March 15, 2012

Buy One and Give One: Inside Toms Shoes

Andy Sternberg

Blake Mycoskie (center) is the founder of TOMS Shoes.

Toms Shoes promises shoppers that every time they buy a pair of the company's shoes, it will give a pair to a child in a poor country.

That's made the company into a $100-million enterprise that has sold more than two million shoes over the past six year. Bill Clinton has called the 35-year-old founder of Toms, Blake Mycoskie, one of the most interesting entrepreneurs he’s ever met.

Mr. Mycoskie, however, says he's not running a company. He says he's spearheading a global movement by harnessing the power of consumers to do good. And he has an enthusiastic following. Toms campus clubs have sprouted at colleges around the country, and annual marketing campaigns draw widespread attention to poverty-ridden nations.

In this edition of Tiny Spark, Amy Costello examines what happens to the two million shoes Toms has pledged to donate to the needy. Is the Toms "one for one" approach a smart and efficient form of philanthropy? Who benefits, and how does the company decide who its beneficiaries are?

You'll hear how Toms works in several countries as well as from philanthropy experts and an entrepreneur in the developing world who rejected the Toms approach because he thinks it hurts, not helps, people trying to gain self-sufficiency.