Hey Change Maker!
Hey Change Maker! My guest this week is Toby Tanser of Shoe4Africa. Toby’s story is cuckoo-bananas! This is an amazing conversation about seeing a need in the world and doing something about it.
We begin the episode by introducing Toby and discussing how Shoe4Africa got started. Toby remarks that he has been able to say “yes” to a lot of opportunities that have come this way, which is how he got to where he is today. He then recounts the origin story of Shoe4Africa. Many years ago, while running along the beach in Tanzania, Toby was approached by two men who beat him with a machete and a wooden bat. Although Toby suffered significant injuries, he was able to disarm the man with the machete and fight for his life. After his attackers left, Toby ran three miles back to town and drove his motorbike to a clinic where he was treated for his injuries. Among the personal items stolen by the attackers was one of Toby’s running shoes, which served as the inspiration for the name of his organization, Shoe4Africa.
After Toby relays the origin story, we discuss the work that Shoe4Africa does. Although Toby was advised by experts to center his charity around a single cause, Toby decided that he wanted to provide aid wherever he felt it was most needed at the time. As he states, “I think charity is elevating people out of poverty, and doing whatever you can in any circumstance.” In addition to donating thousands of pairs of shoes, Shoe4Africa has also built hospitals and schools, provided malaria aid, and pursued various peace initiatives. Currently, Shoe4Africa is working on building a cancer hospital, as well as a boys in girls club. Toby remarks that he believes women play a particularly strong role in pushing change into communities.
Next, we talk about why quality and affordable healthcare, as well as education, are so vital to poverty alleviation. Toby relays the history behind the establishment of Britain’s national health system, which he calls “the best gift you can give to a nation”. He believes that a healthy nation is a nation that can help itself thrive and prosper. This belief is what inspired Toby to build a public, rather than private, children’s hospital. Understanding that most people cannot afford private health insurance, Toby wanted to make healthcare accessible to all. Toby is also a strong believer in the power of education when it comes to alleviating poverty. He remarks that education empowers people to think and question, and it’s one of the most powerful tools someone can have in a world led by educated people.
After that, we move on to discuss the design for the children’s hospital Toby built. While the decision to build the hospital came quickly, he put a lot of thought and effort into designing the building and researching common problems that hospitals experience. To help improve airflow in the hospital, Toby chose a Y-shaped design for the building, rather than the more traditional box-like shape. He also designed the building to have lots of natural light, art, and outdoor play areas for children. The front of the building is tapered with inward pillars to make it appear smaller to an approaching child. Toby wanted the hospital to have a fun, inviting atmosphere for the children staying there.
When asked how he makes his work sustainable, Toby replies that he works himself out of the equation of every single project he works on. For example, with the children’s hospital, he worked alongside the Kenyan government to build and fund the school. Now, the hospital is completely run by the government without Toby’s help. If something were to happen to Toby, even though he is a one-man organization, he feels confident that his endeavors would continue to thrive in the hands of the locals. We also discuss the various celebrity ambassadors for Shoe4Africa, such as Anthony Edwards, Hugh Jackman, and Natalie Portman.
As we near the end of the episode, we talk about Toby’s inspirations. He is inspired by the kids he sees in Africa: “They have every reason in the world to complain, and they never do.” He is also inspired by the generosity he witnesses in Africa, and laments that many people just don’t have the tools or opportunities to help. He recounts one story that exemplifies the extreme generosity he experienced while in Africa. After getting lost on a run and spending hours trying to navigate back to the village he was staying at, a very poor couple chose to give him their last hen to eat, rather than save it for themselves.
Finally, we discuss how listeners can partner with Toby to change the world. Toby encourages visitors to go to his website, www.shoe4africa.com, to see how they can get involved and get in touch. He expresses that 100% of the donations he receives are being directly invested in brick and mortar projects in Africa.