TOMS takes part in “From Activism to Action” series

On Tuesday, the USC Institute for Global Health invited TOMS Director of Social Innovation and Impact Shira Shafir to speak about the concept of the “One for One” business model, which vows to deliver a free pair of shoes to a child in need for every sale a business makes, as part of the organization’s “From Activism to Action” lecture series.

Shafir is a faculty member in the department of epidemiology at UCLA and has been at TOMS for the last 13 months.

The institute partnered with USC’s Marshall Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab to put on the event, which emphasized social entrepreneurship. To coincide with the lecture event, the Institute also presented the results of their USC Global Health case study competition.

Heather Wipfli, associate director  the Institute, opened up the event by recognizing the winners. This competition challenged students to tackle a critical global health issue, requiring them to come up with realistic and innovative solutions within five days that they were given a case.

Each team had to represent at least three USC schools, thus emphasizing a multi-disciplinary approach. The winning team of the competition incorporated local Cameroonian arts of song, dance, and storytelling to educate the community about sanitation, water quality and shoe-wearing.

As part of their reward, the team was invited to participate in The Emory Global Health Case Competition in Atlanta, Georgia.

Wipfli then spoke about social entrepreneurship and multi-disciplinary approaches within the philosophy of TOMS to segue into Shafir’s lecture.

She began her lecture by supplying the audience with some numbers that illuminate the history of TOMS, beginning with the company’s inception in 2006. Since then, TOMS has sold and hence given 35 million pairs of shoes in more than 70 countries with 100 different partners.

“It used to be that we go to these organizations and say, ‘Please consider implementing and integrating [these shoes] into your programs,’” Shafir said. “Now, we have programs and partners who are coming to us instead so we can choose the best partners to work with.”

Shafir also introduced the company’s “Giving Model,” which begins when consumers make a purchase. TOMS’s supply chain team will then work together with partners who are knowledgeable about needs of different countries to allocate where the shoes go. The company’s “giving” team will work with various resources to further distribution. There is also a fund called the “Last Mile Contribution” to support the costs of such processes, including the costs of freight, vehicle rentals, fuel, storage and labor to deliver the shoes to more remote locations.

Demonstrating her background in epidemiology, Shafir emphasized the importance of shoes in context of its significance in disease prevention. According to Shafir, the simple act of wearing shoes can help prevent diseases such as podoconiosis.

“If children wears shoes, it creates a physical barrier that prevents contact from the soil, and it decreases their risk for devastating diseases,” Shafir said. “If you provide a child with a pair of shoes, it can be a life transformative experience.”

In addition to the existing “One for One” program, which sells eye care and supplies water to areas in need, the company now also sells glasses and coffee. In addition, Shafir introduced the company’s newest “One for One” initiative — selling bags to consumers in order to support maternal and infant health and to tackle the issue of infant mortality.

When Shafir opened time for questions, she received various questions regarding how TOMS’s corporate component might harm the company’s role in giving, especially after the company sold a 50 percent stake to a private equity firm.

“That was critical in the conversation and was actually insured in the contract — that the giving [program] would be protected,” Shafir said. “And in terms of missions and values, those are already hardwired in company culture.”

Natalie Mata, a junior majoring in global health, commented on how impressed she was with TOM’s program.

“I didn’t know how expansive TOMS’s “One for One” program was,” Mata said. “I didn’t know they were getting involved in optical care and now maternal and child health. These initiatives are really awesome.”

[Correction: A previous version of this story misattributed the quote in the last paragraph. It was Natalie Mata, not Shira Shafir, who said the quote. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.]