Of All the Problems in the World, This is the One We Chose
I had the very first conversations about the idea that would become Juntos all the way back in 2012. At the time, the idea of a company designed around social impact was just starting to gain ground. TOMS shoes had pioneered its one-for-one giving model (one pair of shoes donated for every pair purchased) in 2006. B Lab certified the first B corporations in 2007. Warby Parker, with its one-for-one eyeglasses program, got started in 2010.
As a young professional with big entrepreneurial dreams, I had watched these companies and others like them become sensations. Two things were clear to me: this approach turned customers into insanely loyal supporters, and it was also the right thing to do. Instead of using their profits and influence solely for private gain, they were giving back to the public good.
I knew that if my business idea ever came to life, I wanted it to make a positive impact in the world, too. I just wasn’t sure yet what that would look like.
Shortly after those spitballing discussions about my hypothetical shoe company, I left New York to spend the summer in Ecuador, my home country. This time, I wasn’t just visiting family. I was volunteering as an English teacher in a nonprofit program for kids.
I got to work with kids of all ages every day. We sang the alphabet, drew pictures, read stories, played games, and practiced conversations.
But this school served a lot of underprivileged kids, and the reality was, they didn’t always have the materials they needed—simple things like notebooks, pencils, crayons, and books. This small problem sometimes became a real obstacle to learning, not to mention a source of shame and frustration for the students. The nonprofit helped as much as it could, and the community pitched in to help the neediest families, which was beautiful to see. But still, it left me thinking, This is a problem worth solving.
It wasn’t just worth solving—it was solvable. As an upstart company, we might not be able to stop global warming or end poverty, but we could put a backpack full of school supplies in the hands of a child.
So, when Juntos finally came to life and we were ready to find a philanthropic partner, we decided to focus on education. It felt right, like we were completing the circle—the inspiration for our shoe had come from the streets of working class communities, and now, we could give back to those communities by helping their children succeed.
Our first partnership came through a personal connection. I grew up in Miami, and I happened to know Rachel Russell, who had founded a fashion-inspired education nonprofit called Style Saves. They serve students locally and internationally, providing clothing, backpacks, school supplies, and meals to those in need. It was a perfect fit—we support them with a portion of our profits, and they could put our excess inventory to good use.
We didn’t stop there, though. We also partnered with Pencils for Promise, a global education nonprofit focused on serving students in the neediest places around the world. They solve the most fundamental problems, like making sure children have clean water, sanitary conditions, and a safe place to learn, as well as qualified teachers to learn from. Our partnership has only just begun, but one day, we hope to help them build a school in Ecuador—a fitting way to give back to the place that has inspired us from the beginning.
Our efforts in education are just the start of our philanthropic journey. As we grow, it will surely evolve—we may branch out into other causes, or even start a one-for-one program of our own. For now, though, we’re focused on using our power for good by helping children get the best start in life. It’s easy to join us—just grab yourself a pair of shoes.