Like everyone else, he likes winning awards, but the satisfaction of touching people’s lives through seemingly unimportant things is what really drives the founder of Goonj, Anshu Gupta, the other Magsaysay Award winner. It is probably why the social entrepreneur decided to start Goonj in 1999 — with just 67 garments that he and his wife had collected.
Goonj seeks to bridge the gap between extreme poverty and affluence, by making discarded material of the rich a resource for the poor. “Governments and organisations talk about meeting basic necessities like roti, kapda and makaan, but everyone has ignored the need for clothing. There is a policy on every thing, except clothing. So we decided to take up this issue,” said Gupta.
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Gupta has been honoured with the Magsaysay award for his “creative vision in transforming the culture of giving in India, his enterprising leadership in treating cloth as a sustainable development resource for the poor, and reminding the world that true giving respects, preserves human dignity.”
But the journey was not easy. “Thousands of people have supported Goonj, but the battle of mindsets still needs to be won. India doesn’t have a culture of giving. Motivating the rich to part with things lying unused in their homes, and motivating the poor to work to fulfil their needs instead of getting them as free handouts has been difficult,”
Yet today, Goonj is operational in 21 states across the country, transferring over 1,000 tonnes of used clothes, household goods and other essential items from cities to villages annually.
The eldest among four siblings, Gupta was the only one in his family of engineers who took the entrepreneurial route. He studied at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, and then went on to do a Masters in Economics. He later joined the corporate sector, but soon left the job to start Goonj.
“Our stories are emotional, but work is essentially logistics, transport. It is very non-glamorous. It has been very difficult to make people in india understand that, but the award is a step towards getting recognised for addressing what were called non-issues. Hopefully, with the recognition, more people will understand what we do,” he said.
Asked about the most memorable moments in the 16-year journey, he said: “I only remember the little things. Like, what a filter worth Rs 1,500 meant to a flood-affected village in Uttarakhand. Or the joy on an old man’s face when we gave him a second-hand overcoat on a chilly winter morning. The little things have meant the most.”