Giving Kids Their First Pair of Shoes

A child in Soddo, Ethiopia, is getting his first pair of shoes.

"We take it for granted in the U.S.," said Blake Mycoskie, the 33-year-old founder of TOMS Shoes. "You know, I probably have 20, 30 pairs of shoes myself. And when you give some of these children a pair of shoes, I mean, it is, like, a prize possession. It's not an accessory. It's a necessity really."

CBS News correspondent Daniel Sieberg reports Mycoskie is on a mission. The Internet entrepreneur calls himself the "chief shoe giver."

To submit an idea for The American Spirit send us an e-mail:

Mycoskie created the company a few years ago after getting the idea to make a simple canvas shoe -- which has actually become quite fashionable -- after seeing the alpargata shoe worn in Argentina. The concept of the company is simple: for every pair of TOMS (that's short for "tomorrow's shoes") Shoes that are sold, the company donates a pair to a child in need, from New Orleans to South Africa. About 300,000 pairs are expected to be given away by year's end.

Gallery: Daniel Sieberg's Photos and Commentary
Exclusive Video: Daniel Sieberg's Inside Look at This Story
TOMS Shoes Official Online Store

"You know it used to make me really sad and I used to cry a lot at these things," Mycoskie said of the shoe giveaways. "But now it's just a joy."

If he looks familiar, Mycoskie appeared with his sister on the CBS reality show "Amazing Race" in 2002.

"I think once you start traveling you don't stop," Mycoskie said.

In Ethiopia, Mycoskie is helping prevent a devastating disease called Podoconiosis. As many as 1 million of the country's 85 million people are afflicted with it.

"You can see how just grotesque his feet are," Mycoskie said of one man. "You can bet he has lived a life with great stigma attached to it. And that's why he brought his kids here to the clinic."

Part of the problem is that people don't understand how they get Podoconiosis. They think it might be contagious, but it's not. It comes from prolonged exposure to the region's soil, which has volcanic ash in it that aggravates the skin.

But a combination of proper footwear and washing can treat the disease.

Ayellit suffered from the disease and its stigma for years.

"She says she knows what it's like not to be loved," said Dr. Gail Daley, translating for Ayellit. "And now she knows love again, from other people and from God."

People here are so desperate, once word of free shoes got out, villagers actually forced open the gate to the clinic.

To give away more shoes, Mycoskie has to sell more. And word is getting out - the company has recently turned a profit.

"I think the word "social entrepreneur" is a really good description of what I am," Mycoskie said. "What that means me to is that you have the entrepreneurial gift and spirit to create something out of nothing."

"So, it's still business?" Sieberg asked.

"Still business," Mycoskie said. "But you do it for other reasons than just make a profit. You do it for the social well being and the betterment of whoever you're focusing on."

He makes no secret of his desire to run a successful company, and he worked to create a couple of other small business, like a college laundry service, before settling on the TOMS Shoes formula. He says a revenue-driven business is more likely to sustain itself over the long term -- especially during tough economic times when the charity model could more quickly fall victim to lack of funds.

Not that he lives the life of a typical CEO. He recently gave away most of his belongings and now lives on a sailboat in Los Angeles.

"It may sound too good to be true, but once you've seen the happiest people in your life who have nothing, you really start rethinking what the world, and society tells us that we need to be happy," Mycoskie said.

He's spreading the American spirit around the world, even to places where a pair of shoes can make a huge difference.