Soles4Souls’ New Buddy Crafts Fresh Vision

Could the name Soles4Souls no longer exist?

It’s a possibility, according to Buddy Teaster, the group’s new president and CEO, who took the helm in October, months after founder Wayne Elsey resigned to focus on a new brand-building venture.

“Everything is under review,” said Teaster. “Anytime there is a change at the top, there is an opportunity to reassess what the mission is, what we do and why we do it.”

While Teaster said it is too early to pinpoint the details of future changes, he did acknowledge they could be widespread — from renaming the organization or rebuilding the international nonprofit’s board of directors to dramatically boosting its microenterprise and travel programs.

The larger goal, said Teaster, is to stamp out poverty, a mission that goes well beyond simply handing out free shoes to the needy.

“We’re hoping to help end poverty,” he said. “We’ve been a shoe charity, but we see that we’re part of a bigger problem we are working on.”

For years, Teaster has aimed to solve problems. Before joining the Nashville-based charity, he served as a business-turnaround specialist for StarKart. Prior to that, the 49-year-old worked as the chief network officer for the Young Presidents’ Organization, a nonprofit network for CEOs.

In the near term, Teaster said he wants Soles4Souls to “be a better partner” to the industry, and he plans to meet with many executives at FN Platform this week.

Teaster said his aim is to make the group more transparent than it had been, a struggle that dogged his predecessor for years. During Elsey’s tenure, the nonprofit was scrutinized for the salaries it paid top executives and for the founder’s perceived conflicts of interest.

The organization has “a great foundation” to build on, Teaster said, thanks to Elsey’s relationships within the industry and his enthusiasm for championing Soles4Souls to the press and the public. But to move forward, he explained, “we need to make the organization about the work and not the person.”

When Elsey left in March 2012, some of his talking points left with him. Gone are the declarations of Soles4Souls being one of the fastest-growing charities in the world. Nor is there talk of building homes made from old shipping containers in Haiti.

Teaster said he and the team are focused on broadening the organization’s microenterprise business. In January, for instance, Soles4Souls upped its ambitions in Haiti, where much of its efforts have been focused since the massive earthquake in 2010. The goal for the new Haiti initiative is to collect 264,000 pairs of shoes in a year, or 723 pairs a day. The collected shoes are then delivered to microenterprise businesses: local entrepreneurs who can sell them to earn income and support their families.

“Things in Haiti are better now than they were three years ago,” said Teaster, “but we want to get more entangled to make microentrepreneurs more successful.”

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