7th November 2014

What can we learn from ‘Mr Toilet’?


I recently attended the TEDx event in Salford,where I heard from a raft of inspirational speakers who covered topics from teaching science in schools to the morality of crowdfunding businesses. However, one of the most well received speakers of the day was Jack Sim – aka Mr Toilet…

Born in Singapore, businessman Jack had an epiphany aged 40. What was the point of using the remainder of his life making more money? So he’s dedicated his life to social work. The cause which has led to his nickname ‘Mr Toilet’ is to break the silence surrounding the sanitation crisis and help the 40% of the global population who still do not have adequate sanitation.

So how do you get people to engage with the mundane and often embarrassing topic of the toilet?

Jack’s motto is what you don’t talk about, you can’t improve. Appropriate use of humour can help bring your audience on board so you can get your serious message across. The ‘Big Squat’ is held on World Toilet Day, encouraging people to squat for one minute to raise awareness and money for the WTO. Cue selfies, photos and videos of groups of people squatting in cities all other the world. By creating a fun concept, people are telling the WTO story themselves.

At the Tedex event, Jack had the audience laughing and enjoying his talk, and proved incredibly popular on the event’s Twitter feed. Not what you would initially expect from a man who had come to talk about toilets. His talk took the audience along on his journey from rich businessman to global charity champion. He also explained his model for socially sustainable business, proving that you don’t have to choose between making money and doing good. A concept championed by Tangerine client Interface through their involvement in the Net Works project.

Jack set up the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) in 2001 and by 2013 he had the issue on the global agenda, with the UN voting to make World Toilet Day (19th November) an official UN observance. His one man campaign became globally recognised by involving other established charity organisations and gathering support from figures such as Bill Clinton along the way.

The huge success of the WTO proves you don’t need a big budget to get an issue noticed. Creative ideas and a charismatic spokesperson can organically build engagement and awareness.