What if we stop defining billionaires as someone who accumulates a billion dollars and instead define it as someone who helps a billion people? Through this lens, Kimberly-Clark’s chief scientist Pete Dulcamara says that everyone has an opportunity to become billionaires. We sat down with Pete to learn more about the company’s 2030 ambitions, why he’s so passionate about the sanitation economy, and the importance of staying true to his personal mission statement.
K-C: What does the day job for the chief scientist at Kimberly-Clark look like?
PD: My job at Kimberly-Clark is one-of-a-kind because I get to imagine our future, inspire the future and hopefully create a better future. Primarily, I help provide technical leadership that elevates our categories, expands our markets and generates new growth engines to achieve top-tier innovation and growth.
I also have the opportunity to collaborate with others to establish a global technological ecosystem, which means we can access technology and science better, faster and at a lower cost than we do currently. When we look at the world in this way, we build a foresight capability for the company that amplifies weak signals and identifies opportunities as well as risks.
K-C: It sounds like you’re able to see the future.
PD: As writer William Gibson noted, the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. Part of my job is to figure out what those new futures are and determine the type of opportunities they create for Kimberly-Clark. As you can probably imagine, no two days are the same in my job – I’m always learning something new. I absolutely love what I do, and I feel so fortunate to work at a company like Kimberly-Clark where the company’s vision is very similar to my personal mission statement.
K-C: So, what’s your personal mission statement?
PD: When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I wrote a personal mission statement. It had two components. First, help create businesses that improve people’s lives, and second, help raise children who live a life fulfilled. When you work for a company where there’s an overlap between the company’s vision and your personal mission, that’s what I call passion. You experience stress when there’s a disconnect!
I’m on a mission to help create businesses that improve people’s lives, but I don’t have the human capital, financial resources or technical wherewithal required to pull it off. Kimberly-Clark does, though, so I can fulfill my goal through my work at Kimberly-Clark to help create businesses that improve people’s lives. By doing that, I’m helping Kimberly-Clark achieve its vision to lead the world in essentials for a better life. In that scenario, everybody wins.
K-C: Speaking of winning, Kimberly-Clark recently announced a goal to advance the well-being of 1 billion people by 2030. What’s your message to other Kimberly-Clark employees?
PD: It may sound ambitious, but we absolutely believe that we can achieve this goal, and here’s why. There is one word that underlies everything we do at Kimberly-Clark, and that one word is “care” – we care for our people, our consumers, our communities and our planet. That’s reflected in our work to help address some of the most pressing issues facing humanity, and this includes sanitation issues in underserved communities around the globe.
We believe that helping people live better lives means serving unmet societal needs. We’re in a unique position to help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), three of which are top of mind, including SDG 3 (Good health and well-being); SDG 5 (Gender equality); and SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation). Solving these goals and others will guide our efforts during the coming decade.
So, whenever I’m chatting with my teammates at Kimberly-Clark, I ask, ‘Who wants to be a billionaire?’ For those who work here, we all have an opportunity to become billionaires if we stop defining billionaires as someone who accumulates a billion dollars and instead define it as someone who helps a billion people.
K-C: It’s an inspiring and ambitious goal, but how do we even begin to tackle this?
PD: If you remember one aspect of this conversation, it’s that Kimberly-Clark doesn’t shy away from a challenge that has the potential to positively impact people’s lives. One of the reasons we’re so confident we can become billionaires is we know there’s a direct link between menstrual hygiene and access to sanitation, and there’s a massive opportunity for us to make an impact.
We believe that the lack of sanitation is totally unacceptable. Access to a toilet should be a fundamental right for every human being, and we are involved with several initiatives to help tackle the issues surrounding access to sanitation and menstrual hygiene.
K-C: Kimberly-Clark and its essential products have an inherent connection to sanitation, but for most people, sanitation is an uncomfortable topic. Why are you so passionate about it?
PD: Kimberly-Clark develops products that allow people to experience more of what’s important to them, and our products give them greater control over their life. When it comes to proper sanitation, it’s important to understand the reality for a significant portion of the global population. Currently, 2 billion people around the world lack access to basic sanitation, which means that children die from preventable diseases, women do not have a safe place to relieve themselves, and girls miss school because they are unable to safely manage their periods.
In addition, a lack of access to sanitation has an enormous impact on human dignity. It’s easy to lose sight of this crisis if you have access to a toilet in your home, but we cannot afford to do so – people’s lives hang in the balance.
I’m passionate about making sure that we’re doing our part as a company to help identify solutions to this global sanitation crisis. But what exactly does sanitation entail? Sanitation is about protecting people from infection and disease. It’s about making sure the water they drink is clean, and the water that leaves their house is processed appropriately so that it doesn’t harm the environment or other people. There’s even a sanitation economy that represents the systems, infrastructure and culture around managing sanitation in a way that protects people from infection and disease.
K-C: We can build an entire economy around sanitation?
PD: Absolutely. Kimberly-Clark is a founding member of the Toilet Board Coalition and aims to empower local entrepreneurs all around the world to help solve the global sanitation crisis. The Toilet Board Coalition sees the sanitation economy through three different business models.
