His reach and interests are far beyond saving the world with toilets, but to help eradicate poverty. So, we are doubly grateful for this interesting and inspiring interview. Thank you, Jack.
Let’s get started with some toilet-related questions:
Could you talk about the symbiotic relationship between toilets and men?
Eat, drink, poo, and pee – Natural as can be.
In 2013, the UN General Assembly declared November 19 as the World Toilet Day. Last Saturday it was celebrated in 193 countries. Have you ever imagined such a coverage when you started your quest for it?
No. I just wanted to do something to break the taboo on sanitation, toilet and shit because what we don’t discuss, we can’t improve.
Your work and efforts resulted in an award for Goal 6 of Clean Water you received in July 2016 from NOVUS while visiting the United Nations General Assembly in New York. What were your impressions?
We do not do our work to win awards but awards can help us do our work especially by bringing legitimacy to new communities of partners and supporters.
Watch Jack’s acceptance speech at the NOVUS Award Ceremony:
In 2014, you founded the World Toilet College (WTC) in India. How is this project coming along?
We started with the first World Toilet College in Rishikesh. Now starting the next two in Bangalore and Pune. Will also continue to grow it in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere.
Find out more about Kohler’s involvement with the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.
How many students have graduated? How long is the program?
These are short courses. Not significant yet but the numbers are growing.
Any plans to bring this idea to other parts of the world?
WTC can go everywhere. Just let us know where there are local entities to absorb it and we can talk.
How do you change the mind-set from investments in – for example – mobile phones, to improved sanitation?
We’ve a unique blend of humor and serious facts. We call a spade a spade. We made toilets sexy and politicians started to use it as a vote-winner after a while. Recently Premier Minister Modi [in India] won a landslide victory promising everyone a toilet. He’s building 110 million toilets now.
In August 2016, you attended Singularity University (SU) in Silicon Valley, USA. Singularity University is a global community who empowers leaders to address huge humanitarian challenges through technology. What was your initial project idea to help more than one billion people?
I went to SU to discover how technology can help facilitate the efficiency of the Base of Pyramid (BOP) marketplace. I discovered plenty of them. Now I need to mobilise resources to install them into BOP HUB. Not easy task as these require very deep investments. Still work in progress. The good thing is now I’m connected with the Singularity University fraternity and extended family. They’ve also asked me to come back to teach next year. So that’s good too.
What is the actual project that you are working on? And with whom? What is the progress since August? Why is it important to have “doctors in the bathrooms”? How can the individual costs (currently USD 6,100) for such technology be brought down?
My class project was a Toilet that can diagnose colon cancer. Our team has since formed a company in USA and research in on-going. See more details in the Singapore Straits Time – here.
Kohler is also working on bringing more technology into the bathroom and on increasing the user experience in the bathroom. We will certainly be watching this space and updating it with more news.
Let’s shift gears a little bit. Your focus is much wider than toilets. You are the founder of the BOP Foundation which started in 2011, to design businesses to end poverty. What are some milestones that you achieved since the beginning?
This one is even more difficult than toilets because it encompasses all development sectors from water to sanitation to education, housing, health, energy, livelihood, nutrition, finance, logistics, home appliances, entertainment etc. I did three BOP World Conventions to test the market and now constructing a 65,000 sq ft BOP Design Center in Singapore to become the de facto World Trade Center for the Poor in Singapore. This USD 10 million building will complete in July 2017 and it’ll be opened 24/7/365 to facilitate all time-zones and geographies to coordinate collaboration across the globe to design business solutions to end poverty completely.
How is the social development sector fragmented?
The social development sector is fragmented and inefficient because it was designed as an unsustainable charity model that will stop once the money stops feeding it. Donors funding also divide stakeholders, making them compete for money instead of collaborating. In the end, NGOs end up serving the donors instead of the poor.
And why is it necessary to facilitate and coordinate collaboration?
We need the multiplier of synergies and not the zero sum game.
The third BOP Convention took place in Singapore in September 2016. What where the highlights of the three-day conference? At the convention you spoke about “how to end poverty exponentially.” Could you elaborate on this?
Our former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong came to open the event. He told me: “BOP is serious business. You’ve got to try to make it profitable for the businesses and they’ll invest.” He’s been the genesis of me to startup Restroom Association and World Toilet Organisation and now I’ll also work hard to make BOP HUB a success to alleviating global poverty.
Very big task, but very fulfilling spiritually.
In 2017, you will open the BOP Design Center in Singapore. You call it an “accelerator center” not an “innovation center”. What is the main purpose?
All solutions for ending poverty already exist. What’s needed is to accelerate them in a scalable and integrated system so that everyone inside this ecosystem will enjoy faster, better, cheaper and easier speed than working in silos. This way we can change the global modus operandi of everyone from silos to ecosystems.
We started a Fortified Rice company called 45Rice which just got funded USD 1 million. We’re next starting a water filter company in India. And a Procurement company soon too. We welcome everyone to come and be tenants at BOP Design Center. It’ll be the most powerful hub with its pure focus on using business to end poverty. It’ll also be profitable so that it’ll be self-sustainable and grow to other locations on the globe.
What are the challenges and opportunities that you faced in relation to this project?
The challenge is to get everyone to trust one another. Currently they don’t. So as an honest broker I think I can design the incentives for everyone to want to work together because you not competitive anymore if we have an ecosystem and you are still working alone.
In May, you attended the Social Enterprise Boat Camp organized by ARCA. What take-aways did you have from this 4 day trip from Italy to Spain?
The Boat Camp was a great experience. But I think the important thing is how to follow-up after the meeting. There were some great ideas to set up collaboration between participants to build an ecosystem but I did not hear any follow up action yet.
If you have any free time, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m addicted to creating new crazy ideas, design and irreverent things naughty boys love to do.
I’ve a few hobbies now like disrupting the current educational model from rote learning to a School of Gumption.
We just started a 100 Voices group to get all parents, teachers, students, employers, entrepreneurs, and the Ministry of Education to dialogue on the future needs and create demand driven education that is fun. We’ll be doing Forum Theater early next year for this movement. And a book is now on the way. I don’t want to grow up. Adults are deteriorated children. It’s better to be a child-like person no matter how old you are. After all, I’m only 59.
How do you know how to create bronze sculptures?
Making sculptures are easy. Just draw it and send the drawings to the workshop and they’ll make it. I’ve made movies before and hope to make a Bollywood one. Written the story but haven’t found the funding and producer yet.
What do you cry about in the shower?
Life is beautiful and full every day. No need to cry. I’ve a wonderful family and my beautiful wife loves and forgives me for who I am. I just want to live out the remaining 7,400 days till 80 and die happy knowing I tried my best to make it useful.
Again, Jack, thank you so much for sharing all this information with us. We could certainly continue this conversation for a long time – there are so many more questions to ask. We hope to check in with you again next year.