A short explanation of why feel good aid might make things worse

In The Broken “Buy-One, Give-One” Model: 3 Ways to Save Toms Shoes author Cheryl Davenport provides a concise description of the underlying problem with the TOMS model.

There’s a huge number of articles out there describing the conceptual issues.  Ms. Davenport has a great recap:

First, the Toms buy-one-give-one model does not actually solve a social problem. Rather, the charitable act of donating a free pair of shoes serves as little more than a short-term fix in a system in need of long-term, multi-faceted economic development, health, sanitation, and education solutions.

The standard illustration is a shoeless child living in a landfill who is surviving by picking through garbage. After getting a free pair of shoes, I may feel good about myself, but there remains a child living in a landfill who is surviving by picking through garbage.

The far more difficult, complex, costly, time-consuming, less photogenic, and painful solution is the author’s suggestion to provide “long-term, multi-faceted economic development, health, sanitation, and education solutions.”

There is growing awareness of the unintended consequence issue. Ms. Davenport continues:

The problem, we’ve learned, is when that “something” can do more harm than good. As Time recently noted, an increasing number of foreign aid practitioners and agencies are recognizing that charitable gifts from abroad can distort developing markets and undermine local businesses by creating an entirely unsustainable aid-based economy. By undercutting local prices, Western donations often hurt the farmers, workers, traders, and sellers whose success is critical to lifting entire communities out of poverty. That means every free shoe donated actually works against the long-term development goals of the communities we are trying to help.

Would be worth your time to read the Time article linked in that paragraph.

Undercutting local markets makes the problem worse.

The majority of comments on Ms. Davenport’s article missed the exquisitely massive impact of that concept.  Those comments essentially prove the point of many who criticize the send-any-sort-of-product-you-want concept – the commenters believe this is a good model because it feels good.

Here’s an idea:

I imagine a Toms that creates jobs and builds economies by sourcing shoes from developing countries, small businesses, and burgeoning entrepreneurs. I imagine a Toms that eradicates hookworms within an entire country by giving not only the gift of shoes, but also the lasting impact of infrastructure and health facilities.

One Response to A short explanation of why feel good aid might make things worse

  1. […] reading. First, making forest fires worse. Second, getting sick from reusable grocery bags. My previous examples were from the international aid […]

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