In the summer of 2011 I visited my aunt and uncle in California to visit colleges. As I went through this journey, I started picking up brochures, flyers, business cards, and was taking notes in my notebook. One day I found myself overwhelmed with stuff 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.”
I was astonished to see that so many quality bags were just collecting dust in my uncle’s garage. I quickly learned that this is a common situation for many conference attendees, who are stuck with a bag that isn’t nice enough to use in their everyday lives but is too nice to be thrown away. At the same time, many schoolchildren in the developing world don’t have a bag to carry their stuff in.
As a result, I started Bags to Riches, a non-profit organization that would collect undesired bags and give them to those in need. I set up areas at events where attendees could donate conference bags and I coordinated charity pick-ups so the bags could be used to benefit local communities. As Bags to Riches grew, conference bag donations were made available hundreds and thousands of miles away without my having to be present.
To date bags have been collected and donated across 5 continents. In total, we have repurposed over 13,000 unwanted bags, which are now in the hands of those in need around the world. I was able to speak at three TEDx conferences, and my story has reached over 100,000 people through social media as Bags to Riches expands. Our team hopes to continue the efforts of Bags to Riches until every unwanted conference bag has been repurposed and given to someone in need.
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