Fol­low­ing in his foot­steps to a bet­ter way to give

Chi­nese com­pa­nies may adopt the char­ity tem­plate of Toms Shoes in their quest to be so­cially re­spon­si­ble, Fan Feifei re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

The suc­cess­ful “One for One” busi­ness model pi­o­neered by Toms Shoes is a per­fect mar­riage of busi­ness and char­ity that could serve as a blue­print for Chi­nese en­ter­prises as they em­brace cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Thirty- eight- year- old Blake My­coskie, the founder of Toms Shoes, told China Daily that the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween Toms and other busi­ness in­sti­tu­tions is, “We started the busi­ness be­cause of our giv­ing, while some busi­nesses have a busi­ness then do giv­ing.”

My­coskie never imag­ined he would one day be­come a shoe sales­man. Born in Ar­ling­ton, Texas, he launched his first busi­ness, a stu­dent laun­dry ser­vice, at the age of 19. The busi­ness soon be­came popular on sur­round­ing school cam­puses, and then he dropped out of school and founded four other com­pa­nies.

How­ever, he re­called the in­spi­ra­tion to launch a com­pany that makes shoes stemmed from one of his ex­pe­ri­ences trav­el­ing around Ar­gentina.

“About nine years ago, I was trav­el­ing on a va­ca­tion in South Amer­ica, and I saw there were many chil­dren in the streets ... not wear­ing shoes. I later learned that many of th­ese chil­dren were not al­lowed to go to school be­cause shoes were a re­quire­ment for the school uni­form.”

While there, he met some women from a vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vided shoes for chil­dren in need. He joined their team to dis­trib­ute shoes, trav­el­ing from vil­lage to vil­lage.

“(I wit­nessed) the in­tense pock­ets of poverty just out­side the bustling cap­i­tal,” he wrote in his book Start Some­thing That Mat­ters pub­lished in 2011. “I knew some­where in the back of my mind that poor chil­dren around the world of­ten went bare­foot, but now, for the first time, I saw the real ef­fects of be­ing shoe­less: the blis­ters, the sores, the in­fec­tions.”

The tra­di­tional ap­proach for a char­ity or foun­da­tion is to raise money or get dona­tions, and give them to the kids, but My­coskie wor­ried if they didn’t get the right do­na­tion, the chil­dren would not get the shoes they needed.

That’s where the idea for Toms was born. He got a lo­cal sup­plier to make an adap­ta­tion of the al­par­gata, a light, can­vas shoe that many Ar­gen­tines, rich and poor, wear, and re­turned to the United States and founded Shoes for Bet­ter To­mor­rows in 2006. Toms takes its name from the first three let­ters ‘ tom’ and the ‘s’ in ‘to­mor­rows’.

“My idea was to cre­ate a busi­ness for the pur­pose of help­ing chil­dren get shoes. So we cre­ated a for-profit com­pany, not a char­ity, but ev­ery time we sold a pair of shoes, we would do­nate a pair of shoes to the chil­dren, one for one,” he said, adding that ini­tially he just wanted to give 250 pairs of shoes, but the idea was in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful.

The for-profit com­pany cur­rently earns an es­ti­mated $250 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enues, and has ex­tended its prod­uct range to in­clude eye­wear, pro­vid­ing es­sen­tial eye­care for each pair of eye­wear sold.

My­coskie’s phi­lan­thropy and busi­ness model earned him the 2009 Award of Cor­po­rate Ex­cel­lence from then US Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton.

The com­pany has do­nated more than 38 mil­lion pairs of shoes to peo­ple in need in many parts of the world, not only in Ar­gentina, but also in Africa and Asia. The shoes are sold glob­ally in more than 1,000 stores.

“The idea of Toms was just an idea. I had no ex­pe­ri­ence in mak­ing shoes and char­ity.” It was a very small, sim­ple idea to help one vil­lage of chil­dren, he said, em­pha­siz­ing, “Ev­ery­one should con­tinue to fo­cus on the im­por­tance of ideas, be­cause a sim­ple idea will cre­ate a big dif­fer­ence in the world.”

He added: “What I learned from Toms in the past nine years is the idea of ‘giv­ing’ can also be re­ally good for busi­ness and there is noth­ing wrong with that.”

Toms en­tered the Chi­nese mar­ket in 2014, launch­ing stores in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Guangzhou, Shen­zhen, Nan­jing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Shenyang and Qing­dao. It plans to open new stores in other Chi­nese cities. The com­pany still donates a new pair of shoes for ev­ery pair of shoes sold.

