Today’s impact, Tomorrow’s shoes
To break the Cambodia blog once again, here is my reaction and thoughts on last Thursday’s event:
Words cannot describe the past 6 hours I’ve had. Those 360 minutes of my life are something that I will never forget.
I have been a fan of TOMS for awhile now. I had purchased a pair about a year and a half ago and thought “Man, what a great concept. I just helped a child in need.” I loved the ease. I loved the way they shoes looked. I loved what I had done. Then I went to Cambodia.
In Cambodia out of the several life changing lessons learned one was to always research where your money goes and to make sure that if you invest in a non-profit or something of the like that it is a socially responsible organization and that they in the end do more good than harm. RIGHT, when I got back I had to make an effort to plan the 21 Days of change (21 days of events that created a social change on our school’s campus) which included a partnership with TOMS shoes and the CEO Blake Mycoskie speaking on April 21st. I knew I had to do research.
After reading up on TOMS (see other blog), I had both seen the good and bad of the company but decided in the end I was going to be supportive because they were a company that meant well.
It was decided that myself and another student, Halei, would be Blake’s personal assistant the day he was here. I mean not a big deal. I was worried, shocked, and excited all at the same time. I knew there was still more to learn about TOMS and also knew that working for a company like that is one of my dream jobs.
During Blake’s speech he hit on a few key points that I completely agree with:
1. TOMS is a company who is incredibly successful because of the One for One movement. Without that concept their raising awareness ability and marketability would not be as NEAR as successful as it is. He also spoke about how this is the new business model (this resonates so much with our generation)
2. TOMS shoes have improved the lives of others. Blake gave an example of a family that had one pair of shoes to share between three boys. Each day a different boy would wear the shoes and would be allowed to go to school.
After his speech Halei and I were allowed to drive him from the venue to his hotel. This is a moment I will never forget. To spend one on one time with the creator of the one for one movement is priceless. Blake is so down to earth, so himself in every moment, that it amazes me. His success has not gone to his head. His ideas are him.
Our conversation fluctuated from what he does in his down time, his favorite pair of TOMS, to more of a serious tone. Prompted by another Cambodian ambassador, I asked about the example of education he mentioned saying “What about the countries in need that don’t have a school uniform or in countries where the education system is bad…does TOMS help out with that aspect of things?” Blake’s reply was that TOMS is a shoe company, so no they don’t really do that. That giving responsibly is something that they do look into and TOMS can and is looking into things like that for the future of the company. “Good. Great. Even better,” I thought. Halei asked what kind of follow-up does TOMS do specifically. Blake answered with this: We really only give shoes if two things happen: A. There is a high disease risk in the area. Things like hookworm, or other diseases that can occur without the use of shoes. (TOMS does the research there). B. if there is an organization that they can partner with that can monitor what happens. In other words TOMS staff gives the shoes to the organizations who then in turn gives them to the whole area and those in need (TOMS makes sure this actually occurs). The organization, which is local, can then monitor when shoes need repairs, if kids outgrow them, educate them about sanitation, etc. None of that was on their website. None of that was in the research I had done. There was no way I could have found that out if I hadn’t spoken to someone at TOMS specifically.
Learning all of this and spending 6 hours with the Chief Shoe Giver has just further increased my belief in a company that is doing well in the world. Blake Mycoskie is a modern day social mover. It is his vision of the combination of business and philanthropy that will shape my generation into doing something better. Having that One for One model was an ingenuous idea launched on a vacation in Argentina. I’m ready to reach out and change. I’m ready to learn and prosper. I’m ready to grow and share. Are you?
I’m going to break my blog about my Cambodia journey today to discuss something that I feel should be discussed since tomorrow The BIG event is here.
I’ve been a part of the TOMS 21 Days of Change committee for awhile now, and was at first super pumped to have Blake Mycoskie, the CEO of TOMS shoes, come to our campus to speak. And don’t get me wrong I am still super excited for this event. I have seen a lot of negative blogs or articles lately about the company of TOMS itself and how they have “good intentions but give bad aid.”
After reading a great blog I decided it was my turn to speak up. In Cambodia, we learned to always measure one’s impacts rather than their inputs. So when you donate to something don’t just leave your money there and be happy with what happens - research. Find out what is being done with your inputs and see what the impacts are. I’ve looked at TOMS website and I see that they attempt to explain their impacts.
They discuss how they work with local NGO’s (Non governmental organizations) and businesses when donating their shoes. They also specifically make shoes for the region that they are bringing the shoes too. They do not however, list the specific NGO’s and businesses that they work with. Now, granted there is only so much research I can do on a company from the safety of my home.
The “hate” blogs on TOMS discuss that they bring in shoes to a foreign country, which in turn hurts the local shoe economy. Everywhere shoes are sold - this is fact. You could potentially just buy the shoes locally and then give them to those in need. Which brings me to my next point.
TOMS is not a NGO, non-profit, or any other organization of the like. They are a for profit footwear company. You cannot compare this company to a non-profit organization. Apples and Oranges. However, the philanthropy side of this organization is something that you can compare it to - and that my friends is what we should focus on.
So the “hate” blogs also state that TOMS allows people to pay a certain fee and you can venture out with them to the shoe drops, thus helping poverty tourism (where people go and say “hey this is a poor person” or look at those less fortunate then they are and “help” them). I myself do not support this at all. I see how this is tourism poverty and I see how this is not beneficial to those in need of a pair of shoes.
Another thing, no NGO or non-profit is going to be perfect by any means. That’s another thing that Cambodia taught me. You can try your hardest, but just like in the real world there will ALWAYS be something you can improve upon. Giving away medical supplies or giving away mosquito nets, doesn’t really benefit those in need in the long run. It’s exactly what you are calling it - giving it away. Think about it. If you bought a pen and then lost it, you would care about that pen. You would think…hmm where is that pen. Ok, now think if you had gotten that pen at a trade show or some other place for free. You would probably think, hmm oh well I can find another one somewhere. Giving away things works the same way. In Cambodia a successful NGO is RDIC Cambodia (feel free to look them up). RDIC sells water filters for $10 (which to a Cambodian is a lot). This investment is an investment for the Cambodian in not only water, but in a healthier life. If they cannot pay the $10 they pay it in installments. These installments then become education opportunities for RDIC to teach them proper sanitation and maintenance of their water filter.
In the end it is YOUR choice what to support. Blake Mycoskie has a great opportunity to raise awareness about a cause his company is passionate about. He could change some of the ways that it is ran. Yet, we can all change for the better - all the time. In my Cambodia class when we discussed how we should invest our time and money when we got back it was said “at what point do you just say ‘I’m O.K. with that’.” At what point do you research and look into an organization and say they are trying and they are doing what they can. It is all a personal judgement and it is all your choice.
As for me, I’m saying I’m O.K. with what TOMS does. There are worse organizations for me to invest my time and money into, trust me.