Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Day Without

Today, Tom's is advertising their annual Day Without Shoes—an event designed to promote the company's one-for-one shoe program and to advocate for the plight of those around the world who don't have the luxury of shoes. Though it's a worthy cause, there are those who have reservations (or here) about the efficacy of Tom's shoe giveaways, ourselves included.

While, yes, we applaud Tom's for being an early promoter of the social entrepreneurship model and for encouraging people to "walk a mile in the soles" of the disenfranchised, giving people shoes emphasizes their material needs without remembering the broader context of poverty—the systemic, cultural, and legal barriers that also exist. Poverty doesn't mean you can't buy another pair of sneaks, it means chronic insecurity and lack of flexibility and opportunity. Sometimes, in our efforts to show off the good we do, an implicit message is pushed, one that oversimplifies complex problems and diminishes the value of the people who receive assistance. We want to direct the spotlight away from Western do-gooders and back to the recipients. That's where The Day Without Dignity comes in.

This year, there is a parallel movement that has mustered under the banner of Good Intentions Are Not Enough, an outspoken blog that advocates for "smart" aid. They’ve initiated "The Day Without Dignity" campaign, a day designed to accentuate the flip side of Western interventions and gifts-in-kind.

Too often in development, the "good intentions" of foreign aid workers gets publicized to the neglect of the hard working partners on the ground. Or for the Tom's campaign, the focus is on those choosing to walk barefoot today, and not on those who never had the choice.

We are guilty of this ourselves as we promote our work and leave out the invaluable contributions of our community partners. In our efforts to tell you about our success and struggles, it's easy to not mention the teachers we work alongside, the health promoters who mentored our health team, and the countless meetings with invested Guatemalans who are making strides to improve their own country.

Our work is important and appreciated, but the credit shouldn't go to us, and today we want to remind you again about the integral role of our local partners.

So, when someone says they're going barefoot today, ask them who it's for. And instead of joining, be proactive and swing by DoSomething.org for their suggestions on more direct ways to get involved in your community.

 This post written as a contribution to @Good_Intents counter-campaign to the TOMS A Day Without Shoes campaign, “A Day Without Dignity.“ Click here for a full listing of posts.

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