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November 27, 2010


missional girl

Keep the shoes coming but also connect with local business folks and manufacturers. My feeling is when there is a need, someone has to fill it. The manufacturers Mr. Stupay speaks of are not in a position to meet the needs of the people and the people have little or no economic means of buying the shoes.

So should we stand still and quibble about long range effects of donating shoes when the short term need is great (it could be shoes or any other necessity you can think of)?

I don't think so.

Basically, this is not an "either/or" issue but a "both/and" matter. Teach the people to fish but feed them while you teach them. Helping only hurts when we are not training people how to provide for themselves. Peace.


I was weary of Mycoskie's premise when he talked at the Leadership Summit. Everyone seemed so taken by his age, handsomeness, and news that being consumeristic helps the world. I was taken aback how everyone just seemed to be so taken by what he said and who he was.
I was not so deceived.
Toms might be better than Wal-Mart's sweatshop shoes, but they are still just another fantastic fad that gets us to feel better about spending money.
I am sure that the price of a pair of Toms spent by people who don't need more shoes would be better served by donating to organizations that help directly serve and eliminate poverty in third world nations. Especially at the price at which they are offered.
I am not calling Blake or Toms evil, I just think that they sure look a whole lot better than they actually are. If you do have lots of shoes and buy Toms, maybe donating shoes you don't wear to help local economies like David Stupay suggests could help to balance things out. Certainly I would rather see Toms with the money than what some shoe companies do with their money.
"Giving Back" seems to be a recent corporate theme that suggests one company should be chosen over the other. For example Jersey Mike's sub restaurant advertises that it gives back, while other sub restaurants do not. Will that make me choose which sub place I frequent? I also noticed their prices are about 20 percent higher than other sub places I like. So perhaps I will just stick with my favorite sub sandwich for less money, but I guarantee there are people who have that extra 20 percent to throw around that don't normally donate to charity and feel better about themselves for eating at Jersey Mike's.

This world is backwards and upside down, but I would rather see companies that give back even if they charge a little more, like Toms and Jersey Mike's, because there will always be people who spend money no matter what. At least those folks can make some matter of difference instead of none.

However, it is just a bandage over a real problem.

I myself struggle, being unemployed does not give me much leeway in my budget to give, and certainly not to buy Toms or eat at Jersey Mikes. However, I certainly know that I have received more than I could imagine from others who give back, and when I begin to make an income, I would rather give to places that are helping to ELIMINATE POVERTY. I want to be a part of a hand up, not a hand out.

Thanks for engaging in this debate Dave, good stuff.


This is exactly why I am so excited about our Trade as One promotion at Community in a couple of weeks. We all need help at times, but living in a constant state of dependency can strip people of their perceived value and worth. We spend our years as parents preparing our kids for independence. And we all long for that day when we are on our own and self sufficient. That is not always a good thing, but God created us to work, so the more we can help people do that the more we are truly helping I believe. I think of my immigrant friends and every one of them came to America so they could work and provide for their families--not so they could receive more aid or handouts. Thanks to reposting Davids comment!

Nate Loucks

It's not that the recipients of these shoes won't now buy them from a local shoe manufacturer, it's that they can't buy them from a shoe manufacturer because they're too poor. Tom's Shoes recipients are KIDS that have been approved by an organization that deems them to poor to obtain a pair of shoes on their own.

I am a huge advocate of the Kiva's of this world and believe that micro-financing is making a tremendous difference in the poorest societies of this world. But, the poverty wound needs to have a band-aid put on it so we can give it time to heal. We wouldn't stop giving food aid because we encourage people to buy from local, African farmers. However, we still encourage farmers to get out there and to increase the volume and to employ more people so that aid can become less. It's not an either/or; it's a both/and.

Scott Couchenour

Don't you think the folks at TOMS ought to have a chance to enter into this discussion?

Dave Ferguson

I would love to hear from TOM's. I'm sure this can't be the first time these questions have been asked.

Brian Hofmeister

I'm not sure if anyone has the right to critique too loudly unless they personally are working on something better. Let's be happy that someone offered help where there wasn't any before.

