April 5, 2011

One Day Without Shoes – One Day without Sense…

I would like to do a whole blog post on ill-conceived good intentions but for now, I will focus on the AOL/TOMS/Microsoft One Day Without Shoes campaign. The goal of the campaign, as they describe:

One Day Without Shoes is a global event designed to encourage people to go barefoot for a day to draw attention to the plight of children in developing nations who face injury, illness and missed opportunity because they don't have adequate protection.

The idea about walking barefoot in support of poor kids who can’t afford to wear them doesn’t sound so bad but who is it helping? There might be a feel good factor but in all honesty, if this had come up on April 1, I would have sworn it was an April Fool’s joke. Arianna Huffington, with a very serious face, explains how you will ‘raise awareness of the millions of children who have to go barefoot.’ Really that is the whole point of the campaign. Here is the video:

OK. Now there will be million more kids going around barefoot in the halls of AOL, Microsoft, TOMS and shopping malls. The only awareness it raises is that of how silly we can be under the pretense of ‘helping people.’

Worse is the amount of money it looks like they spent on the campaign. I don’t have the dollar amount but they have a dedicated web site, iPhone and Android apps, lots of tools, resources and advertising. The hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on this meaningless project could have financed thousands of mobile phones for poor kids and that would have made a real difference in their lives. TOMS says that if you buy shoes from them, they will ship shoes to the poor. Thousands more dollars for shipping costs for ridiculously expensive shoes when you can buy lower cost shoes in these poor countries and support local entrepreneurs.

Others have also reacted negatively to the Day Without Shoes campaign including Gawker Put Your Shoes Back On, Privileged Techies:

No one's saying this isn't a laudable cause. What sort of cold-hearted bastard could be against shoes for poor kids? But the implementation looks like something out of an Arrested Development episode. Maybe, instead of exposing their bare, sweaty feet to whatever microbes have accumulated on their office floors or even—and we shudder to think about this—New York City sidewalks, AOL and Google employees could do slightly more good for the world's teeming, shoeless masses by instead redirecting a small portion of the resources used to fund their $1,000 cash bonuses and 10 percent raises, multi-million dollar stock grants, or company-sponsored human servants.

So ill-conceived was this initiative that Good Intentions Are not Enough decided to do a counter-campaign A Day Without Dignity to raise awareness about wasting good intentions. They have a whole list of suggestions on their site for promoting their own counter-campaign:

On or around April 5th – the same date as A Day Without Shoes – we’re asking aid workers, the diaspora, and people from areas that receive shoe drops and other forms of charity to speak up in blogs, on twitter, or at school.

Someone should please tell Arianna and TOMS and whoever else is behind this thing that the idea should be to raise MONEY to fund local entrepreneurs in developing countries so that they can raise themsleves and their communities out of poverty.

3 comments:

  1. "Thousands more dollars for shipping costs for ridiculously expensive shoes when you can buy lower cost shoes in these poor countries and support local entrepreneurs."

    This is the essential point... And to it can be added, that if only the manufacturers of shoes could choose to maybe pay just a bit more to the laborers who stitch their shoes, there would be fewer bare feet. But: "buy our shoes! Or, you don't care about poor kid!" is such a cynical marketing pile of poop.

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  2. Seconding what Ben said above. I've worked stateside export logistics for more years than I care to count and have had "those calls" from churches and small orgs who "adopt" a village of church in a village near Lusaka or Lubumbashi and want prices to send a 40' can of castoff apparel and accessories right to that village; because they read about Tom's or some other corporation sending tons of containerized GIK.

    And when I tell them that the cost from Ruritania, GA to Lusaka (not Small Village) will total14K per container, I can hear them wilting over the phone. Corporations who have big China-to-US imports have volume TEU service contracts with one of more ship lines and would likely get a bullet rate door/door Ruritania to Small Village for 8K directly from the ship line. Still a lot of wasted currency but also a whole lot closer to what the uninformed would-be aider could raise.

    I know nice-lady won't be shipping with me. As gently as possible I try to suggest that wiring 8K to Small Village Church will do much more good and optimize the donation dollars. I use my most positive voice (quietly so that supervisor doesn't know I'm doing 2 minutes of free advice on company time) But nice-lady is not listening really. She had already contacted the Ruritania News about a photo-op. Hangs up unhappy.

    I go outside to bang my head against a brick wall.

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