OK, so TOMS Shoes isn’t technically a nonprofit – and this blog is about the nonprofit sector – but it’s hard to resist talking about a company that runs itself like a social movement. The premise of TOMS – after the concept of “shoes for tom-orrow” – is simple: For every pair of shoes you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of shoes to a child in need. To quote the company’s Web site, TOMS is “using the purchasing power of individuals to benefit the greater good.” If I have to make a connection to the nonprofit sector, TOMS would be a prime example of corporate philanthropy – or what one of our contributors talks about when she discusses the “Triple Bottom Line” – addressing social, environmental and economic objectives.
We’re seeing this more and more: entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in the world. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is one of the more well-known social enterprises. Their ice cream company donates 7.5 percent of pre-tax profits to nonprofits, uses environmentally-sensitive packaging products, and supports “employee-led community action teams.”
TOMS is still new. But, since its inception in 2006 when Blake Mycoskie, a young American traveler who decided to help Argentinean children with no shoes to protect their feet, the company has given over 140,000 pairs of shoes to children in need through the One for One model. In 2009, TOMS plans to give over 300,000 pairs of shoes to children around the world.
What struck me most when I read about Mycoskie and his company was this quote by clothing designer John Whitledge: “Blake ends up doing all the things everyone else just talks about. He just goes for it and learns along the way.” While most of us long to make a difference and struggle with how best to allocate our resources – be it our time or money – Mycoskie just does. He quickly found out about podoconiosis, a form of elephantiasis believed to be caused by walking barefoot in silica-rich soil. And, as Mycoskie said in The Denver Post, “It’s literally shoes, not medicine, that cure it. The idea is to hyper-focus on this one area, then take what we do there to someone like Bill Gates, who could eradicate this disease worldwide” (April 23, 2009). (That’s the Bill Gates, the epitome of social entrepreneurialism.)
Mycoskie and his company are inspiring, and he and people like him are the wave of the future. With more Mycoskies and Gates’ in the world, maybe our societal problems will get solved.