Tempers flared. Shots were fired. People got hurt. Okay, okay, yesterday’s action was more of the virtual/internet variety. But still, it was heated.
TOMS Shoes – One Day Without Shoes
TOMS Shoes, who I’ve written about before, is a for-profit shoe company founded by Blake Mycoskie whose business and marketing hinges on donating large amounts of shoes to poor people, celebrated yesterday its One Day Without Shoes campaign. To raise awareness about poverty, they encouraged people to go barefoot on April 5…at work, school, home.
Mycoskie described about ODWS in the Huffington Post:
Most people don’t even realize how many children in developing countries grow up barefoot and all the risks, infections and diseases they endure. For most of us, modern shoes our so comfortable and accessible, we all but forget about our feet, but they are a source of constant focus for others. I wanted everyone to personally understand the impact of shoes, and the difference they can make, so we thought, “Why don’t we get a taste of what these kids go through every day?”
Yesterday, TOMS highlighted many participants on their online vwall:
- Mavis E shows her support for One Day Without Shoes
Katie kicks back in support of TOMS
2nd graders at Bear River Charter School made posters and wore signs on their shirts to raise awareness for One Day Without Shoes. They are raising money throughout the month of April to send to Tom’s to help buy shoes for other children.
Others included: Heather Morris from Glee, Charlese Theron, Matisyahu, Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders, and a host of other celebrities.
Response – A Day Without Dignity
TOMS shoes has been criticized for its model of giving shoes to poor people – for unintended consequences on local economies, for not addressing a significant problem (education, jobs, health, infrastructure), and for the underlying philosophy being perpetuated: poor people can’t take care of themselves without our charity.
Many in the international development community criticized TOMS for its One Day Without Shoes campaign, and Good Intentions Are Not Enough (org dedicated to helping donors make good funding decisions) organized its own awareness campaign for the same day: A Day Without Dignity.
A Day Without Dignity is a counter-campaign to TOMS Shoes A Day Without Shoes “awareness raising campaign” (commercial). On or around April 5th – the same date as A Day Without Shoes – we’re asking aid workers, the diaspora, and people from areas that receive shoe drops and other forms of charity to speak up in blogs, on twitter, or at school. – GIANE
Yesterday, April 5, was D(ignity)-day. People took to the streets, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Youtube, etc…to criticize One Day Without Shoes:
- Vivek from Aidwatch goes barefoot on broadway (includes gross feet pics)
- TMS Ruge from Uganda: ”Why has it become so easy for people to start feel-good campaigns that no one asked for? There are a thousand things this village needs and nowhere on the list are t-shirts and shoes…”
- Hands Wide Open: ”Christians love TOMS shoes. I mean, who wouldn’t really love a company where you buy a pair of shoes and then they donate a pair of shoes to a poor kid in a third world country? It is like winning the trifecta for Christians…”
- Wanderlust: ”TOMS, I get that shoes are your thing. If you’re really serious about wanting to provide footwear to the world’s barefoot children, try looking at a totally different form of investment. Instead of donating a pair of shoes for each pair purchased, take the cash equivalent of that donation (the production cost of the shoe plus the shipping/handling/storage/distribution costs) and instead sink that into local shoe manufacture.”
Visit A Day Without Dignity for more links to articles, photos, videos.
Look, raising awareness and giving stuff is easy. It means I can “do something” with little/no knowledge of the situation, little time involved, and without asking any questions. Which is exactly why it doesn’t work.
Not only does it not work, it is based on an incorrect materialistic worldview: that a person’s value is based on his or her access to material goods. Just because I might have more money than someone in Africa doesn’t mean they need me to tell them what they want. It’s wrong logically, and morally. All people are endowed by their Creator with worth, rights, abilities, potential. Even if you don’t believe in God, I hope you believe that people have intrinsic worth, not dependent on how much stuff they have. Materialism maintains a strong cultural hold in the West, one that needs to be continually exposed and challenged.
That said, it’s not unfixable. TOMS, there are many ways for you to really make a difference. Invest in and share your expertise with local shoe businesses, leading to sustainable jobs. Donate some of your profits to support educational institutions, leading to more opportunities. These are things that people want, and promote their dignity. If you’re not willing to do that, please drop your current marketing approach which oversells your impact, encourages self-absorbed charity, and is an affront to the dignity of the materially poor.
What do you think about TOMS? How can we fight the temptation to make our charity about us?