In a country fast catching up with the developed nations of the world, poverty comes as a rude, naked truth staring us right in our faces, mocking us for both our inability to cope with it and our feeble, desperate attempts in the direction. What makes poverty such an unpleasant sight is not so much hunger, illiteracy or homelessness as it is the bare, semi-naked, shivering bodies. It is clothes that help the poverty-stricken preserve whatever little dignity they have to their claim. Goonj is a New Delhi based initiative that makes clothes and other basic amenities available to the underprivileged masses by collecting under-utilized clothes and other items from urban areas. Founded by Anshu Gupta in 1998 with just 67 clothes, this is a one-of-a-kind resource mobilization system that turns one’s wastage into a valuable resource for the other.
It all started on a dark winter night when Anshu Gupta interviewed a man called Habib as part of a freelance assignment. Habib was a professional dead body collector, obviously in a poor economic condition. Habib’s daughter confessed to Gupta that she hugs the dead body and sleeps when she feels cold at night. This experience was a major jolt in Gupta’s life, who then realised how immensely fortunate he had been and forced him to look at clothes for the important human need they were. A few years after this incident, somewhere in 1998, he left his well paying job to start Goonj, with his wife. .Goonj now sends around 100 tonnes of clothes each month to more than 20 states in the country.
Currently, Goonj boasts of a large collection that includes books, shoes, furniture, toys, utensils et al. These items are collected from urban areas and segregated according to demographic, gender and age related needs. The Cloth for Work initiative of the organization ensures that the collected clothes are not given away as charity but are earned like wages by the villagers. Under this scheme, villagers engage in activities like boring wells and repairing damaged roads etc. in return for several items of everyday importance.
Goonj hasn’t left out women welfare either. It has a separate unit that looks after the production of low-cost sanitary napkins for women in the rural areas. Goonj currently produces over 2 lakh napkins each month and helps these women live a life of hygiene and dignity.
A natural question that crops up in our minds is the source of funding of the organization. For five years after it came into existence, Goonj operated with minor funding, not able to procure financial banking from any institution. Today, around 50% of its funding comes from individual contributors and has a turnover of around Rs. 4 crore. The rest of the funding is obtained through the sale of its products. Goonj asks households, colleges, offices etc to give away their old stock of newspapers, which are then made into bags, notebooks and sold to an urban clientele. Anshu Gupta definitely has unique ideas of resource utilisation.
Goonj is a vibrant example of a successful social entrepreneurship venture. The founder, Anshu Gupta, states that he likes to be referred to as a social entrepreneur instead of a social worker since the organization needs to continuously generate money to meet logistical and distribution costs. He is a man who has given birth to an extraordinary movement for effectively channelizing excess resources in the urban areas to the rural areas in need of the resources. He has taken Goonj beyond the realm of mere charity and enabled the beneficiaries to obtain items of survival with a dignity and sheer will power that can only be applauded.