This a funny spoof on the whole TOMS Shoes sales pitch:
As you may recall, not everyone is convinced TOMS is doing much good with his “buy-one-give-one” scheme. Some think it is more about feel-good marketing than it is about truly helping the poor.
In April, a number of aid workers and development experts decided to try to draw public attention to this issue by organizing a counter-demonstration to TOMS Shoes’ popular “Day Without Shoes.” The critics called their action a “Day Without Dignity” to emphasize what they see as a demeaning and unhelpful practice.
The argument against TOMS’ strategy is based on a number of complaints, but is largely focused on the belief that donating goods is less effective — and sometimes even harmful — compared to aid that empowers the poor, strengthens local economies and is more about development than charity.
In this video announcement, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie says people who buy his $135 sunglasses will fund efforts to restore sight in poor countries:
Mycoskie: “With every pair purchased, TOMS will help give sight to a person in need … From this day forward, TOMS is not a shoe company. It’s not an eyewear company. It’s a one for one company.”
It’s not entirely clear what buying TOMS sunglasses will actually contribute to the vision needs of the poor, but the firm has partnered with the Seva Foundation to administer the eye care programs that are funded by TOMS eyewear.
My main problem with TOMS Shoes is that they all look like girls shoes to me.
Here are a few “day-after” thoughts on the Shoes vs Dignity flap — the debate about the legitimacy (or not) of Tuesday’s high-profile TOMS Shoes’ One Day Without Shoes campaign, which was challenged by a much-less resourced but highly animated and critical Day Without Dignity campaign.
Vivek Nemana, writing at AidWatch, decided to join the barefoot minions of TOMS and wander around Greenwich Village on a cold, soggy New York City Day. Says Nemana:
Sure, this whole event really just helps TOMS sell more shoes, and sure, it was cold and raining in New York, and sure, I solicited bewildered stares, watched mothers shield their daughters from me, and possibly contracted hepatitis, but wasn’t I raising awareness about the real, complex challenges facing developing countries?
No, not really, Nemana goes on to say. In fact, this publicity stunt can even dull awareness to the real issues.
Tom Murphy, writing at A View from the Cave, cites a story at the Chronicle of Philanthropy which further says that buying TOMS Shoes as a gesture aimed at helping the poor actually hurts the poor — because such consumerist compassion works to depress charitable giving overall.
Both articles cite a University of Michigan business professor, Aradhna Krishna, as saying:
” .. Cause marketing warps consumers’ minds into thinking that they’re contributing more than they actually are, since ‘people may mentally assign their cause-marketing expenditure as their charitable giving.’ “
Finally, I just saw this post (via Tom Murphy) from Kelsey Timmerman of Where Am I Wearing? The problem with TOMS Shoes, Timmerman writes, is not their attempt to raise awareness. Understanding the real problem here is by looking first at who makes the shoes (hint: China). Donating shoes is not a solution to the problem; it’s merely a temporary band-aid.
The problem isn’t that people don’t have shoes. It’s that they don’t have the means to buy shoes.
The problem isn’t shoelessness. The problem is poverty.
In the midst of a raging blogosphere debate regarding the wisdom and worth of TOMS “One Day Without Shoes” campaign, I noticed this odd juxtaposition of news and advertising at The Guardian:
TOMS Shoes advertising is literally wrapped around a column by Rick Rowden arguing that “It’s Time for a New Development Model.” Says Rowden:
Short-term poverty reduction has become a stand-in for actual long-term development. This has to change to enable poor countries to get off the aid bandwagon.
Here’s the ad by TOMS Shoes, as long as it lasts online anyway, and the column arguing against, uh, pretty much the kind of short-term, ineffective fixes that many say TOMS Shoes represents:
It’s not unique to The Guardian, I guess. Tom Murphy at A View From the Cave wrote about the shoe flap for Huffington Post, which also has banner TOMS Shoes ads at the top.
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:
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.
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.
Millions of bare feet prove we still aren’t reaching the very poorest of the poor.
The international community is doing a lot to help the world’s poor — spending billions of dollars (not enough, but still billions) to combat AIDS, TB and malaria, doing research, figuring out clever new uses of cell phones to help subsistence farmers increase productivity and getting microfinance loans to poor women.
And yet, millions of people worldwide suffer disfigurement and disability simply for a lack of shoes?
The disease I’m talking about is called podoconiosis and, chances are, you haven’t heard of it. It is a much lesser-known cause of elephantiasis (see right, a condition also caused by mosquito-borne parasitic worms) that one researcher believes may nevertheless afflict more than 4 million people worldwide. Continue reading