Anshu Gupta

Year founded: 

Goonj collects, sorts, repurposes, and distributes excess clothing and other under-utilized resources from urban households to the rural poor, where material poverty is the deepest.

Focus: Rural Development
Geographic Area of Impact: India
Model: Leveraged Not-for-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 1000 tons of materials distributed to over 1500 villages (2012)
Annual Budget (2012): US$ 855,000 (2012)
Percent Earned Revenue: 15%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013

The rural-urban divide with respect to social and economic development has been widening in recent decades. The ratio of urban to rural income in India, which was approximately 1.6 in 1951, reached 2.1 in 1981, and in the last two decades increased to a record level of 4.5. While large and medium cities are benefitting from infrastructure development and market access, this kind of economic growth has yet to reach rural and remote communities.

Innovation and Activities
Goonj views the waste of urban India as a surplus resource and under-utilized wealth. Although this is especially critical during times of disaster or emergency, Goonj moves materials throughout the year. This has necessitated the creation of collection centers in eight major cities and an extensive logistics network comprised of multiple partners. Every year, Goonj receives over 1000 tons of clothing, books, shoes, furniture, toys, utensils, construction materials, medical supplies, and office equipment. All of these items are sorted, repurposed, repacked, and transported to communities given their specific needs. While people in urban areas often discard what they do not want anymore, Goonj is teaching people to contribute based on what the poor actually need, thus giving dignity to the receiving communities. Through its network of 250 NGOs, 200 company partners, and 500 volunteers, Goonj has an impact across 21 states of India.

In exchange of cloth and material and with the technical support of Goonj, village and slum communities are incentivized to organize local development and infrastructure building programs. This has led to around 500 infrastructure projects across 1500 villages every year – such as the creation of schools, concrete roads, bridges, wells, irrigation canals and toilets. The ‘Cloth for Work’ program is integral to this development work in ultra-poor areas. In the aftermath of a disaster, families often lose the basic tools and materials that they need to earn a living, leaving manual labor as the only source of sustenance. To stem migration and the loss of skills and trades, Goonj started to design and distribute ‘trade kits’ that match people’s skills (e.g. carpentry, shoe repair, cycle repair, tailoring, barber work). In lieu of the trade kit, the recipient family commits before a village steering committee to contribute to village development, either through labor, or through a portion of his/her profit generated from the trade. Since 2008, Goonj has created kits for more than 20 different trades, put together through materials commonly found in urban households. As a result, people can return to their traditional trades in the aftermath of disaster or when they are unable to invest in tools or equipment they need to generate income.

Another example of Goonj’s resourceful innovation is its sanitary napkins, created from remnants of discarded cotton cloth that is washed, sterilized, ironed, and stitched. In resource-poor communities, women can die from infection when they reuse or share cloth during their menstruation cycles. Goonj’s sanitary napkins are sold affordably at INR 1 per napkin, and have reached 2 million first-time women users, leading to much needed education and discourse around female reproductive health in rural areas.

The Entrepreneur
Popularly known as the Clothing Man, Anshu was educated in mass communications and economics. Having worked a number of years as a freelance journalist, Anshu left the corporate world and founded GOONJ in 1999, starting with 67 items in his own closet. Since then, Anshu has made clothing and material resource central to the development sector. He is an Ashoka Fellow, credited for creating a mass movement for recycling and reusing material as a resource for rural development.