Toms also has worked with five char­ity or­ga­ni­za­tions in China, in­clud­ing Youchange China So­cial En­tre­pre­neur Foun­da­tion, Heifer China, World Vi­sion, Save the Chil­dren and Ru­ral Ed­u­ca­tion Ac­tion Project. It ex­pects to do­nate about 600,000 shoes by the end of 2015 in China.

In 2008, Toms launched its “One Day With­out Shoes” cam­paign, in which the com­pany pledged to do­nate a pair of shoes for ev­ery photo of barefeet tagged on Instagram, no pur­chase needed. In May, the cam­paign was in­tro­duced to China for the first time.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of sup­port­ers in China joined. Some kicked off their shoes and went bare­foot, climb­ing the Great Wall. Par­tic­i­pants posted their bare­foot pic­tures and videos us­ing so­cial me­dia like Sina Weibo and WeChat.

“Our busi­ness is based on not just giv­ing shoes to chil­dren once, but con­tin­u­ing giv­ing to them. The big­gest thing the shoes do is to help give them self-es­teem, so the chil­dren be­lieve in them­selves,” My­coskie said.

Duan De­feng, CEO of Re­cende, a con­sult­ing com­pany re­search­ing cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, which also works with char­ity groups and foun­da­tions to pro­mote the devel­op­ment of public wel­fare, told China Daily. “It is very dif­fi­cult to find an en­ter­prise in China to­tally like Toms. Chi­nese en­ter­prises sim­ply stick to the tra­di­tional idea of do­ing char­ity work — do­na­tion, but not in com­bi­na­tion with their main busi­nesses, which is the big­gest distinc­tion.”

Duan added that most Chi­nese en­ter­prises that have done well in cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity of­ten have a his­tory of about 15 to 20 years. They first earned a lot of rev­enue and then con­cerned them­selves with char­ity, while Toms es­tab­lished the one-for-one busi­ness model from the very start.

“The ‘One for One’ idea has a nat­u­ral ad­van­tage, namely, in­te­grat­ing char­ity into buy­ing be­hav­ior. Peo­ple feel it’s very con­ve­nient when they do­nate money. But I think Toms’ suc­cess lies in the prod­ucts — its shoes, which are re­ally very com­fort­able,” Duan said.

Tao Chuan­jin, a pro­fes­sor at the School of So­cial Devel­op­ment and Public Pol­icy at Bei­jing Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, said: “It is a global trend to in­tro­duce char­ity into busi­ness in­sti­tu­tions, which is also the so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity an en­ter­prise needs to un­der­take. How­ever, a key point is whether the en­ter­prises keep their prom­ises, act­ing with in­tegrity and re­main­ing trans­par­ent.”

Tao added Chi­nese peo­ple some­times doubt whether the dona­tions reach the hands of those in need. Trust is of great im­por­tance, so what en­ter­prises should do is to be hon­est and open, such as dis­clos­ing their fi­nan­cial re­ports to the public and al­low­ing the public to see what they are do­ing to dis­pel their doubts.

“Toms is fa­vored in China first be­cause of its fash­ion­able style, but not the ‘One for One’ idea,” said Jen Loong, mar­ket­ing direc­tor of Toms in China.

Chu Ying, a re­searcher with Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity’s NGO Re­search Cen­ter, said the idea of com­bin­ing char­ity and busi­ness has be­come the main­stream model in the world.

“The com­bi­na­tion of char­ity and busi­ness, as a new char­ity model, could mo­bi­lize more so­cial re­sources at a large scale. Mean­while it is ben­e­fi­cial for en­ter­prises to con­trol the cost.”

Chu added China’s char­ity work is still in a prim­i­tive state — be­ing com­prised of just dona­tions. Although some en­ter­prises have at­tempted to copy Toms’ busi­ness model, it still takes a long time, al­most 20 years, to re­al­ize the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of busi­ness and char­ity.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with China Foun­da­tion for Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion, 361°, a sneaker maker in China, ini­ti­ated the first “con­sump­tion-based” char­ity pro­gram in China in 2013.

For each pair of des­ig­nated shoes pur­chased by the con­sumer, chil­dren in im­pov­er­ished re­gions re­ceive a pair of sports shoes spe­cially de­signed and pro­duced by the com­pany, which is do­nated in the name of con­sumers. Over 60,000 chil­dren have been pro­vided shoes.

“This is a good trial and also the devel­op­ment path for China’s phi­lan­thropy in the fu­ture,” Chu added. Con­tact the writer at fan­feifei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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