As the phone kept on ringing, numerous thoughts occupied our mind. “He might be extremely busy, even tired of the busy schedule and the tremendous events going on in the past few days?” But when the voice from the other side answered, it vanquished all our scepticism instantly. The unusual benevolence and sheer clarity of thoughts attached to the voice confirmed our beliefs that we are indeed talking to the man whose GOONJ restored the lives of millions, Mr. Anshu Gupta, the recipient of Ramon Magsaysay award 2015.
Born and brought up in a middle class family, Anshu Gupta spent his childhood in the remote areas of Uttarakhand where he did his schooling and graduated with a masters in Economics After which , he pursued double PG-diplomas in Mass Communication from IIMC and worked for a few years. During this period some eye opening observations and experiences made him realize,that lack of clothing is a widespread issue and for innumerable people it makes winters a disaster, leading to 100s of causalities, but despite this clothing finds no place on the development agenda. To fix this he figured out that ‘clothes’ lie unused in vast quantities in India’s urban households, that could become a useful resource for fulfilling the basic need of clothing for the poverty stricken rural population, and also as a resource for sustainable development. “Choosing cloth as an entry point for giving, was a result of realization of its importance for a person’s dignity and survival in a vast country, where natural occurrences like rains, flood and cold kill many who are under clothed”, says Anshu. And this is how GOONJ was conceptualised – the first organization to highlight clothing as a basic unaddressed need that deserved a place on the development agenda, and repositioned discard of urban households, as a development resource for villages.
As the conversation with Anshu progressed, many interesting details about him and his organization, kept unfolding and sensitizing our conscience. Mr. Anshu recalls how GOONJ was initiated in a small room at his residence, that stood witness of the initial stages of his journey. He remembers the immense effort made by his team that later became the skeleton of the organization.
“The credit goes to a beautiful and dedicated team. A team which is not formed by taking long interviews and selecting people on the basis of their previous experiences. Instead, ours is a team that was formed when people of similar interests joined, and worked hard together spending days and nights, to meet the objective for which this organization was started”, says Anshu.
While recalling, he first mentions about Ruchika, who joined Goonj during the foundation stage, when they did not have an office and were still operating from home. “When we started, we did not even have a separate chair or table to work”, remembers Anshu. He adds that Ruchika was a source of constant motivation and holds huge credit in building up the culture of the team. She joined as a volunteer and later moved in as a full time member. She is the right hand and a pillar of Goonj and carries the same enthusiasm and efficiency.
Talking about other important members, Anshu recalls Ajay Sharma – an old friend who supported him a lot during the start of his initiative, Imran – who played an instrumental role in establishing the delhi processing unit, Priyanka – who takes care of multiple activities. Mohanti ji who has been driving everyone around since the inception of Goonj. Amongst all contributions the most important has been of his wife Meenakshi and daughter Urvi who have been the biggest support in the entire journey of Goonj. Mr Anshu, says: “There was a time when Meenakshi was the only earning member of the family. She has been a co traveller, and a constant support in my dream. She spent her life to live this dream”.
Over the last 16 years GOONJ has turned massive disaster wastage into resource for development work right from Gujarat earthquake to Tsunami, Bihar floods of 2008, Andhra floods, Uttarakhand floods, J&K floods etc.
For his work Mr, Anshu Gupta has been recognized globally. He received the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004, Social Entrepreneur of the year award by Schwab Foundation and has been listed in Forbes as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs among innumerable other awards. GOONJ has been recognized as ‘Game Changing Innovation’ by NASA & US State Dept, has been listed among The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in India and received the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award. Anshu is the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2015.
Anshu’s work has changed lives of millions and inspired poor communities to build bridges and repair schools in exchange for clothes and other essential articles, restoring their dignity in an unprecedented manner. We salute him for his exemplary work and hope GOONJ keeps transforming lives of millions and bring back dignity to the poor.