Wednesday, April 6, 2011


In the aftermath of the TOMS Day Without Shoes event, I figured I would weigh in on why some people (myself included) argue why such campaigns are utterly pointless and potentially harmful.

But wait, isn't doing something better that doing nothing at all?

Not necessarily. Just because an activity makes you feel good about yourself doesn't mean it is in any way helpful to the poor. TOMS B1G1 model create the false assumption that social change is easy. Its not. The reality is that TOMS shoes fight poverty about effectively as a LIVESTRONG bracelet fights cancer.

But by going barefoot, I'm 'raising awareness' about all of the shoeless children.

Maybe so, but this method of 'awareness raising' is so focused on the supposed good work that TOMS does in the third world that it seems more like a for-profit marketing campaign than a social statement.

Wait, free shoes can actually be harmful?

Sometimes. An infusion of free goods in a fragile market could crowd out local businesses owners trying to make a living. These type of goods are referred to as SWEDOW (stuff we don't want).

Well, what should I do then?

Educate yourself about poverty at home and abroad. Learn about aid projects that actually work, and find a way to support them in a meaningful way.

There are many, many other good criticisms of TOMs, Project Red, Susan G. Komen, and other 'commercial philanthropy' initiatives, but we'll leave it at that.

Now, before you get too self-conscious about that church project you're helping with that plans on sending 1,000 used sweaters to Uganda, here's a good SWEDOW flow chart to help ensure your 'help' does more good than harm.

*Update: Great post on how cause-related products may lead us to give less to charitable causes courtesy of View From the Cave.*


  1. I wanted to see the chart, but it's too small for my poor little eyes. And it came up with an error when I clicked on it. Ah well. This was very interesting food for thought. I'm naturally resistant to things like TOMS, but I had never thought about why or thought there may actually be a good reason justifying my behavior.

  2. Try this:

  3. Appreciate the mention! I also like the post.