Blake Mycoskie

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TOMS wins over water partner, takes on coffee business | 

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TOMS

TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie took the stage at the South by Southwest Festival last week to make a big announcement. The man behind the company that has pioneered the one-for-one model through its sale of shoes revealed the company’s new venture: coffee.

The sky blue label with a white stripe, a nod to the flag of Argentina, where the design for TOMS shoes were discovered, will now adorn bags of coffee in the company’s expanding stores and neighborhood Whole Foods. Money from each bag or cup sold will help bring clean water to more people in the world. Or as the tagline says: ”Coffee for you, Water for all.”

The coffee itself aims for the middle of the market, something that is better than Starbucks, but not quite at the high end of Counter Culture and Stumptown. Mycoskie and TOMS got a fair share of attention for the new business. He revealed that TOMS will continue to add new ventures each year to extend the organization’s impact and grow the overall business.

The coffee comes from Guatemala, Honduras, Malawi, Peru, and Rwanda and will sell for $13 per twelve ounce bag. TOMS says a bag of coffee will deliver clean water for one person for a week. That comes thanks to a partnership with the Denver-based Water for People. A yet-undisclosed amount of money made from the sale of TOMS coffee will be given to Water for People for its work in the same countries where the coffee originates.

“We have this philanthropic and aid problem where we have long term issues to deal with and the grant cycle does not match,” said Water for People CEO Ned Breslin to Humanosphere. ”We have been looking for ways out of that funding cycle.”

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Update: Shoes vs. Dignity Day | 

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I noted earlier that today there would be a battle between a high-profile charitable organization, TOMS Shoes, which (sort of) donates shoes to poor people around the world and a gang of cranky development experts, aid workers and others who think TOMS’ shoe donation scheme is worse than ineffective.

Today is One Day Without Shoes day (okay, that’s redundant) as proclaimed by TOMS Shoes with help from celebrities and bigshots like Ariana Huffington, the Jonas Brothers, some guy who runs AOL and others.

The CEO of TOMS, Blake Mycoskie, estimates something like 250,000 people will go barefoot today at 1,600 events around the world. Here’s his promotional video:

“A single idea can change the world” says Mycoskie.

It can also be wrong and make things worse, says a gang of development experts and aid workers.

Saundra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions Are Not Enough has been leading the charge against this barefoot event, and its message, by hosting a contravening Day Without Dignity.

The problem many have with TOMS Shoes is that donating goods is widely regarded today as at best an inferior form of development assistance and, at worst, an external commercial force (whether well-intended or not) that works to undermine local businesses and economies in poor communities.

In defense of TOMS, lack of shoes is a problem worldwide. Here’s a post I wrote a while ago about a little-known, disfiguring condition known as podonociosis that is little-known because it afflicts millions of the poorest of the poor. Mycoskie has helped draw attention to this surprisingly large problem.

That may be so, say the critics, but TOMS’ approach is not the solution. The real solution is not to give people shoes but to help them make their own shoes. Here are some of the critics, most of whom are also posted at Good Intentions, and none of whom appear to have celebrities on their side:

Gawker: Put your shoes back on privileged techies!

Stratosphere: TOMS Shoes are So Not Cool

AfriTech: A Day Without Toms

TexasinAfrica: Disguising marketing as social good

TalesfromtheHood: A day without dumbassery

Usalama: The view from Mombasa

Viewfromthecave: A poetic look at shoes

A satirical video:

Call for a Day Without Shoes & Without Dignity | 

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TOMS shoe, vegan green

Next week, on April 5, is a day when the humanitarian cobblers at TOMS Shoes call upon folks around the country to participate in a Day Without Shoes.

Here’s what TOMS Shoes’ founder Blake Mycoskie’s says in the Huffington Post:

I think sometimes we forget what we have, and occasionally it’s important to remind ourselves. Most people don’t even realize how many children in developing countries grow up barefoot and all the risks, infections and diseases they endure…. 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?”

As a counterpoint, and to make a point, Saundra Schimmelpfennig at Good Intentions are Not Enough is calling for a Day Without Dignity to accompany the TOMS Day Without Shoes event.

On or about that same day, Schimmelpfennig is calling on aid workers, the diaspora and people from areas that receive donated shoe drops and other forms of charity to speak up in blogs, on twitter, or at school.

She suggests stories or essays for a Day Without Dignity on topics such as:

  • Poor people’s memories of childhood and what their actual needs were
  • The dignity and control that comes from work and not from receiving handouts
  • The glut of unnecessary donated goods
  • Whites in Shining Armor swooping in to “save” people
  • What it really takes to raise awareness, more than just walking barefoot
  • The problems created by handing out shoes or other goods
  • The issue of dignity and how we portray people in our advertising campaigns
  • How doing something because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do

As you may have guessed, Saundra is not a big fan of TOMS Shoes, or of most donated goods as a form of aid. For a much more detailed and lengthy discussion on this issue, go here.

I kind of like going barefoot, depending upon the weather, and know that many poor folks do suffer for lack of shoes. Yet I also think Saundra makes some good and important points about the naivete of our approach to fighting poverty. If it’s nice out, maybe I’ll go without shoes to symbolize my lack of decisiveness.