Among the most common basic needs of humans – Roti, Kapda aur Makan (Food, Cloth and Shelter), Clothing has lost its importance amidst the huge number of brands and choices. But many communities in India are still deprived of this basic need which most of us take for granted. GOONJ, a social enterprise based in New Delhi, was founded by Anshu Gupta works to “make clothes a matter of concern”. Goonj collects underutilized clothes and other materials from urban homes, and uses them as resources for poor.
HOW IT STARTED
It was on a winter night, when Anshu Gupta on a freelance assignment interviewed a man Habib, a professional unclaimed human body collector. Habib’s little daughter told Gupta, “When I feel cold during the night, I hug the dead body and sleep. It does not trouble me, as it doesn’t turn around”. This moment made Anshu feel how extremely privileged he was and gave him an insight into the importance of clothing as a basic need.
In 1998, not long after this incident, Anshu left his job to start Goonj along with his wife Meenakshi. Starting from 67 items in his wardrobe, today Goonj transports around 100 tons of material each month to underprivileged areas.
Anshu Gupta, an Ashoka Fellow believes – It’s not as heroic as it sounds. It begins with day-to-day things, whether you want to pull up your car window when a beggar comes close to your car or whether you are happy to see your house spick and span but walk on the badly littered roads crowded with homeless people.
HOW IT WORKS
Today, apart from clothes, Goonj’s collection include things like shoes, toys, books, electronic gadgets, furniture, utensils and other urban waste. Contributed materials are divided according to gender, age, size and other demographic and geographic needs. Goonj also has a separate unit dedicated to making low-cost sanitary napkins for rural women. Presently, Goonj produces around 2 lakhs napkins every month so that women in rural areas need not have to use unhygienic methods to manage their menstruation cycles.
Cloth for Work initiative of the organization makes sure that materials collected are not distributed as charity. The villagers need to earn the clothes just like wages. Villagers collectively construct bore wells, bridges and repair damaged roads in exchange for value added materials. Materials which are not worthy of distribution are transformed creatively; audio tapes are used to decorate handbags, colorful stress balls are made from swatches, mats and mattresses from waste material are some of the items sold in fund raising camps or distributed in villages.
What started as a small initiative has now grown into a mass movement among the urban and rural masses.
Today Goonj works across 21 states with about 250 partner groups. It has 10 offices with 150 full time people and thousands of volunteers. Dealing with 100 tons of material each month, Goonj has an annual budget of 3-4 crore INR. During the Kosi floods, 1500 tons of relief material waS sent to Bihar.
For the first five years of its existence Goonj has operated without any major source of funding. “We tried everybody, but came back empty-handed because we did not fall within their parameters of funding”, says Anshu. But today, it has a turnover of around 3-4 crore INR: around 50% of which comes from individual contributions, thus reflecting the strong base of supporters that the social enterprise has acquired. The rest 50 % comes from the sale of products.
Anshu prefers to call himself a social entrepreneur instead of a social worker because he knows he has to generate enough money in order to meet the basic requirements of logistics – staffing and transportation
Anshu, a person who believes in ‘Lage Raho’ attitude says, “I never followed any conventions; I didn’t know anybody who could guide me. I made my own rules for approaching people, giving presentations and fundraising.”