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:
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: