When one mentions the acronym, WTO, we would immediately associate it with the World Trade Organisation. Little did many know that we have our very own WTO spearheaded by a Singaporean and the headquarter is also on this sunny island that deals with creating toilets around the world including water management and sanitation.
World Toilet Organisation (WTO) is a global non-profit committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide. On the WTO website, it states that they empower individuals through education, training and building local marketplace opportunities to advocate for clean and safe sanitation facilities in their communities.
The World Toilet Organisation was established with the aim to break the taboo around toilets and the sanitation crisis. Jack Sim, the founder of WTO discovered that toilets were often neglected and was concerned that the issue was often cloaked in embarrassment and apathy. Sim felt this led to the neglect of restrooms across the Singapore. In 1998, he established the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) whose mission was to raise the standards of public toilets in Singapore and around the world.
Through RAS, Sim’s vision was to put Singapore on the “world map” by taking the initiative to provide clean public toilets. As Sim began his work in Singapore, he realized there were other existing toilet associations operating in other countries.
In 2006, Jack was invited to launch The German Toilet Organisation in Berlin. He is also a founding member of American Restroom Association. In 2007, Jack became one of the key members to convene the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) comprised of over 130 organisations active in the sanitation sector. Jack is also an Ashoka Global Fellow and in 2008 was named Hero of the Environment by Time Magazine. Jack also sits in the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils (GAC) for Water Security and also the GAC for Social Entrepreneurship.
WTO came up with a number of initiatives over the years namely: World Toilet Day, World Toilet Summit, World Toilet College and SaniShop.
World Toilet Day
WTO recognised the need for an international day to draw global attention to the sanitation crisis. In 2013, a joint initiative between the Government of Singapore and WTO led to Singapore’s first UN resolution, entitled “Sanitation for All”, calling for collective action to address the global sanitation crisis through the commemoration of World Toilet Day on November 21st, the same date WTO was founded 12 years ago. The resolution was co-sponsored and adopted by 122 countries at the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. On July 24, 2013, World Toilet Day on 19 November became an official UN day.
World Toilet Summit
The World Toilet Summit is a unique global event that brings together various sanitation stakeholders to collaborate on innovative inventions, projects and products in the sanitation sector. This annual event initiated by the World Toilet Organization and jointly organised with the host government has successfully held 14 World Toilet Summits in various continents since its inception in 2001. Held in major cities worldwide including Singapore, Seoul, Taipei, Beijing, Belfast, Moscow, New Delhi, Macau, Hainan, Philadelphia and Solo with an estimated number of 10, 000 delegates attending the summits. World Toilet Summit 2016 will be held in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia from 27 – 29 October.
World Toilet College
The World Toilet College (WTC) started as a social enterprise in 2005. WTC believed that there is need for an independent world body to ensure the best practices and standards in toilet design, cleanliness, and sanitation technologies are adopted and disseminated through training and capacity-building courses, in both rural and urban settings. The ultimate goal of WTC’s programmes is to ensure the dignity of sanitation workers and elevate the otherwise poor image (and consequent low pay) reserved to this employment category in many places around the world.
WTC provide training towards professional skills in both cleaning and performance of small repairs, thereby boosting their self-confidence by providing them with the opportunity to master a profession while enhancing their productivity.
SaniShop’s social franchise model has a participatory approach, not just focusing on rural households as customers, but also engaging and empowering them as part of the solution. The SaniShop ecosystem revolves around a business model where local sales entrepreneurs trigger demand in their community through sales and awareness events, working alongside local influencers. Toilets are then built and supplied by local masons who have undergone production training.
This simple market-based model is easily adaptable, replicable, scalable, and localised to suit the needs of the community. The model is also driven by the spirit of entrepreneurship – focusing on the last-mile entrepreneur – who has the drive, energy, motivation, local connections and understanding to change perceptions and behaviours around sanitation, facilitating demand creation.
In a nutshell, many might talk about water management and sanitation but not many focus their entire organisation on toilets. This ingenious movement does seem ridiculous at the beginning. Many people whom I introduce the WTO to did not take me seriously until they read the work done by WTO. If we look at the sanitation crisis around the world, it is not a ridiculous mission to make sure that the world population has access to clean water and sanitation. So where else to start other than the toilet itself?
Written by: Clarrie Si Qian Ng
Clarrie Ng enjoys researching on issues pertaining to politics, identity and communication. She just graduated with a master's degree from the University of British Columbia and is currently teaching.
You can spot her on Twitter @clarrieng