Sure, it’s Cool. But Does Buying TOMS Shoes Contribute to Dependency/Failure in Africa?

Maybe so.

This helpful story compares the famous brand, which gives a pair of shoes to the needy when you buy a pair for yourself, to a company which is working to support jobs and industry in Africa.

From the article in Good Business (thanks, Kirsten Joyner):

“At Oliberté, we believe Africa can compete on a global scale,” he says, “but it needs a chance. It doesn’t need handouts or a hand up. It needs people to start shaking hands and companies to start making deals to work in these countries.”

Oliberté shoes are stitched and assembled in Ethiopia with leather sourced from local free-range cows, sheep, and goats—the default in a country with many herders whose livelihoods depend upon ranging wherever grass may be. The livestock haven’t been injected with hormones to speed their growth, a common practice in other parts of the world. The result is a light, limber, yet sturdy upper.

The shoes feature crepe rubber soles made from natural rubber processed in Liberia and lined with soft, breathable goat leather. This spring, the company will expand its line to offer leather bags and accessories, some of which will be sourced in Kenya and made in Zambia. It produces woven labels and other branding materials in the African island nation Mauritius….

…“TOMS Shoes is a good marketing tool, but it’s not good aid,” agrees Saundra Schimmelpfennig, an international aid expert who blogs at Good Intentions Are Not Enough, where she aims to educate nonprofit donors about effective charity. She’s criticized TOMS for competing with local producers by handing out free goods and for being “quintessential Whites in Shining Armor.” “The idea of creating jobs that pay a fair wage and provide necessary benefits,” she says, “can have far more impact than aid.”

An excellent book on this subject from a Christian worldview is When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor….or Yourself.

If you are interested in going beyond the “White people to the rescue with handouts” solutions (which are almost always well-intended and sometimes needful –let’s be fair), then this might be a good place to start.

A wonderful place to invest in the care of orphans where these kinds of ideas are being implemented is New Hope Uganda. I can’t recommend them enough.


  1. I’m so glad you’re sharing this! Such an important and extremely relevant topic, especially as the social-entrepreneurial business model is becoming more and more common…

    I can’t wait to get to reading the book. Also will definitely check out New Hope Uganda. This is great!

  2. Sam,
    I’ve had that book on my shelf for quite a while and haven’t even cracked the cover – VOM recommended it at some point. I think it better come to the top of the lazy susan. Thanks,

    Aunt Deb

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