Shoes, Social Media and Justice

Watching on television a single shoe washing up onshore, Wayne Elsey felt compelled to do something. So, he called up some other footwear executives and got them to donate 250 million shoes to people who were lacking basic footwear.

I first met Wayne Elsey at a cocktail party (or whatever the nonprofit/charity equivalent is). Even during that short interview time his simple activism inspired me: “At the end of the day, I don’t care what you tell me, because your words mean nothing to me. Your actions mean it all. If you want to tell me how much you care about me … you do that by your actions.” And that’s what he does–he shows people all over the world that he cares about them by giving them shoes through Soles4Souls, a 501(c)3 charity he founded to bring quality footwear to poverty-stricken areas.

I first met Anne Jackson, Zondervan author and fellow Nashvillian, through her blog (ironic, since we live in the same town and know some of the same people). As one of Alltop’s highest-ranked Christian bloggers, she probably hears that a lot. She blogs about anything from Italian men kidnapping women for chores, to her Compassion trip to Uganda, to discussions about shaving one leg per day. To be sure, Anne is fun to read, but one can’t get past the fact that she is on a mission in this life to see a Kingdom of justice and compassion incarnated through the lives of passionate Christ-followers. In other words, she’s a bit of an activist.

Therefore, it didn’t at all surprise me to hear that Anne Jackson and Wayne Elsey had teamed up to launch the Soles4Souls 50,000 Pairs in 50 Days Challenge.

Soles4Souls is a nonprofit organization started by Elsey, also the president of Kodiak-Terra USA, after he saw the effects of the Asian tsunami in 2004. Watching on television a single shoe washing up onshore, he felt compelled to do something. So, he called up some other footwear executives and got them to donate a quarter of a million shoes to people who were lacking basic footwear.

More than just a pair of sneakers, the post-tsunami relief effort communicated hope and dignity to an area of the world that had been utterly decimated by a brutal force of nature. Incidentally, when Katrina hit a year later, Wayne did the same thing and saw three-quarters of a million pairs of shoes donated. From there, it really took off. Having already given away over a million shoes to people in need, their goal of changing the world “one pair at a time” is really coming true.

I’m not surprised that after a short time of knowing each other, Anne Jackson and Wayne Elsey have banded together to help the poor. In Jackson’s own words, the impact a pair of shoes can have is amazing: “Over 300 million people around the world don’t have shoes and are forced to walk around unsafe and in potentially life-threatening conditions. Not only is it unsafe physically, but having to look down all the time causes these people to also live without dignity and confidence.” To be sure, a pair of shoes offers more than comfort and protection; nonetheless, Elsey confirms that plenty of diseases and infections in the third world can be prevented by simple footwear. With Soles4Souls’ worldwide outreach programs, they are.

Both activists and believers in engaging a needy world with simple remedies, Elsey and Jackson recently got together to no doubt scheme about ways to save the world. They wondered out loud together, “What is the craziest thing we could do using social media to meet this huge need?” Within ten minutes, they had agreed to raise 50,000 pairs of shoes in 50 days.

Wayne and Soles is making it easy to donate, while providing incentives for individuals and organizations who give. Anne is hitting the blogosphere as an evangelist, causing a viral campaign of blogging, tweets, and facebook frenzy. It’s an example of grassroots, causal marketing at its best.

What’s craziest about this effort is not that Elsey and Jackson are shooting for the moon, but that it just might happen. With your help and mine, they’re sure to hit their goal. Jackson’s organic networking coupled with Elsey’s vision will not only activate people to get involved with the campaign, but should also inspire other visionaries to pursue their own causes.

One thing is for sure: they just won another advocate. I joined the campaign without anyone guilt-tripping me or twisting my arm (as I write this on the first day of the campaign, over 2000 pairs have already been donated). Seeing something so organic and low-key, yet of such a magnitude to impact 50,000 lives, was attractive in and of itself. I needed no coercion, no expensive ad campaigns, no mind-blowing technology to win me over. Just the Body of Christ being the Body was enough. Inspiring, isn’t it?

Here’s how it works:

See Also

Go to 50000shoes.com.
A $5 donation buys two pairs of shoes. Everyone that’s reading this has $5, and everyone has 2 minutes. From start to finish, donating is literally three clicks. No fluff. No hassle. Anyone can donate.

Spread the word.
Use the widget code on the landing page to post a link on your blog. Email everyone you know. Join the facebook group. Ask your friends to do the same!

Win a trip.
Besides the fact that the blogging world can literally impact 50,000 people before the end of the year, one person (and their guest) will be chosen at random to hand-deliver the shoes they purchased on a Soles4Souls trip to Mexico. Imagine handing someone their first pair of shoes… ever.

Do the Math.
If 500 people influence 10 people to donate, and those people influence 5 more, that’s 50,000 pairs of shoes ($5 buys 2 pairs).

Get Started.
Sign-up at http://www.50000shoes.com/, donate your $5, and start spreading the word.

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