The Optimist Citizen

“When we started, we did not even have a chair or table to work” – Anshu Gupta (Ramon Magsaysay Award Winner)

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 clotheslie unused in vast quantities in Indias 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 persons 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.

Mr.Anshu Gupta interacting with local villagers in Nepal
Mr.Anshu Gupta interacting with local villagers in Nepal
 Over the years GOONJ has expanded significantly with an annual contribution of over 2000 tonnes of material; from clothes, school material to old doors, windows and computers and relief material during disasters. It annually initiates over 1000 development activities under its flagship initiative Cloth for work(CFW) in which rural communities receive clothes & other material as reward for their labor. Goonjs Rahatinitiative is about a systematic approach in large scale disaster relief & rehabilitation work with many innovative approaches. Over 3.0 million sanitary pads produced out of waste cloth & reached to villages/slums as a viable solution & powerful tool to open up taboo subject of menses under its initiative-Not Just a piece of Cloth.Goonj also supports thousands of children under its initiative School to Schoolwith basic school material that acts as incentive to get these children to school, and enhance their learning experience. Moreover, over 5,00,000 Kgs of throw away waste cloth has been converted into traditional mattress/quilt as large scale income generation activity in 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 Indias most powerful rural entrepreneurs among innumerable other awards. GOONJ has been recognized as Game Changing Innovationby NASA & US State Dept, has been  listed among The Worlds 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.

Anshus 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. 


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