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The Shoe That Grows Taps into Local Support
Wednesday, September 20, 2023


Jeanne Liston spent 17 years at the helm of The Hunger Coalition, focused on ensuring Wood River Valley residents had food to put in their stomachs.

Now her focus is on feet—namely, providing The Shoe That Grows to a million impoverished children around the world.

The shoe, similar to a Keen sandal but with Velcro straps, is designed so it can expand five times as children’s feet grow. It’s designed for ages 2 through adults. A donation of $20 provides one child with a pair designed to last up to five years.

“It’s a small thing with a big impact, as it keeps kids healthy in place where there’s a lack of sanitation where they can pick up cuts from broken glass and diseases and parasites from contaminated soil if they go barefoot,” said Liston. “Often, schools in Africa require shoes so, even if a kid has a uniform, they still can’t attend school if they don’t have shoes. So, this is about alleviating poverty, as well.”

Liston is the new head of fundraising at Because International, which makes the shoes. She learned of the organization through a friend who knew of her passion for doing work in Africa.

“I spent 10 years traveling and volunteering in developing countries—I left part of my heart in Africa,” she said. “When I left the Hunger Coalition, I learned that Because International founder Kenton Lee was going to be transitioning out—his main role was fundraising and that seemed like a perfect fit for me.”

Kenton Lee founded the organization in 2009 after an experience he had while working at an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. While walking with a group of kids, he noticed that a little girl in a white dress had cut the ends of her shoes off so her toes could stick out.

As he looked around, he realized that the other kids had no shoes at all or that they had shoes that did not fit. What if there was a shoe that could grow with kids? he wondered.

Lee approached Nike, Adidas, Reebok and others with his idea but all said no.

“They were in the business of making and selling as many shoes as they could so why would they want to design shoes that last for years?!” said Liston.

Finally, he connected with a company whose owners used to work for Nike. In 2014 they shipped their first 3,000 pairs to African countries. The story caught the attention of Buzzfeed, CBS Evening News and The Today Show.

And, since, Because International has provided more than 400,000 shoes to children in more than 100 countries.

Additionally, it offers a free 16-week virtual training program for global entrepreneurs who have ideas that can make a difference in their communities. There currently are 79 alumni in 25 countries; 1,834 jobs have been created as a result of the program and nearly $200,000 distributed to the businesses.

Craft Planet, for instance, is a Nigerian-based business that develops interlocking construction blocks for road pavement, flooring and roof tiling. OneGrid Energies of Nigeria manufactures a low-cost rechargeable lantern using locally sourced recycled materials. ThinkBikes manufactures electric bicycles designed to allow small businesses transport their goods in Nigeria

A Ugandan woman employs women to upcycle glass bottles to create jewelry. Another alum of the program produces protein-rich chips from crickets.

“The course outlines strategies for startups and offers coaches who help them develop a marketing and sales plan, establish e-commerce, customer service and retention,” said Liston. “It’s focused on addressing the root causes of poverty in their own communities.”

Liston and Because International have teamed up with Sun Valley real estate developer George Kirk to provide shoe for the Mapalo Academy in Ndola, Zambia. Mapalo was founded in 2005 to support children orphaned by AIDS/HIV and has long been supported by the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum.

Eighteen years later students of Mapalo Academy are attending the top schools in Northern Zambia.

Kirk, chairman of the board of Mapalo Academy, wants to provide 200 students at Mapalo with shoes and, so, is offering to double donations up to $2,000. Donations can be made at

“With just 100 people donating $20 each, we can reach our goal and support these students on their educational journey,” said Liston.  “We have an amazingly generous community. I know that if people are aware of this need, they will open their hearts and make an impact.”  

Additionally, Because International is trying to raise an additional $9,000 to reach its goal of providing 2,500 schoolchildren with shoes in Kenya today. Matching funds of nearly $5,000 will double people's gifts up to 11:59 p.m. tonight--Wednesday, Sept. 20.

Liston has more than a decade of living and volunteering in Third World communities impacted by poverty.  She went to Egypt in 1990 where she got a job as an English secretary in the accounting department of a Cairo hotel. But, when the Gulf War broke out a week later, she was let go. So, she got a job at an English daycare teaching English to twenty 4-year-olds whose parent had fled Kuwait.

Her turning point came when a motorcycle on which she and a friend were traveling on broke down in the Libyan Desert.

“We pushed the bike into a little oasis. We were completely covered in dust and the entire town came out to see these two white people,” she recounted. “They had so little but greeted us warmly and wanted to give us so much. That’s where my passion to help people began.”

Liston returned to the States where she saved money to return. She started a French program and taught arts and crafts in a rural village three hours north of Nairobi. Then she went to Madagascar where she spent three months working on a project with endangered fish eagles.

She traveled to Ethiopia, and she worked with street children, the elderly and AIDS patients in the slums of Bangkok.

“I so valued the experience I had living and being around people who lacked material wealth but were incredibly rich in spirit and happiness,” she said. “My encounters with people—particularly women—in developing countries were instrumental in shaping who I am today. I have a deep appreciation and respect for the heroic acts that mothers perform daily to ensure their children are fed and able to learn. Their courage and resilience in the face of adversity has inspired me to be part of something greater than myself.”  

Want to know more about Because International? Visit

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