Giving Stories: Notes From the Field


The story of Sandrine in Goma, DRC

Name: Sandrine
Age: 12
Location: Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo Giving Partner: Eastern Congo Initiative

For 12-year-old Sandrine and her family, a new pair of TOMS Shoes doesn't just offer her feet protection on her 30-­‐minute walk to school, but it also relieves some of the financial burdens her parents experience daily. Sandrine is the fourth in a family of eight children, living in Goma, an impoverished region in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her father has been unemployed for many years and her mother sells beans in the market to try and feed the family. However, the income is not enough to send their children to school.

With the help of Giving Partner Eastern Congo Initiative and their partnership with a local organization called Alpha Ujuvi, Sandrine and her siblings were able to enroll in school for the first time last year. ECI partners with local organizations in eastern Congo that enable vulnerable children to attend school and receive health care. Together, the organizations believe that education is a deciding factor that can help create a better future for the people of the eastern Congo. It is through these initiatives in schools that new TOMS Shoes are distributed.

However, Sandrine's trek to school is not an easy one. Her neighborhood was built on top of volcanic rock after a 2002 eruption of the Volcano Nyiragongo. The sharp volcanic rock and dust makes it difficult to walk the long distances to go to school and fetch clean water. Her community also has little access to running water or proper health care, and many of the homes are makeshift structures put together with wooden planks.

Hortense, a director at Alpha Ujuvi's school, said that good shoes are important because they protect children's feet from the rough terrain during playtime and their long walks to school. "These shoes respond to an urgent and permanent needs of the children in this community," Hortense explains. Since the TOMS shoe distribution, teachers at Sandrine's primary school have reported better school attendance and improved self-esteem in children.

Before receiving her new TOMS, Sandrine used to complain that the tough volcanic rock made her walk to school difficult. However, she now shares, "I like these shoes because when I walk to school I don't have to wear sandals anymore...With my new shoes now rocks don't hurt me when I come to school."

We're excited and humbled to, for the first time, collaborate with a Giving Partner on a special-‐edition shoe; this one inspired by Congolese textiles. Each purchase still means a new pair of shoes for you and a child like Sandrine, but it also helps fund ECI's partner programs for youth and families in the region.

My Role at TOMS: Africa Account Specialist

Together, we reached a great milestone: 10 million pairs of new shoes given around the world to children in need. At TOMS we take Giving seriously. We have a team of over 20 people dedicated to every aspect of Giving. We're excited to introduce you to some of the fine folks on the TOMS Giving team, eager to share more about what they do in their role at TOMS.

We're handing the floor over to Karen, a Giving Account Specialist with a focus on building relationships with our Giving Partners in Africa:

Before I started at TOMS, I spent over 10 years working in domestic and international public health policy and it's exciting to be a part of something that's having a real effect on both the private and public sectors. As a company, TOMS has taken the opportunity to have a positive impact on people's lives and, thinking more long term, potentially on the way that corporate social responsibility is interpreted across industries.

As a Giving Account Specialist, a large part of my job is cultivating and managing the relationships between our Giving Partners and TOMS. Together with my team, we vet, seek out and establish long-term partnerships with organizations (nonprofits, non-governmental organizations and international organizations) that have the desire and capacity to integrate Shoe Giving into their existing programs. In a nutshell, this means a lot of travel, a lot of emails, and tons of Skype calls at off hours of the night.

We take the idea of “giving well” seriously and we work with organizations that are having a real impact on the lives of the people they serve. We aim to ensure that the shoes we give always complement — and never detract — from our Giving Partners' programming. Every day, I am continually amazed by the work that our Partners do and the innovative ways they integrate shoes into their existing programming in health, education and community development.

At TOMS, part of giving well is avoiding or mitigating any potential negative effects of TOMS Shoe Giving on local economies. It's especially important to both our Giving Partners and everyone here at TOMS. Part of my job as an Account Specialist for Africa has been to increase shoe production efforts in Kenya. By 2015, TOMS will produce 1/3 of its Giving Shoe in countries where we give. In order to make this goal a reality, I work with a team of people from our Supply Chain, Production, Finance and Giving departments. We've partnered with a local firm in Kenya to produce shoes for all of our local partners, including the Kenya Red Cross Society, Ahadi Kenya Trust, COHESU and Carolina for Kibera. Our Giving Partners work with us to field test the shoes and provide us with the feedback we need to ensure our shoes meet the needs of the children who will be receiving them.

Right now, I'm most excited to be working on the development of a program that we're calling JobsPLUS. It's not enough to just ramp up our production efforts in Kenya; we also want to create additional benefits for the workforce producing TOMS Shoes. More specifically, our goal is to create a sustainable program that benefits the children who have parents or family members working in the factories where TOMS are made. In collaboration with the factory leadership, we have a team of Kenyan researchers conducting what's called a “needs assessment” to determine if there are unmet needs that TOMS can play a role in fulfilling. Stateside, we're researching similar programming by other progressive manufacturers. These findings will shape the development of a social service component that we hope to roll out by 2014.

After nearly a year of working on projects like these, I'm constantly impressed and humbled by the commitment of TOMS employees, the amazing work of our Giving Partners and the dedication we all have to continue to define and drive impact through the One for One® model. We're still a young company in constant evolution, and we're always learning: from our Partners, from our failures and our successes.

A look into the Giving side

Evolving our Giving: Expanding local production

We often hear, "Giving shoes is great, but giving jobs is much more important."

At TOMS, we're passionate about contributing to the advancement of communities through supporting and creating jobs. So we've been actively searching to partner with facilities that manufacture TOMS Giving Pairs in the countries where we give.

We currently make Giving Pairs in Ethiopia, Kenya, Argentina and China. Each facility is locally staffed and operated, helping create steady jobs in the region. And by 2015, we will produce one-third of our Giving Shoes in the regions where we give. By producing more shoes locally, we will create and support jobs in places where they are needed. We are working to strengthen production lines in more countries, creating shoe-manufacturing capabilities in Haiti and supporting existing industries in countries like India, where we are currently testing production.

In Haiti, we've partnered with local artists to create a line of hand-painted shoes for our customers — creating and supporting jobs in a place where we also give new shoes to children. And we're always looking to offer more styles that feature locally produced textiles.

It’s important to know though, that nothing is done in haste. We enter each facility with the help of respected firms and consultants to make sure each operates up to our global standards. This means that we pair fair wages, provide acceptable working environments and prohibit child labor.

By diversifying our manufacturing into the countries where we give, our entire Giving process can be streamlined for efficiency, while also having a positive impact on local economies.