector actors can work together for mutual benefit so as to unlock the potential synergy. What WSSCC can do is, is exactly that, find out how that could work and tap into it.

We need to have members in every location, to bring experience and knowledge from everywhere. We then need to be able to share it in a way that is useful. Sharing takes place when people use the knowledge, tips, and insight gained from one another. This would increase WSSCC’s impact and give it an even more powerful role. Sharing can create great motivation for a larger number of people and allow more tangible results to be realised.

WSSCC: Mr. Sim, do you have any other message that you’d like to share with WSSCC members?

Jack Sim: I would like to know more about what WSSCC members believe is needed to allow greater learning from each other, knowledge-sharing and cross-collaboration. I encourage you to submit any ideas and recommendations that you have to WSSCC by clicking here!

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