Annals of Entrepreneurship: “Share Our Soles” Shoes The World
Most American kids don’t think twice about that one true staple of childhood: a good pair of sneaks. But even in America not every family can afford to keep their kids in Keds, and across the world lots of kids have never even owned a pair. That’s where Share Our Soles, a smart and growing nonprofit organization comes into play. It’s an excellent case study on how a vision can lead to action, which in turn inspires others to join in and help. And voila, kids who need shoes are suddenly getting them.
Started as a holiday project by a high school runner named Greg Woodburn (today he’s a sophomore at the University of Southern California), Share Our Soles has morphed into a year-round project that has real impact. Together with his family and friends, Woodburn collects used running shoes at gyms, schools and the YMCA. He sorts them himself, dividing them into shoes that are sturdy enough go into the washing machine and ones that need to be hand-washed – which he does, getting into “the zone” and cleaning around 100 pairs in one sitting. That’s a lot of shoes!
So why did Woodburn, a busy student, keep his holiday project going? Here’s what he says on his website:
The feedback from youths in Africa has been especially moving for me — not only were these the first running shoes any of them had owned, they were the first shoes many of them had ever had. Along with S.O.S.’s unexpected impact halfway around the world, the great joy I felt upon helping others — as well as the great joy others felt upon donating their shoes and time — inspired me to turn my Holiday project into a year-round endeavor. Since the winter of 2006, Share Our Soles has continued to grow, inspiring and bringing joy to givers and receivers alike.
So where do these shoes go? Well, pretty much everywhere: Woodburn’s shoes have gone to kids in inner-city Los Angeles, as well as Sudan, Kenya and Uganda (pictured below). And to help distribute his shoes more efficiently, Woodburn teamed up with a like-minded nonprofit, called Sports Gift, which provides soccer and baseball equipment for kids around the world.
We’d send kids shin guards, balls, and shoes, and I’d hear that for many of these kids, the cleats were the only pair of shoes they had. They’d wear them to school and to do their chores. So Greg’s running shoes were a nice addition for us.Woodburn’s charity has spread beyond his hometown, too. There are now 3 chapters of Share Our Soles, including one on the East Coast at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, which was started when an entrepreneurial college student wrote Woodburn saying he wanted to start his own chapter. There’s still a chapter in Ventura, Woodburn’s hometown, and he’s helped to start one at USC, as well.
The shoes keep on coming (and going), and the website says that as of October 22, they’ve already donated 3,257 pairs. Want to find out more and learn how you can get involved? Here’s an article about Greg Woodburn on the Daily Good and here’s the Share Our Soles website. Check out the wristbands and socks that they sell to raise money to buy brand new shoes.