By Carolyn Gray Anderson
UCLA Anderson’s second annual Social Innovation Week culminated in a day of events that included a keynote address by Priya Bery, chief of staff of TOMS, the one-for-one shoe company setting an example of how for-profit businesses can be part of the solution to global problems.
TOMS is a giving company, plain and simple. Without giving, there would be no business. Period.
In a conversation with Anderson lecturer Gayle Northrop, Bery explained that the company didn’t start with shoes or any other product. From its inception, she said, TOMS was not a “business idea.” This distinguishes it from companies that produce and sell first, then tack on a separate foundation or nonprofit for their giving. Formerly, said Bery, “business only ever came to the table to write a check.” At TOMS, giving is integrated into every level and facet of daily operations. It’s the raison d’être.
So, what TOMS makes and sells is incidental to everything else it achieves. Getting shoes onto kids’ feet — in part by donating a pair of shoes for every pair purchased by a customer — means keeping children in school, enabling them to join team athletics and other forms of play, and staving off infections and disease. People who could not otherwise afford shoes get shod, as it were, and the truly important things in their lives — education, health, self-esteem — are possible. All because founder Blake Mykoskie wanted to help solve a world problem but didn’t want to ask for donations or write grants to do it.