19 June 2013

Is Toms Shoes Founder Learning?

Critics of TOMS shoes say the group’s solution of donating shoes to the poor for every pair it sells in the West does little to address the root causes of poverty. At its worst, this practice damages local businesses in poor countries. The online conversations by academics, bloggers (including myself) and NGO workers have continued for years with little response from TOMS.

Now founder Blake Mycoskie wants to talk about the criticisms. He addresses the issues head-on in a long article in Fast Company. He says that he did not want to engage in the discussion online because the medium doesn’t lend itself to real debate and he doubted his detractors wanted a genuine dialogue.

“How can we make ourselves feel better?” asks Scott Gilmore, the executive director of the not-for-profit Peace Dividend Trust . “This is the power of self-congratulatory smugness, of saying, ‘I’m better than you because I’m helping somebody.’ But the people who lose out are ironically the ones they say they’re trying to help.”

“I’ve learned that the keys to poverty alleviation are education and jobs. And we now have the resources to put investment behind this,” Mycoskie told Fast Company. “Maybe five years from now, we’ll be able to say it’s really good for business. But the motivator now is, How can we have more impact? At the end of the day, if we can create jobs and do one-for-one, that’s the holy grail.”

He says he’s taking the idea of job creation seriously, starting with a factory in Ethiopia and plans to expand to India, Kenya and Haiti. Not only that, TOMS is testing whether its shoe drops have an actual impact.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...