Jill Nesbitt

Super impressed with David's analysis & willingness to comment on this story. Understanding the economics behind a situation makes all the difference. Here's another one to challenge popular thought - is building a dental clinic with federal money & then offering dental care on the Medicaid system a benefit? In fact, it's very similar to our shoe story. First of all, dentists nearby lose patients when a brand new, well-marketed clinic opens up. Secondly, there is no external oversight required for a dental clinic - they do not have to report their performance to anyone. Thirdly, the only way for the clinic to make money is to do treatment that they can charge the federal government through Medicaid. It's faster to go ahead and treat most every tooth in a person's head, no matter how much is needed today vs. what could be healed with some personal effort (brushing & flossing daily). So you set up a dependent system and the people are continuously being repaired - not coached on how to avoid this expensive repair.
So, is a dental clinic a good thing?
One more problem with these clinics, they soak up all the available grants/funding that might go into preventive programs in the schools or towards existing dentists who may already be seeing Medicaid patients at a financial loss.
Thanks David, for the insightful post.


If I am one of the individuals receiving the shoes, I believe I would feel grateful that someone cared enough to share with me. I am all in favor of people using shops in their local village but until that becomes a reality, these shoes are a blessing.

As an American who is mindful of my many blessings especially this season, I would urge us all to think about what we buy here for our gifts this season. If we can purchase items made with fair trade or community trade, we should. Yes, it may cost more, but the impact that purchase has on the people who make the goods is priceless. I know that I only purchase bath products from The Body Shop because they have numerous products made with fair trade supplies. If this is what we believe, it's time to put our money where our mouth is.


Ongoing discussion, but definitely one worth having.

It's one thing to cast stones at TOMS, but I think I'm more in line with Patricia. What Stupay wants is where we want to get to. But while we work to get there, TOMS isn't a bad idea. It's a better idea than putting dollars directly into the governments hands of the countries in need of aid.

Sue Ciullo

I value the exchange of ideas on this topic. Still, this all makes me very sad. I'm all about teaching to fish, but it never occurred to me that donating shoes could be a hindrance to our beloved brothers and sisters in need around the world.

How many times have my good intentions hurt those that I'm seeking to help? I think we can't always know. Better to err on the side of doing something than doing nothing, right? If someone's drowning we have to rescue them. When they are safe and dry we can sign them up for swimming lessons.

David Stupay

Love the discussion that has developed around this idea. One potential solution to this problem would be for TOMS to rethink how and why they are in business. It is fascinating that Blake refers to himself as the "Chief Shoe Giver" and while giving shoes to children can certainly be a good thing, a shift in the view of the primary role of the company (and the primary role of the Chief Shoe Giver) would help alleviate the potential damage of their operations.

What if there was a way for TOMS to give away shoes to needy children AND develop the local shoe economy at the same time?

It is certainly possible.

Sometimes the notion of a large multinational approach can be very appealing. Boasting about giving away shoes in more than 24 countries is good for marketing, helps western shoe purchases feel as if they are "changing the world" and it is great for the pride of the company. My contention is that instead of increasing the scope of free shoes distribution areas, TOMS could establish and create local shoe economies (and have a healthier and greater impact) if they reducing the number of countries where they are distributing free shoes.

Limiting the number of countries where the shoes are distributed to only the countries where the shoes are manufactured would limit the collateral damage of their business model. Instead of trying to mitigate the potential damage of their aid program in 24 countries, TOMS could become the shoe economy in a handful of countries where they are manufacturing shoes.

As mentioned before, a vital flaw of their program is the deterrent that it creates to local entrepreneurs that would not enter, or be kicked out of, the shoe economy because of TOMS. To combat this TOMS, could create a cross subsidization program in these countries that not only gives away shoes to poor children, but also manufactures and sells shoes low cost shoes to people that don't qualify for their free program. This would create additional manufacturing jobs in these countries, and would replace jobs displaced by the giving of free shoes by creating sales, marketing, and distribution jobs in the recipient countries.

The role of the company in developing countries would no longer be that of Shoe Giver, but of Economy Builder.


yeah seems like a good idea for tom's shoes is to instead use the proceeds to buy local shoes in the communities of those who will be receiving the shoes. and actually that's what i thought they were doing.

i also thought the shoes were fair trade of some sort.

Minnie F

heh, i had shoes just like that =)

Josh Hunt

so, how do you help people without hurting them?

Josh Hunt

Josh Hunt

Following this line of reasoning it would seem we should not feed the hungry as doing so would hurt local restaurants.


"’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-37)

In reading this duscussion, I'm reminded the importance of having the mind of Christ. While I appreciate views of people and what these views bring to the table, I think Jesus'command to love our neighbor as ourselves and who did this was the one who had mercy on the hurt man...'go and do likewise,' probably trumps any analysis of economic stimulation in these countries. We are all called to different things, all to fufill Gods ultimate purpose in our lives and in the lives of others. "God calls us to be obedient, wherever that may lead us. Abraham’s obedience led to wealth and prosperity while Job’s obedience led—for a time—to ruin and poverty."
I think when TOMS started out it was to fill an immediate need out of the heart of someone who "had mercy" on children with no shoes. He did not overthink it or over-analize it, he actually did something about the need. God just wants a willing heart and our obedience. I think when these children see these shoes, they see hope and love, which are two things Christ came to showcase to a lost, hurting world in need of a rescuer.

