I believe each of us has a mission in life, and that one cannot truly be living their most fulfilled life until they recognize this mission and dedicate their life to pursuing it. Sometimes a mission lasts for two weeks or two months, or possibly 20 years. I have given my life to several over the past 33 years, but none of them have resonated so deeply with my soul as the one I am currently pursuing. This mission is not singular in its track, but consists of several evolving pursuits interconnected by the TOMS movement. I would like to share each of those with you in hopes that you will continue to support me and hold me accountable for fulfilling them.
The first mission, and the one most relevant to my time in Southern Ethiopia, is my desire to eliminate unnecessary human suffering through the distribution of new shoes. In one of the very rural areas on my trip, I had an epiphany that might seem like common knowledge to many. But to me, it was a way of looking at the need for shoes in a totally different perspective. In the areas of the greatest poverty, which often are also extremely remote, a willing person can build shelter, grow food and they can even seek elders and teachers to learn from, but it is
highly unlikely that they can make a pair of shoes. Shoes require factories, machines and materials not typically found in nature. So in these areas, if there are diseases to be contracted in the absence of shoes, these people have little hope of escaping them. This is why we
must continue to give aid in these areas, and while I am a big believer in teaching someone to fish instead of giving them fish, in this case, we must give them fish in order for them to learn other things that will allow them to improve their lives. Our work to prevent Podoconiosis, and
our efforts to help raise the necessary funds to treat it, fall into this category and mission.
I listened to some of the most intense stories of the human spirit in Sodo last week. I heard about women who tried to digest poison in order to avoid a continued life of shame and
alienation, but who got a second chance from the Mossy Foot clinics with treatment, vocational job training and a pair of shoes. These women now have regular-sized feet, are back with the families that love them, and are dedicating their lives to informing patients in their communities that Podo can be prevented with shoes durable shoes and simple hygiene, and if contracted, can be reversed with treatment. There are hundreds, if not thousands of stories just like this one, and even if there was only one of these stories and one child that would soon face a similar fate, our work at TOMS and with the Mossy Foot Project would be worth
While in Durban a couple weeks ago, I sat on the edge of a skateboard ramp surrounded by Zulu huts and farmland. What I saw was simply beautiful. I saw community. I saw self-esteem. I saw children who were not just learning how to skate, but learning mathematics, geography and the idea that with self-discipline and courage, anything can be learned or achieved. The Indigo Skate Camp, founded by a gentle spirit named Dallas, was the first stop on the TOMS and Element Shoe + Board Drop.
Besides many talented and happy children, each wearing a new pair of shoes and riding a new skateboard, what I saw was the joy of giving. This collaboration between TOMS and Element was almost two years in the making, and while it took considerable efforts and coordination, I believe it was worth every ounce of energy. We received love, acceptance and demonstrations of pure delight. So my second mission is clear. We must find a way to share this experience with as many people as humanly possible. Organizing Shoe Drops is no doubt a very complicated and time consuming task, and I have the utmost respect for everyone at TOMS
(including my mom who did the first one) who has taken part in putting a Shoe Drop on, but the transformative experience that happens inside the volunteers and recipients is well worth the effort. As TOMS grows, it is my mission to offer more of these experiences to employees, customers, vendors, volunteers and friends through our non-profit, Friends of TOMS.
Lastly, in speaking with a few of the volunteers and contest winners on the Shoe Drop and hearing from a proud parent whose children have been inspired by the One for One movement, there is no doubt that people are seeing that business and matters of the heart do not have to be mutually exclusive. That one does not need to choose between passion and business, or the Peace Corps and corporate America, but a blend can exist, and when the model is sound, great things can happen. So I will dedicate the time to record what we are learning, to facilitate
introductions and to speak to those who are interested, in hopes that TOMS' impact is not limited to the shoes we put on childrens' feet, but that TOMS inspires a new generation of leaders who will go on to solve the many injustices that exist today and will surface tomorrow.
As I said in the beginning, one must know their mission, and I am extremely grateful for my time in Ethiopia and South Africa, because my mission became increasingly clear to me with each day there. I encourage each of you to find seek your mission, and although you may not find it today, take those small steps that will bring you there. Exercise your purchasing power as a consumer, volunteer and bring joy to those in need, and share your experiences, tell your stories, and inspire others along the way.