This piece appeared jointly on Her Campus and Huffington Post College as part of a partnership with the Huffington Post to explore how college students are giving back on campus in response to the recession.
Renzo Pisa was just starting his career as a real estate investment banker for Merrill Lynch when the recession turned his life upside down. In December of 2008, Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch prompted layoffs throughout the company, and Pisa found himself without a job.
Once unemployed, Pisa took some time to reconsider his priorities and determine the direction he wanted his life to take. It was during this professional hiatus that the idea for the Give Back a Pack Foundation began to take shape.
“I knew from my experiences that I didn’t want to keep working in finance,” Pisa said. “I wanted to do something specific to give back and I wanted to help in Latin America because I knew that was the place where help was needed the most.”
The son of Latin American parents, Pisa had visited the region many times and was struck by the level of poverty in these countries, as well as by the scarcity of support that was available to those in need.
Pisa decided to contact his friend and former Babson classmate Nicholas Kling. Kling was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, and was also aware of how badly the underprivileged classes in Latin America needed help.
“It’s not that we wanted to be selective about where we were helping,” explained Pisa, “but there’s a lot of people who help [in the U.S.] already, while most people are scared to visit countries like Colombia.”
The pair decided to focus on supporting education in the region when they learned about the shortage of school supplies throughout Latin America. According to Pisa, schools provide students with a list of supplies they need for the academic year. If the children cannot afford to buy the materials, they are not allowed to attend their classes.
“Many of the children end up having to work with their parents instead of attending school because they simply can’t afford it,” said Pisa.
In this way, the Give Back a Pack Foundation was born — the product of the new dream of a former investment banker and of two friends’ recognition of Latin America’s pressing need for support.
At first, Pisa and Kling collected backpacks that were donated to them by schools throughout the United States. Some schools held backpack-donating contests, while others gathered supplies and bags abandoned by students at the end of the school year and sent them to the organization.
“You’d be surprised at the number of backpacks and supplies the kids would just leave in their lockers at the end of the year,” said Pisa.
The two shipped all of the donated objects to Colombia, where they were distributed to seven schools throughout the country.
“The seven schools all came to one and they made a whole ceremony for us,” said Pisa, “We were heroes for them and it was very motivating, so that’s when we chose to go bigger.”
This year, Pisa and Kling, both now 25, decided to start a company based on the Tom’s Shoes model. Like Tom’s, they have started to manufacture their own product and, for every backpack they sell, they donate one to a child in need.
“We’re catching on, and it’s very exciting,” said Pisa, “we have people contact us through Facebook and Twitter who have no relation to us, but who simply want to help our cause.”
With both the Give Back a Pack Foundation and company in operation, Pisa and Kling are now thinking of expanding to Panama, Africa, India and maybe even the States.
“Wherever there’s a need, we want to go there,” said Pisa, adding that the other day he shipped a number of backpacks to a woman who was helping out a school in Pennsylvania.
“If it hadn’t been for the recession, I think I would have a completely different life,” said Pisa.
When Pisa’s short-lived career was terminated, he could not imagine that the crisis would lead to such an exciting and fulfilling endeavor. The Give Back a Pack is at the brink of its potential, and although the future of the economy remains uncertain, that of the organization is sure to be filled with the smiles and triumphs of students worldwide.