Dawn Carter

Great post. Thank you for challenging effectiveness. So often lacking in compassion activities that center on making the giver feel good.

Check out http://www.nuruinternational.org/hownuruworks/ced.html and what they are up to. Met them via the Idea Camp folks.

Dawn Carter


Without parsing too much, it is interesting to note that in the parable, the Samaritan gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said he would reimburse him for any additional expenses incurred in caring for the victim. Loving our neighbor can consist of an immediate fix (binding wounds, carrying to shelter), providing for an interim fix (paying and promising payment for other needs), and equipping to become a contributing member of a community. As followers of Christ, we need to seek God's will as we love our neighbors. Doing this will help us avoid, mitigate, and learn from our mistakes. Likewise, our love can mature and grow.

Perhaps it is time for Blake or people like Blake to take the next step. Identify viable, sustainable industries and agriculture that meets the needs of a community, region, and nation. This is much more difficult than delivering shoes. It requires coordination, communication, and collaboration. It requires a study of culture and country to recognize needs and identify and evaluate impacts changes will have. It requires a willingness to deliver education, training, appropriate equipment, and so on with the intent of letting it go once it is able to sustain itself. All of this must be done while sharing the good news and building up the believers. And then we move on to the next community.

In some respects we need to be like Paul. Smart, educated, and equipped with a viable trade. Our knowledge and skill can then be used by God anywhere in the world in the same manner He used Paul in Corinth. Work awhile. Teach awhile. Move on to the next mission.

Love the comments.


Great thought

Or he could continue what he is doing very sucessfully and continue to meet that immediate need, and someone who is gifted and called in the other ways come along side him and do so. I think so many times we try to take on too much, in doing so there ends up being a lot of stuff happening, but not necessarily with excellence. All of us have gifts, ideas and talents to share and serve. I'm sure there is an organization or organizations already out there, that does exactly what has been mentioned who could team up with TOMS. When unity starts to happen, self (I) begins to fade and the common goal begins to take the focus. It would be amazing what could take place in the world if we could all join together for the sake of people, and more improtantly, Jesus.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:20-23


Sometimes we over analyze and over complicate the issue. TOMS is a non-profit company that isn't out to make a quick buck. Although Sketchers is with their TOMS knock-offs called 'BOBS.'

Jesus said in Matthew 25 to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. It's not a figurative message, but literal.

Children around the globe are going without shoes and developing major health issues because of it. Blake wanted to change this.

For that I applaud him and TOMS.


As someone who has been part of TOMS shoe drops in Africa, I have to agree with David--I think it could be done better.

It seems silly to ship boxes of shoes that were manufactured in Asia to Africa--the shipping costs alone are obscene. Particularly, when someone can't argue quality is better than those produced locally--I've seen TOMS shoes last only weeks before the canvas starts to wear considerably with holes, etc.

And while someone said the TOMS shoes go to kids. That's not always the case--it depends who and how their distributed.

That doesn't mean they should stop doing what they are doing. I'm sure all of us who work with NGOs know that there is always adjustment needed to find the most effective way to provide needed aid to communities. I'd love to see TOMS adapt their their business model to include more local manufacturing.


This would be like shutting down the soup kitchens in America because it takes away from the local organic produce guy who may go out of business or for Habitat to stop building homes because it takes revenue from the homebuilders or to close public health clinics because it takes away from physician offices. I aree with what someone said previously. You have ot feed people while you teach them to fish or else they starve and die. In this case though it is children that are getting the shoes. Children who aren't able to work or who are not able to dictate how their family spends money. I can't believe that something like this would even come up.


TOMS is a for-profit company with a non-profit subsidiary called Friends of TOMS, which coordinates charitable activities including shoe drops. Although non inherently bad/evil, I believe TOMS is out to make a buck. I applaud Blake for his generosity, however don't think it's the best approach to bring people out of poverty. TOMS is doing good, however are their others out their doing more good...I think so. See Krochet Kids International (http://krochetkids.org/projects/our-model/) and compare their model to that of TOMS.



i think the purpose of the shoes is more to prevent a parasitic infection since most 3rd world countries harbor little nasties that get in the body by entering ones foot; the skin can be perfectly intact and they'll still get in. so shoes can help prevent a wide array of parasites. i dont think the purpose is economic benefit.

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