If you recently received the spring 2014 TOMS Shoes catalog, you may have read about the partnership between TOMS Shoes and Global Communities in Rwanda. I wanted to take the opportunity to delve a little deeper into what this private public partnership looks like, and why it is delivering a sustainable solution to the needs of vulnerable Rwandan communities.
Twenty years ago, Rwanda experienced a brutal genocide that ripped the country apart and left deep psychological and social scars. Nevertheless today, in so many ways, Rwanda is also an impressive emerging African economic power. The country has experienced phenomenal development in the last decade, including high economic growth and poverty reduction. Between 2001 and 2012, GDP growth averaged 8% a year, according to the World Bank. Still, large pockets of poverty remain, especially in rural areas. Many young people are orphans — of the genocide, or from the effects of HIV and AIDS. Farmland is not plentiful and there is insufficient knowledge in financial literacy and agricultural techniques. Rwandans, particularly the very young and very old, remain vulnerable to economic and health shocks.
This is one of the reasons why, since 2005, Global Communities, a nonprofit organization working to assist the vulnerable around the world, has implemented programs that help Rwandans build their resilience. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, we help these communities improve their conditions. In partnership with local partners on the ground, we teach them how to implement agricultural techniques, hygiene, and how to improve their nutrition.
Global Communities works with families to help them build their livelihoods, augment their financial literacy and enhance their life skills to help them cope with economic hardships. Thus far, Global Communities has assisted more than 95,000 Rwandan households with these activities.
Recently, Global Communities partnered with TOMS Shoes, a company founded in 2006 with giving at its core. For every pair of shoes purchased, a pair of new shoes is given to a child in need – One for One. In the more than 60 countries where new TOMS Shoes are distributed through Giving Partners, many children can proudly attend schools where shoes are mandatory, with their feet now covered, protecting them from cuts and infection.
When TOMS approached Global Communities about becoming a Giving Partner in Rwanda, we were excited to be able to help thousands of youths get shoes. But it was more than that. We saw this as a great opportunity to be partners for good with TOMS by taking their One for One approach and combining it with our development approach to have an even bigger impact on the communities we serve. We use TOMS Shoe-giving as an incentive to encourage families to participate in our small savings and lending groups, and in financial literacy training through Global Communities’ USAID Higa Ubeho program, which teaches families the skills they need to help them handle the economic challenges they face on an ongoing basis.
Over 75,000 adults have been trained so far into forming savings and lending groups, and as a result, tens of thousands of pairs of shoes have been distributed to many of their children.[/blockquote]
In a simple move, we have partnered to use shoes as an important incentive for families: if adults complete savings and lending group trainings, their kids get a free pair of new shoes. This strategy has made recruitment very easy. In Rwanda, we recently hosted some of the TOMS team, including TOMS Founder and Chief Shoe Giver Blake Mycoskie, who joined our team for a shoe distribution. Over 75,000 adults have been trained so far into forming savings and lending groups, and as a result, tens of thousands of pairs of shoes have been distributed to many of their children.
By bringing together a proven development approach and a social enterprise, we have reached even more people with an even greater impact. And by receiving a pair of shoes, the families have one less financial worry and can use their limited resources for other important expenses like school fees and health insurance. This collaboration is a wonderful example of how merging the capabilities of different interests can have tremendous impact for the poorest individuals around the globe.