For Ken­ton Lee (@ShoeThatGrows), things start­ed to look up when he start­ed to focus down — at shoes.

As Teodo­ra Zare­va [link] explains in her great @BigThink arti­cle [link] on the move­ment (and non-prof­it busi­ness) that Ken­ton Lee start­ed:

After grad­u­at­ing col­lege from North­west Nazarene Uni­ver­si­ty in 2007, Ken­ton lived and worked in Ecuador and Kenya for a while. One day he noticed a lit­tle girl from an orphan­age, who was wear­ing shoes that were insane­ly too small for her feet. The orphan­age direc­tor told Ken­ton that they receive dona­tions from Amer­i­ca, but since the kids con­tin­ue grow­ing, the shoes do not fit after six months. The only choic­es they have left are wait­ing for the next dona­tion, or cut­ting out the fronts of the old shoes to wear them for as long as pos­si­ble.

This is a prob­lem that I know some­thing about, as do most of us. When I was a kid, I usu­al­ly got the hand-me-down shoes of my old­er broth­er sim­ply because he out­grew them (as I did my own) before he wore them out. On one occa­sion, I got my hands on the “used” base­ball shoes of a neigh­bour and wore them one entire sum­mer despite the fact that they were at least 3 sizes too big. (I loved those shoes because they made me feel like a big league base­ball play­er.) In my case, shoes were both a neces­si­ty and a source of inspi­ra­tion.

For the peo­ple Lee is aim­ing to help, shoes are a basic neces­si­ty required for, first and fore­most, basic health. With­out shoes, it’s pos­si­ble for young chil­dren to become infect­ed from dis­eases trans­mit­ted from the soil. But, for many, wear­ing shoes is not even a pos­si­bil­i­ty. As Zare­va says in her post: “Three bil­lion peo­ple around the world live on less than $2 a day; 600 mil­lion chil­dren live in extreme pover­ty and most of them don’t have enough san­i­ta­tion, enough clean water, enough cloth­ing, or enough shoes to pro­tect them from the envi­ron­ment they live in.”

Sure­ly, many before Lee would have seen chil­dren in many coun­tries who nev­er had or who out­grew their shoes. Ken­ton Lee did some­thing about it. His obser­va­tions became the spark for insights that he organ­ised into pat­terns that, in turn, fed into orig­i­nal think­ing that became a wel­come rev­o­lu­tion. Lee found­ed Because Inter­na­tion­al [link] in 2009; and, if you go to their web­site, you will see that its mis­sion remains today an enor­mous­ly uplift­ing one:

Because Inter­na­tion­al believes in PRACTICAL COMPASSION.

We want to lis­ten to those liv­ing in extreme pover­ty to hear their thoughts, ideas, and dreams for how to make their dai­ly lives bet­ter. And then we help turn those ideas into a real­i­ty.

Basi­cal­ly, we try to make things bet­ter by mak­ing bet­ter things.

We love help­ing kids have bet­ter reg­u­lar, dai­ly lives because it puts them in the best pos­si­ble posi­tion to suc­ceed. And that is what this is all about — shoes, bed­nets, any project we work on — it is all in an effort to put kids in the best pos­si­ble posi­tion to have suc­cess in their lives.

shoes that grow

The Shoe That Grows [link] is the first project launched by Because Inter­na­tion­al (@becauseintl), and it seems to be an unques­tioned suc­cess. To con­firm that, check our Juli­ja Nėjė’s report on the Bored Pan­da site [link]:

I knew noth­ing about shoes,” says Lee, there, “I was just a nor­mal guy with an idea. We found a shoe devel­op­ment com­pa­ny called Proof of Con­cept in Port­land, Ore­gon. They were the per­fect part­ner to help design our shoes.” Lee also shared that “Right now our shoes are in Kenya, Ghana, Rwan­da, Ugan­da, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru, Colum­bia, Viet­nam, and Laos. The most shoes are in Kenya.”

Because Inter­na­tion­al and Lee have got­ten a great deal of press, and there are many reports of their work in the main­stream media. For exam­ple, you might also enjoy read­ing Li Zhou’s (@liszhou) report on Smithsonian.com [link], which indi­cates that Lee is con­sid­er­ing a com­mer­cial ver­sion of the shoes, since so many par­ents in devel­oped coun­tries have expressed an inter­est in the con­cept as well as the high-qual­i­ty shoe already being pro­duced. (Smith­son­ian also has an ani­ma­tion that shows a pair of these shoes “grow­ing”.)

One has to won­der what exec­u­tives are now think­ing in those large com­pa­nies that have made “sta­t­ic” shoe sizes for decades. Brings to mind, doesn’t it, that great Albert Ein­stein quote: “We can’t solve prob­lems by using the same kind of think­ing we used when we cre­at­ed them.”

I cheer the work of Ken­ton Lee and his team. He appears to me to be a true nextsens­ing leader: some­one who grasped a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem and — using imag­i­na­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty — assem­bled a team that start­ed think­ing in new ways. More than that, they aspired to achieve some­thing that has nev­er been done before, some­thing that chal­lenged the sta­tus quo, and some­thing that would ben­e­fit future gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple in untold ways.

On the organisation’s web­site, you can find ways to con­tact Lee direct­ly, ways to donate to his cause — even ways to vol­un­teer to help his team direct­ly.

My dream is that our world will evolve to the point that rethink­ing such kinds of basic human prob­lems will be some­thing that is expect­ed, and not some­thing that is so excep­tion­al. The more peo­ple engaged in think­ing dif­fer­ent­ly about the future, and the more human imag­i­na­tion we can unleash on such prob­lems, the bet­ter off we all will be.

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