Blake Mycoskie first glimpsed global poverty while a contestant on CBS's The Amazing Race, zooming around the world in 2002 with his sister, Paige, (they finished third on the reality game show). But it wasn't until a vacation to Argentina in 2006 that the Texan was hit with the need to do something about it.
A brief volunteer venture, traveling from village to village to dole out donated shoes to barefoot children, lit a fire in Mycoskie's heart. As he explains in his new book, Start Something That Matters, published in September 2011, he didn't want to just ask friends and family for donations to buy shoes for a few kids until the well of goodwill ran dry. Mycoskie, 35, wanted to create a model that would keep getting shoes to kids in need, as long as they needed them.
At first glance, the words "contacts" and "children" may not seem to belong in the same sentence. In fact, kids and contact lenses may be a good match depending on the maturity of the child or, more likely, teenager.
That's the idea behind Toms (www.toms.com) and its simple "One for One" model. When you buy a pair of Toms lightweight, casual shoes, the company gives a pair of shoes to a child. In October 2010, Toms donated its millionth pair of shoes -- and now, the company has moved on to giving away vision care as well, launching an eyewear line this past June. Within two weeks, the first run of glasses had sold out of stores. (Stock has since been replenished.)
The latest venture started on one of Mycoskie's many "shoe drops" -- he logs more than 240 days on the road each year -- when he realized that many of the children who could finally walk to school in their Toms-supplied shoes couldn't see the chalkboard.
The Toms Shoes Eyeglass Campaign
"I saw people begging on the street and the social workers told me they were once employed, but then they developed a cataract and couldn't work so had to start begging," he says. "I saw the real effects of vision impairment in the Third World.
"When you buy a pair of glasses, you help one person get sight: medical treatment, prescription glasses, cataract surgery, whatever they need," he says.
Mycoskie was soon traveling again, delivering glasses and watching surgeries in pilot countries Nepal, Cambodia, and Tibet. "I tell people: Just find a way to serve in your local community and you'll experience the joy. Once you get that bug, if it moves you, you'll know it and you'll start creating more opportunities in your life to do it."