19 March 2013

Mixed Signals: Is TOMS Trying to Alleviate Poverty?

Turns out TOMS is not in the poverty alleviation game.
Eventually, I was connected with the company’s chief giving officer, Sebastian Fries, who acknowledged that there were aspects of the Toms approach that could still be improved. When I asked Mr. Fries whether Toms might be perpetuating the poverty of the children who get free shoes, he responded that Toms is “not in the business of poverty alleviation.”
That is from an article by Adriana Herrera in the NY Times Boss Blog. So what does TOMS do when it gives away shoes?

Founder Blake Mycoskie seems to be talking about poverty alleviation when he wrote the following in the Huffington Post in 2009.
The first mission, and the one most relevant to my time in Southern Ethiopia, is my desire to eliminate unnecessary human suffering through the distribution of new shoes. In one of the very rural areas on my trip, I had an epiphany that might seem like common knowledge to many. But to me, it was a way of looking at the need for shoes in a totally different perspective. In the areas of the greatest poverty, which often are also extremely remote, a willing person can build shelter, grow food and they can even seek elders and teachers to learn from, but it is highly unlikely that they can make a pair of shoes. Shoes require factories, machines and materials not typically found in nature. So in these areas, if there are diseases to be contracted in the absence of shoes, these people have little hope of escaping them. This is why we must continue to give aid in these areas, and while I am a big believer in teaching someone to fish instead of giving them fish, in this case, we must give them fish in order for them to learn other things that will allow them to improve their lives. Our work to prevent Podoconiosis, and our efforts to help raise the necessary funds to treat it, fall into this category and mission.
And so does this campaign.

So what is the goal of TOMS?