Bags to Riches: Empty backpacks fill students’ lives

Bags to Riches: Empty backpacks fill students’ lives

Akbar Khan is a recent high school graduate who is spending his gap year as an intern at ONE. When we found out he started his own nonprofit, Bags to Riches, at just 15 years old we asked him to share his story. Read about his incredible journey below! 

Akbar gives a donated bag to a young student in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013.

Akbar gives a donated bag to a young student in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013.

Starting a nonprofit, Bags to Riches, while I was still in high school has been an incredible learning experience. The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that age is not a barrier to creating impact. As a matter of fact, sometimes the best time to start something is when you are a “kid”. When you’re 15 you can take risks and make mistakes free of major consequences.  In doing so, you can learn very practical and valuable lessons.

When I was 15 years old I started touring college campuses to get a better idea of where I wanted to go. On this journey I collected piles of informational brochures, flyers, business cards, you name it. I found myself overwhelmed with materials and asked my uncle for a bag to hold everything. He led me to a stash of old conference bags in the garage and said, “Take your pick.”

Students in Yanamo, Peru express their gratitude. Photo credit: Megan Dolle.

Students in Yanamo, Peru express their gratitude. Photo credit: Megan Dolle.

I was astonished to see that so many bags, ranging from totes to backpacks, were just collecting dust in my uncle’s garage. I quickly learned that this is a common situation for almost every person who attends conferences frequently. People are stuck with a bag that isn’t nice enough to regularly use but is too nice to be thrown away. I thought – what a waste! We could be doing something great with these bags. While these totes are collecting dust in garages across the world, many schoolchildren in the developing world don’t have a quality bag to hold their materials. As a result I started Bags to Riches, a non-profit organization that would bridge the gap of these two problems by collecting undesired conference bags and giving them to those who need them the most.

Students in Yanamo, Peru. Photo credit: Megan Dolle.

Students in Yanamo, Peru. Photo credit: Megan Dolle.

I created posters, brochures, and a website to spread the word. I started contacting conferences, asking them if I could set up a bin for conference bag collection. There was a good response, so my dad started driving me around to set up bins at conferences (I wasn’t old enough to drive yet). I then found some partner charities that would collect the donated bags and take them to schoolchildren on their missions all around the world. In total, we have repurposed over 14,000 unwanted bags which are now in the hands of those in need across 5 continents. I have two wonderful team members, a helpful board, and a strong team of volunteers. I couldn’t have done any of this without their guidance and the support of my incredible family.

You don’t have to look hard to find passionate 15 year olds — they’re everywhere. They are changing the world and influencing people who are much older than them. Just look at what happened with the action/2015 launch in January. Fifteen year olds from around the world held events where they demanded better for the world’s poorest and shared their visions for a world free of extreme poverty. World leaders like David Cameron met with these kids because they realize that today’s youth aren’t waiting until they’re adults to have a positive impact. I’m very lucky to be a part of a generation of changemakers who are acting today to make tomorrow’s world better.

Want to follow Akbar’s story and support Bags to Riches? Go to www.bagstoriches.org or visit their Indiegogo page.

2015 Bags to Riches Video from Akbar Khan on Vimeo.

Join

Join the fight against extreme poverty

Join

Join the fight against extreme poverty

By signing you agree to ONE’s privacy policy, including to the transfer of your information to ONE’s servers in the United States.

Do you want to stay informed about how you can help fight against extreme poverty?

Sign up to receive emails from ONE and join millions of people around the world taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease. We’ll only ever ask for your voice, not your money. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Privacy options
Are you sure? If you select 'Yes' we can let you know how you can make a difference. You can unsubscribe at any time.

By signing you agree to ONE's privacy policy, including to the transfer of your information to ONE.org's servers in the United States.

You agree to receive occasional updates about ONE's campaigns. You can unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply