Improving the World One Shoe at a Time

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“It’s okay to make decisions that are best for you,” advised Loyola Marymount University alumna Shira Shafir ’99, Ph.D., M.P.H., to a group of students, faculty and staff in November 2015.

That line of thinking landed Shafir in her current position as director of social innovation and impact at TOMS, the company made famous for its “one for one” model—giving a pair of shoes to a person in need with each shoe purchase.

It was an unexpected career move for the full-time faculty member in UCLA’s Department of Epidemiology. Shafir’s former student who worked in the giving department at TOMS approached her with questions to better understand the “impact that TOMS is having as a company. What happens when we give and how can we figure this out?” Company officials soon made several offers to Shafir to join the company.

After initially declining, Shafir remembered, “The reason I got into public health was because I wanted to use science to make a really big difference in people’s lives.” She realized TOMS was doing just that and they were doing it on a large scale. So she accepted.

Shafir’s job is to observe how the company’s giving impacts the community. With each pair of shoes, for example, TOMS provides more than just footwear. Shafir explained these shoes help users get to school by completing their uniform, prevents the user from contracting diseases like hookworm, and contributes to empowerment by increasing the user’s sense of self-worth and esteem. TOMS has similar programs for eyewear, apparel and coffee, which provide help to improve sight, maternal and infant care and access to clean water for those in need.

“This is what I’ve wanted to do through my whole career as a scientist. This work allows me to blend science and public health under the TOMS umbrella,” she said.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in theology from LMU, Shafir earned a master’s degree in public health, with an emphasis on infectious diseases, from UC Berkeley. She then earned her Ph.D. in epidemiology from UCLA. After completing her postdoctoral fellowship in global health at UCLA, she became a full-time faculty member in the Department of Epidemiology in 2007.