The first is the toilet economy. This encompasses the infrastructure, facilities, systems and municipalities that manage waste from all aspects of society. This model includes all of the centralized and decentralized sewer and non-sewer systems for developed and developing economies, including high-income and low-income populations in urban and rural settings.
Related to this is the smart sanitation economy. This includes sanitation systems with sensors and smart systems to collect data, optimize operations, improve maintenance and provide information about users’ health and utilization patterns. We can integrate smart sanitation systems into smart buildings, smart neighborhoods and smart cities to provide insights in monitoring public toilet usage, sewage treatment, health indicators, and maintenance and repair needs throughout the system. Smart sanitation systems can also assist in the identification of disease vectors coming from communities and provide an early warning for potential diseases such as Ebola and COVID-19.
Finally, the circular sanitation economy seeks to change our perspective from seeing sewage as waste to viewing it as ‘toilet resources’ that we can use to create new streams of value creation and minimize the amount of waste that returns to the environment. This approach replaces the traditional linear depletive waste management system with a circular economy approach. It follows nature, where one species’ waste is another’s food. We can use resources from the toilet to recover value-added products such as renewable energy, organic fertilizers, proteins, oils, and other compounds for use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
As you can see, the sanitation economy is much more than simply a sewage system – it’s essential to society. It’s also integral to my role as the chief scientist and to Kimberly-Clark’s 2030 ambition to advance the well-being of 1 billion people through innovation and programs that deliver essentials to underserved communities. It’s important that people have access to clean water along with access to sanitation systems that protect them from infection and disease. What’s more essential than water or protecting people from infection and disease?
K-C: Still, sanitation seems like a challenging topic to navigate, and women and girls seem to be disproportionately affected.
PD: You’re right, it’s challenging. It’s disheartening to see how many women and girls are negatively affected due to the stigmas associated with periods. To make the issue worse, according to WaterAid, one of our global sanitation partners, more than 1 in 8 women and girls lack adequate sanitation facilities to be able to manage their period privately and with dignity. When women and girls use public sanitation facilities or are subject to open defecation, they are at risk of sexual assault and violence.
I traveled to India last year for a summit, and one of the speakers mentioned that women in India will avoid drinking water all day long so they can avoid using the public restrooms. They do this since they’re fearful for their lives and worry that they’ll be harmed in some way if they use these public restrooms. This behavior leads to dehydration, urinary tract infections and other negative impacts.
I think about my daughter, my wife, my mother, my sister, and all of the other women in my life, and I wonder what their lives would look like in some of these communities where period stigma and lack of sanitation access is the daily reality. It’s hard to even fathom. Just like my own daughter, I want every woman and girl to have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and not be held back.
K-C: So in many ways, our family care and feminine care brands have the power to unlock gender equality?
PD: That’s why I’m so passionate. Access to a toilet should be a fundamental right for every human being, and both menstrual hygiene and sanitation currently serve as barriers to achieving full gender equality. If we were able to go from the earth to the moon in less than 10 years, what is holding us back from fully achieving gender equality by the end of this decade? If you want to change the world, all you have to do is to change your mind.
K-C: Something this big can’t be solved by Kimberly-Clark alone. Who are some of our partners?
PD: Partnerships play a crucial role in responding to sanitation and gender equality issues. Our Toilets Change Lives program, which we launched in 2014, is an enduring commitment to solving the global sanitation crisis through consumer awareness, partnerships and on-the-ground activations to bring toilets, education and increased health, safety and dignity to many of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
Over the past six years, this program has provided resources in 12 countries and impacted 5 million people in need in partnership with the company’s customers and several NGOs, including Water For People, WaterAid, Plan International and the Toilet Board Coalition, which we helped to found.
This fall, we launched the Women in the Sanitation Economy Innovation Lab in partnership with the Toilet Board Coalition and our Kotex® brand to empower entrepreneurs and provide them with the tools and support they need to help solve the global sanitation crisis. This six-month initiative will cultivate and catalyze early stage ideas and businesses within the sanitation economy that are either women-led and/or women’s health-focused. Kimberly-Clark will provide mentorship from its employees around the globe to support these women entrepreneurs as they aim to tackle some of their unique business challenges.
K-C: Uplifting the lives of a billion people by 2030 actually sounds very achievable. But is it sustainable?
PD: At Kimberly-Clark, we are in a unique position to leverage our expertise and advocate for societal changes that positively impact the trajectory of people’s lives.
Ultimately, we want to identify and eliminate the root cause of a problem and implement long-term and sustainable systemic change. When you install a toilet in a community, you fundamentally change the lives of everyone who lives in that community. Children can then continue their education, secure fulfilling jobs, support their families, and strengthen their communities.
When we address access to essentials like water, sanitation and hygiene while at the same time breaking down barriers for women, it’s not that difficult to see that we can all become billionaires. The best way to predict the future is to create it, and there is no one better to help create this future than you. Will you join us?