There’s been much ado in the Aid blogosphere regarding the annual event promoted by Tom’s Shoes, “One Day Without Shoes”. As many of you astute readers know, the popularity of Tom’s shoes hinges largely on their promise of 1:1, giving away a pair of shoes each time a pair is purchased. Novel? Yes. Admirable? Yes. But bear in mind that this is, above all, a corporation whose underlying mandate is to make money— anything else they do is just gravy.
Similar to Tom’s Shoes in general, this annual event’s popularity is growing at a seemingly exponential rate. People LOVE the idea of walking barefoot for a day to “raise awareness”… and also to look cool, socially conscious and ever-so-slightly counterculture (i.e. “didn’t you know? This is ‘one day without shoes’, duh”). I’m all about raising awareness for a legitimate need– heavens knows we have people suffering the world over who lack adequate footwear, clothing, clean water, housing, and human rights– I’m just not so sure about the “solution” that is being tagged onto this “awareness” event.
There seem to be two “solutions” that are being linked to this event.
1. For all those who find out about this event via Tom’s, the natural next step to “solve” the problem is– TADA!– purchasing a pair of Tom’s shoes! Obligation to humanity at large? Check.
2. The second “solution” is a jaunt down SWEDOW lane…. and this I fear more than purchasing a pair of Tom’s. In response to hearing about the plight of the shoeless, people may begin a shoe drive, with the very altruistic motive of shoeing the developing world’s populace. And if anyone you know has done/is considering this… please push them to think through the logistics of this feat, i.e. the gas, transport costs, and related expenses associated with shipping this junk, er shoes!, to the people who need them. Binnu Jeyakumar does a thorough job of revealing the hidden costs of SWEDOW in a post on her site, untapped markets. Please do take a peek.
My fear, which is unfortunately founded, is that the general populace fail to think critically about the problem at hand, and their first inclination is to engage in a simple transaction to solve it. This rise of cause marketing has capitalized on the desire for people to transact a problem away, resulting in a negative impact on charitable giving at large. The transaction model works effectively for individuals in the Western World. Hungry? Go purchase food. But it doesn’t translate to solving the complex issue of basic human needs in the developing world.
And so, I proffer to you the counterpart to One Day without Shoes– A Day without Dignity. The blog “good intentions are not enough” is amazing in and of itself, but I ask you to take a peek to see how you can authentically engage in combatting the issues present in the developing world.
While not wearing shoes for a day is a great first step for the amateur advocate/activist/philanthropist, I would ask that you take the “next step” — with or without shoes on… but preferably in REBUILDERS– to dig deeper into what people’s needs are, and how you move beyond transactions to affect lasting change.
Stay tuned. Part two of this post will focus on the question of how REBUILD Globally’s model is different from Tom’s Shoes so that I do not look like a total hypocrite.