Research Position Paper – Brent Adkins

The Ultimate Feel-Good Purchase

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a night, but teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry again.  This concept applies to more than just fish, and should be the first thing that comes to mind when an aid program is created.  However, it usually is disregarded and the aid program quickly harms its beneficiaries more than helps. This twists charity into a cycle of dependence with “whites in shining armor” yearning to help those less fortunate, and the less fortunate becoming dependent upon charity for survival.  TOMS is one of said programs.

Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS after visiting impoverished nations and finding that many children are without shoes, prompting him to solve the global, barefoot epidemic.  The program was based on the buy-one-give-one premise, giving one pair of TOMS shoes to a child in need for every pair that is sold. This is very important in both well-off and impoverished nations as many parents can barely afford to feed themselves and their children, let alone purchase footwear.  On top of that, shoes are extremely important for children in any nation for multiple reasons.

Shoes allow children to attend school; most schools require shoes to be worn by students, therefore TOMS gives children an opportunity to attend school and get an education provided they needed shoes. An education increases a child’s chances of rising from crippling poverty, a major problem that has plagued Africa for far too long.  The benefits of an educated people also increase the chances of the nation itself becoming stronger and self-sufficient, eliminating any need for outside charity that seems to be advertised as endlessly needed.  Shoes also serve a more direct purpose.

In Africa, shoes protect the wearer’s feet from a crippling disease known as “podoconiosis.“  The disease, as described by Mycoskie, affects “hundreds of thousands of people,” infecting feet through the silicone left by the volcanic soot mixed into the ground, resulting in elephantiasis-like symptoms in the feet.  This impairs the victim, rendering walking impossible, diminishing hopes of achieving much in life without the aid of a wheelchair or crutches, which are difficult to use in most of Africa.  But, this disease’s impact on Africa pales in comparison to the toll HIV/AIDS which tallied up 1.7 million new cases in 2011 as shown in allAfrica’s article.  Still, walking has its importance, so TOMS aims to serve its purpose, but falls short.

Walking is, with the exception of the handicapable, something that everyone does, in different degrees from person to person.  Parker-Pope states that the average person in America walks 2.55 miles per day, paling in comparison to an average child who Africa walks 12 miles just to and from school each day as stated by Armstrong.  The difference in walking distance means that an African child’s feet, and shoes, take over four times as much wear-and-tear as an American’s.  Due to this, African children need more durable and supportive shoes to support their walking needs; TOMS shoes are not these shoes.

TOMS shoes are very flimsy.  Their upper is canvas and cloth, which makes them prone to tearing and slow to dry, leaving the wearer’s feet prone to water-borne diseases and cuts, with a low profile allowing for more harm to be done to the wearer’s upper feet and enabling podoconiosis to infect as well.  The sole is also infamously thin and weak, lasting on average only three months for a typical person in the U.S., which means they would only last a typical African child one month.  With these cons in mind, TOMS shoes are the worst possible shoe to give to impoverished African children.  A much more helpful style of shoe to give to the children would be combat boots which would last longer and protect against more diseases.  The free flimsy shoes also put Africans out of work.

Charity is often a short-term solution and a long-term problem.  Al Jazeera’s The Stream, states that approximately one trillion dollars have been donated to Africa from wealthy countries through foreign aid, yet Africa’s real-capita income is lower than in the 1970’s, provig that throwing money at an issue will not solve anything.  This happens because the aid, often free items that may or may not be needed, takes away from the internal markets of Africa, stealing business away from locals because “why buy the cow when you get the milk from free?”  The “philanthropy” of the well off often neglects what the actual needs are of the people they attempt to help, usually disenfranchising the beneficiaries of their jobs, creating a dependency on foreign aid.  The shoe industry alone has three major sectors that become ipeded by TOMS, so while the $70 shoes may be, as Zimmerman states, “the ultimate feel good purchase,” they are also a harmful purchase.

The shoe industry employs textile workers, assemblers, and venders.  These employees support themselves and their families through the local area’s need of shoes, so when a massive influx of free shoes comes into the area, these businesses lose customers, money, and jobs.  The loss often times dominos out into the rest of the area and also decreases the availability of shoes in the local markets where Africans purchase all of their necessities as stated by Makinwa.  When TOMS attempts to help impoverished areas they only succeed in the short-term, but fail in the long-term, putting people out of work and weakening the local economy, even preventing people from being able to purchase shoes at their local markets in the post-TOMS delivery future.  So while that education the recipient is enabled to receive for the three months that the TOMS shoes last, the crippling poverty that an education gives a fighting chance against is quickly worsened.  Instead of harming the impoverished, TOMS could change its business plan to actually help by creating jobs.

Much like any charity-dependent community, Africa needs to learn to support itself or it will always be impoverished.  This means that global aid programs need only to be teaching programs, helping the impoverished areas build their economies and school systems, not just give the poor free things.  If TOMS were to relocate its factories to Africa and pay fair wages, it could provide jobs for the locals and infuse new life into the area, strengthening the local economy and allowing the employees to buy whatever they may need, instead of just giving them a pair of flimsy shoes and posing with them for a photo.  TOMS is often times the opposite of charity, giving people things they do not want or need.

Charity is helping a person or people better themselves, not giving people free things.  It would not make sense to give a modeless person a motorcycle just because they do not have one, instead they need to be helped in getting a job so that they can afford to have a home, and a motorcycle as well if they so want.  Give a man a pair of TOMS and he will walk in shoes for a few months, but provide a man with a job and he will never go barefoot again.

Works Cited

“Africa: Infectious Diseases Account for 63 Percent of Deaths in THE Continent – WHO Official.” Http://allafrica.com/. AllAfrica, 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.

Armstrong, Nikki. “What Time Do Your Children Get up for School…and How Far Do They Walk?” Onedifference.org. One Foundation, 15 Feb. 2010. Web. 01 Apr. 2013.

Makinwa, Thiat. “The Trouble With TOMS.” Okayafrica.com. OkayAfrica, 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Apr. 2013.

MyCoskie, Blake. “Our Goal.” Toms.com. TOMS, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2013.

Parker-Pope, Tara. “The Pedometer Test: Americans Take Fewer Steps.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2010. Web. 01 Apr. 2013.

“The Stream.” Stream.aljazeera.com. The Stream, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Apr. 2013.

Zimmerman, Mike. “The Business of Giving: TOMS Shoes.” Success.com. Success, n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.

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One Response to Research Position Paper – Brent Adkins

  1. davidbdale says:

    Brilliant stuff that you have explained without ornamentation, Brent. I read this with interest again, after already having read your every draft at least twice and after having been thoroughly familiarized with all your material. You managed to engage me yet again, partly by solving problems we had earlier discussed, partly by the sheer persuasiveness of your clear logical path. You haven’t convinced me that aid has no value or that it always does more harm than good, but that’s too big a project for a paper this short. I’m delighted by your progress this semester.

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