Anyone who’s experienced poverty knows firsthand how hard finding a pathway out can be. For some lucky enough to have made the transition, the desire to lift up those who are still struggling can become a huge part of their lives.
When 18-year-old Ashis Dhakal arrived in Utah from a refugee camp in Nepal, he knew he’d been given a tremendous opportunity. Though he was bullied at his Salt Lake City school, the tenets of service and giving that are integral to his Hindu faith became the cornerstone of a long-term goal to pay his good fortune forward.
A few years ago, while he was bussing tables for his job at KFC, Dhakal met a homeless man for whom he felt a great deal of empathy. Understanding only too well the difference in life between “the haves” and “the have nots,” once he’d learned the man’s history, he was inspired to help.
One of the most obvious needs Dhakal observed while talking with the man was for clean, serviceable clothing. With that in mind, he launched his first clothing drive Ashis Collects Clothes, in 2019.
Dhakal’s good works won him the attention of The TODAY Show’s Hoda Kolb, who took the teen on as a mentee.
“My biggest ‘why’ in my life is that as a young child, going through poverty, I was in the same shoes as they were in right now,” he said, explaining his drive to Kolb in a recent interview. “I have a house. I have a computer now. I have a phone. But think about it: Those kids are still suffering. What I can do is better others so that, you know, they can give back to their community.”
Recognizing Dhakal’s keen entrepreneurial spirit, it seemed natural for Kolb to hook her protégé up with one of his all-time heroes, Shark Tank’s billionaire philanthropist Mark Cuban. During their online meeting, Cuban gave Dhakal a challenge: Collect 575 coats for folks in need.
While the task was initially daunting, Dhakal parlayed some of Cuban’s networking advice into a winning strategy. After partnering with the Utah outreach organization Serve Refugees, Dhakal was able to chalk up 3,000 coat donations in a matter of days (for which TODAY parent company NBC offered matching donations).
Cuban was suitably impressed, telling TODAY: “You’re setting an example, Ashis, that it’s not about connections… It’s all about how hard you’re willing to work to getting something done.”
Dhakal is certainly willing to do whatever it takes to build a better world. Wherever his entrepreneurial spirit takes him in the future, helping others is sure to drive him along the way.