Monthly Archives: March 2011

SXSW 2011: Is giving back as simple as a pair of shoes?

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 “Giving is a good business strategy. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Blake Mycoskie at last week’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference in Austin, TX.

As one of the keynote speakers at the conference—which drew thousands of influential, tech-savvy types from all over the world—Mycoskie knew what he was talking about. The founder of Toms Shoes, he used word of mouth, not advertising, to turn a tiny company based out of his California apartment into a multi-million-dollar business. And he did it using the simple model of “one for one”: For each pair of shoes sold, the company donates a pair to a child in need.

Listening from the back row of a cavernous auditorium in the Austin Convention Center, I couldn’t help but feel moved when Mycoskie talked about his visits to poor communities in South America, which inspired him to do something to help. I, too, have found my life transformed by traveling to places far outside my comfort zone. Most of all, I liked how he had found a way to make addressing poverty into something stylish, catchy, and easy to understand.

Still, I couldn’t figure out what Mycoskie meant when he called giving a “good business strategy.” Was he speaking as an idealist or a pragmatic entrepreneur?  Did he really believe that a for-profit company could make as much difference as a charity? Or was he just stating a blunt truth: namely, people like to buy things that make them feel good about themselves?

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Fighting hunger, far away and close to home

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Majora Carter, far right, fires up the crowd at a New York City Oxfam America Hunger Banquet earlier this week. Photo: Sarah Peck / Oxfam America
Majora Carter, far right, fires up the crowd at a New York City Oxfam America Hunger Banquet earlier this week. Photo: Sarah Peck / Oxfam America

“You’re not going to like what I have to say,” warned the woman next to me. An instructor at a local college, she was among the 80 or so people who’d attended a Boston panel discussion last week in honor of the centennial of International Women’s Day. The panel was one of over 175 events nationwide organized by Oxfam America and our supporters this spring, all based around the theme of women and food.

It wasn’t the response I expected when I asked my neighbor what she thought of the panel. But I assured her I’d listen with an open mind.

She said that it was good to hear women’s stories from other parts of the world—referring to panelist Yvette Cissé, an Oxfam America partner and leader of an organic farmers’ cooperative in Mali. Cissé spoke via translator about the benefits she’s seen from growing organic cotton, such as more fertile soil and higher earnings that help women feed their families. “You can be an expert farmer, but if there’s not enough water, it’s a big problem,” said Cissé of the challenges caused by increasingly erratic rainfall. “Women are pulling water by hand from a 20- to 30-foot-deep well, or walking up to a mile to get water for their gardens.”

Still, the woman next to me explained, she sometimes worried that stories like this might divert our attention from ending hunger and poverty here in the US. Those problems may not be as intense, she said, but they’re real too, and they’re right on our doorstep.

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Woman to woman, a commitment

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As you may have read in my colleague Bob Ferguson’s latest blog, Oxfam has a lot of really cool friends. Musicians and actors, they use their power as celebrities to bring attention to the poverty and injustice Oxfam works to overcome. Today, many of the amazing women we work with are marking International Women’s Day with blog posts of their own, calling attention to the idea that women are disproportionately affected by hunger, but at the same time, are in the best position to combat it.

Here are some excerpts:

Actress Kristin Davis writes about the quiet revolution on The Huffington Post:

“…women are also key agents of change in their communities, and they are fighting back against hunger. I will never forget the women of Chitehwe, a small village in Mozambique in Southeast Africa I visited with Oxfam. Many of the women I met are illiterate, HIV-positive and desperately poor. But they aren’t giving up hope and are taking things in their own hands, fighting back however they can.”

Kristin Davis in Mozambique. Photo : Oxfam America.
Kristin Davis in Mozambique. Photo : Oxfam America.


Also on the Huffington Post, singer Annie Lennox discusses reclaiming feminism:

“Whether you’re a woman or a man, this affects you. And you are part of the solution. The impact of inequality is felt by every woman worldwide — your friends, your family, your colleagues, your neighbors, the people you emailed today, the woman in the car next to you, the faces you saw on television and the voices you heard on the radio. How many have been abused or faced discrimination today?” Continue reading

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Women musicians band together for Oxfam and International Women’s Day

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Iconic musician Mavis Staples accepts an award for her support of Oxfam at a concert in LA last month. Photo: Wendy Le
Iconic musician Mavis Staples accepts an award for her support of Oxfam America at a concert in LA last month. Photo: Wendy Le

Tegan and Sara and Ra Ra Riot are tweeting about it. Neko Case is posting about it on Facebook. What’s generating the buzz?  An incredible gathering of women musicians—from legendary rockers to up-and-coming new artists—who’ve come together to support Oxfam America ’s efforts around International Women’s Day.

March 8 is recognized globally as a day of celebration of women, and at Oxfam we see it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of women to the planet’s social, economic, and political well-being. As my colleague Heather Coleman writes in a recent blog post, “Women work tirelessly to produce the majority of food in many developing countries … annd they’re producing food in the face of increasing natural resource constraints, erratic growing seasons, and rising global temperatures. … Women’s empowerment, in the US and globally, is not and must not be a partisan issue.  ”

Because Oxfam is fortunate enough to work with a multitude of smart and talented female musicians, we thought it would be meaningful to assemble as many of these women together as we could, asking them to pledge their support for women who are working with Oxfam to combat hunger around the world.

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