This post originally appeared as “One Man’s Countdown to Success” (written by Rachael Chong) on March 4, 2016, at catchafireblog.org. Used with permission of the author with minimal editing. This is part 2 of two Jack Sim-related posts. Part 1 appeared on March 12.
“Today, I have 7,710 days to live,” says Jack Sim, founder of the Restroom Association of Singapore, World Toilet Organization and BoP HUB. “I have a countdown to my 80th birthday on my phone. It motivates me to the urgency of living a meaningful, balanced life and to allocate time to the things that need to be done before I die.”
When Jack tells you how many days he has left to live, he does so with the enthusiasm of someone who has been given a second chance at life. Jack has been using death as a motivating force since his 40th birthday, which coincided with the loss of half of his fortune during a recession. Having spent the past 16 years starting a series of successful businesses, he knew he could start over, but with enough money to live comfortably for the next 40 years, Jack reassessed his life goals and chose not to.
Having grown up in a slum in 1950s Singapore, Jack knew the value of—and desire for—money. But he also now realized how easy it was to lose it all due to forces beyond his control. It turns out money was not the goal of life after all.
“Money is a tool for you to do something else,” says Jack. “You need money but after a certain point you don’t need it anymore. You’re just on this planet to spend your time well.”
For nearly twenty years now, Jack has turned his attention away from financial gain and towards humanitarian causes. After leaving the for-profit sector behind, Jack searched for a neglected agenda he could rally behind. He is interested in picking unpopular but important topics, as he believes that these “undervalued” opportunities will give him the chance to make the most impact on the world with the limited time he has left on this planet.
Jack soon discovered that the issue of toilets, or lack thereof, wasn’t being discussed because it was embarrassing and unsavory. While most Americans tend to take bathrooms for granted, a third of the world’s population is living without them, resulting in disease and water contamination. Diseases caused by contact with fecal matter are a leading killer of children in the world. And it’s preventable with the use of toilets.
Jack co-founded the World Toilet Organization in 2001 to help change the mindset, educate the public about the use of toilets and unite organizations working on the same cause in different parts of the world. Over the years, he’s used a combination of humor and hard facts to transform a taboo into a media darling. Now, there’s even a World Toilet Day, celebrated by all 193 countries in the United Nations on November 19th each year. And despite intense competition among issues such as climate change, war, malaria and more, Jack has “managed to keep sanitation and s*** on top of the heap!”
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. He was selected a Schwab Social Entrepreneur in 2001 and a Time Magazine Hero of the Environment in 2008. Jack is impressive because he’s managed to take a single idea and bring people together to maximize the solution’s potential reach.
Jack has now set his sights on an even loftier convening goal: to strengthen cross-sector collaboration among social entrepreneurs working to improve the lives of the four billion people living on $10 or less a day. The BoP Hub facilitates shared services, distribution and growth initiatives among those working on similar issues.
“People are having good ideas that are not being replicated. That’s an idea waste,” says Jack. “Instead of scaling up one entrepreneur, we can scale up an entire industry.”
By harnessing the energy, models and resources of organizations working separately, the potential for transformative ideas and action is limitless. Collaboration could increase the odds that organizations will be more efficient and therefore, succeed at their missions.
However, a nonprofit’s success isn’t currently measured by its progress in achieving its mission but instead through metrics such as dollars raised, membership growth, people served and overhead costs.By redefining success to include mission fulfillment and resource mobilization—both of which can be improved through BoP collaborations—organizations can start to have a greater impact on society at large.
It stands to reason that Jack wants to rewrite the definition of success not only for nonprofits but for individuals as well. After all, the key indicator of an individual’s success in society today is the accumulation of wealth, not on creating value in society and spending one’s time well on this planet.
The measure he’s pushing for is simple: success is less about money and power than it is about helping other people in a meaningful way. In this scenario, Jack says, “Malala is relevant and Donald Trump is not.”
It’s the philosophy by which he’s living out the second half of his life. Being successful is no longer about the number of businesses and homes he owns but instead about the positive impact he’s having on the lives of others by inspiring them to think and act in a way they may not have considered before.
True success came to Jack only after he started counting down the days he had left to make a difference to others.
“On the last day, I want to say, ‘It was a useful life. I have used all the money in a way that I find meaningful and fulfilling, while raising a family with four kids with my wife and having a good relationship with my family, my country, and my planet,’” says Jack. That will be his greatest success.
Champion of ChangeU Jack Sim is the founder of World Toilet Organization, the Restroom Association of Singapore, the World Toilet College, and the BoP Hub. Jack has been awarded the following: Ashoka Global Fellow, Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur, and Synergos Senior Fellow. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum serving on the Global Agenda Council on Water & the Global Agenda Council for Social Innovation.
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