October 7, 2013


Maybe you have never heard of them, maybe you have. A shoe company developed in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie with the mission of making good quality, attractive and functional footwear. Their goal is that with every purchase made they will distribute a pair of shoes to someone who is need. For this objective they developed a slogan entitled “one for one,” that represents their dream.

Here in Nicaragua the goal is being realized as many young people have received shoes from this United States based company. Recently, a conversation has been taking place about the ways in which Toms' goal and mission of providing shoes for those who are economically challenged has been called into question. The main issues at hand is whether or not the Toms' model can be effective in alleviating poverty along with other issues concerning production and distribution. Yesterday I experienced some of these complicated issues that go into development work first hand when a neighbor came knocking on our door.

I was presented with a pair of shoes. Our neighbor noted that I often wore shoes that were very similar to the ones she held in her hands. The stitching was the same, the recognizable blue and white tag placed on the exterior was identical. The only real difference was that these shoes soles were imprinted with the words “one for one” and the insoles stated that they were not for resale.

The problem did not lie in the fact that our neighbor boy had received a new pair of shoes. Shoes, especially those of good quality are not only hard to find here in Nicaragua, but they are also very expensive. And our neighbor’s son was in need of a new pair of shoes. But, this twelve year old could not very well wear the size 12 shoes that he had received. In fact, no one in the house, despite there being six older gentlemen were even remotely able to call these shoes their own due to their size.

However, it just so happens that I do wear a size 12 shoe. Thus, our neighbor was wondering if I would like to purchase these shoes in order for her to buy her son a pair of shoes that he could wear. She beckoned for me to sit down, and began to fit the shoe as if she had spent her whole life working as a shoe saleswoman. She felt for my toe on both feet and declared the fit a success.  She asked me for 100 cordobas, which is equivalent to 4 dollars.

I wondered if there was any penalty for buying an item marked not for resale, if in some way I could face some sort of legal battle with a large manufacturer of goods from the U.S. for what I was about to do. But then I realized that by purchasing these shoes, by empowering my neighbor with the purchase power to provide for her son, I was really working as an extension for Toms. I was putting the final piece of the puzzle together and helping them fulfill their own dream.

However, my purchase or the goal of Toms’ “one for one” program does not help to alleviate this family from the place of poverty that they find themselves in. We live and work in a complicated world. A world in which many seek to care for the needs and desires of others. Policies are written and rewritten. Governments, organizations, companies, and people all attempt to do what they can to alleviate or even eradicate poverty from this earth. Others simply believe that those who are economically challenged will always be here, that their existence is a sick necessity for economic function. But there has to be a way, a process that we can enter into alleviate the poverty that so many find themselves in. 


For an interesting commentary on a charity called GiveDirectly, check out the following episode on This American Life.  “Instead of funding schools or wells or livestock, GiveDirectly has decided to just give money directly to the poor people who need it, and let them decide how to spend it.”

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