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|As TOMS Outgrows Shoes, Six Suggestions for Buy-One-Give-One Products Six Ideas for Buy-One-Give-One Businesses that Help the Poor|
TOMS shoes pioneered the the buy-one-give-one model, melding first-world consumption with third-world aid. With each pair of TOMS shoes you buy, the company sends a pair to someone in need in the developing word. Now TOMS says the needs are too big to stick to espadrilles. TOMS eyewear launched yesterday with the same buy-one-give-one model.
For $135 you can get a pair of TOMS shades and also provide "sight for one person" in Nepal, Cambodia, or Tibet through medical treatment or prescription glasses. Each pair of TOMS eyewear is decorated with three stripes, representing you, the person getting the other pair, and TOMS.
TOMS isn't the first to this space. Warby Parker and 141Eyewear each uses the so-called BOGO model with eyewear already. And there are other solutions to vision problems in the developing world like these $25 glasses that you can "tune" yourself, no optician needed. But there's plenty of room for all these solutions. By some estimates there are as many as 1 billion people with poor vision who can't afford glasses.
As Rose Shuman who used to work for the Adaptive Eyewear that makes glasses for the developing world, "eyeglasses are one of those things where you actually can show up and do an intervention and have made a lasting impact on a person. There are very few development interventions that work like that." Shoes wear out, but glasses can last a tremendously long time, and losing your sight takes you out of the labor force.
TOMS has taken criticism for attempting to tackle that kind of need through first-world consumption. Some argue that if not done right, donations can displace local development. Others point out that some cause-related buying actually displaces other donations. But TOMS is a shoe company, not a development nonprofit. Judged against other shoe (and now eyewear) companies, they're having a pretty impressive impact. And for the most part, TOMS customers are buying the product because they want it, not as their sole strategy for helping.
With that in mind, here are a few other products TOMS might want to consider expanding into.
Organizations like Maya Pedal, which makes pedal-powered machines from old bike parts, accept donations and actually put them to good use. So the BOGO model could even incorporate the donation of your old bike. Buy one, give two!
Cell phones have become a tool of development. They can be used for community education, to facilitate local medical diagnostics, or even as businesses themselves, as with Grameenphone's Village Phone program.
Buy a cell phone here, and give a cheaper cell phone to a community group that uses phones for development. Something like the Nokia 1100, which has been compared to the AK-47 for its design excellence, would be perfect. The difference in cost between your fancy phone and the no-frills donated phone could go to minutes for the recipient. Or that could be built into your plan.
There are real benefits to microsaving programs that let the poor store small amounts of extra cash in a secure place. The problem, though, is that tiny deposits don't pay off for banks, so they often don't accept them. So what if a bank here in the United States let the fees for your checking account cover your own services and the microsavings account of a family in the third world?
The cost would be so minimal most people wouldn't even notice. Hell, it'd almost surely be less than any of the other fees our banks already nail us with for not reading the fine print.
Laugh if you want, but pads are tools of development. The Campaign for Female Ed gives maxi pads to girls because they stop coming to class while on their periods. Giving pads is giving a girl education, if done through organizations like Camfed.
Sustainable Health Enterprises produces banana leaf maxi pads, made by local women and sold at 30 percent below market. Maybe there's room to combine that kind of local production with a BOGO plan in the United States.
School supplies make a lot of sense to give because kids stay home from school when they don't have access to pencils or uniforms. But let's think even bigger. What if a school, or a chain of charter or private schools, decided that tuition for your child paid for tuition for a child in the developing world, along with supplies? One school here funds one school somewhere else.
The values inherent in this commitment would become part of the curriculum. Students from sister schools could interact, as pen pals, or through other high-tech connections. The donor and the recipient would both reap lifelong benefits.
If it sounds completely crazy, consider the Manhattan Country School in New York that charges a sliding scale for tuition, essentially a percentage of parent income. Plenty of rich parents line up to put their kids in the school because they value the diversity—and therefore enhanced education—this alternate payment plan creates. Maybe there's demand out there to take that idea one step further.
It might not be as easy to market as TOMS shoes, but what if you were given the choice every time you got a flu shot or other vaccine to fund the vaccine of someone in the developing world? Drug companies are developing low cost, deep-discount vaccines already, so the mark-up would be small. Maybe insurance companies could use the program as a selling point to win new customers (we dare to dream).