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A cut above: how Anshu Gupta changed lives with a piece of cloth

Aastha Tyagi | Updated on: 30 July 2015, 17:40 IST

The agent

  • Anshu Gupta left his job in 1999 to launch Goonj
  • The aim: to provide clothes to poor, homeless people

The change

  • Goonj has given 5,00,000 kg of waste cloth to the poor since 1999
  • It has distributed 3 million sanitary pads, made from old cotton & cloth
  • But it doesn\'t do charity; clothes are given for work

An epiphany on a cold winter night set the path for Anshu Gupta's future. A future that would bring him the Ramon Magsaysay Award, 2015.

He saw the dead body of a homeless man, wearing nothing but a thin cotton shirt. He had clearly died of cold.

Gupta wanted to help. So, in 1999, he quit his corporate job to start Goonj.

The aim was to provide clothes to the poor, but not as charity. So, the NGO devised the 'Cloth for Work' campaign.

Treading a new path

Gupta graduated from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and did a masters in Economics.

After a stint as a journalist, he went to work for in the corporate sector. He left in 1999 to start Goonj with wife Meenakshi Gupta.

In the 16 years since, Goonj has spread to 21 states. It ships over 70,000 kg of material a month and has converted 1,000 tonnes of used clothes and household discards into usable resources for the poor.

The purpose has also expanded: the NGO works with 250 grassroots groups in disaster relief, humanitarian aid and community development.

Since its inception in 1999, the NGO has utilised nearly 5,00,000 kg of waste cloth

One of Gupta's pet projects is 'Not Just a Piece of Cloth', which aims to provide sanitary pads to poor women and girls in villages and urban slums.

The pads are made by repurposing old cotton and cloth. The NGO has created an estimated three million pads so far.

A resounding echo

The material Goonj receives is segregated: one part is kept aside for emergencies and the other to provide clothing in regular circumstances. Since its inception, it has utilised nearly 5,00,000 kg of waste cloth.

Goonj has been involved in several disaster relief initiatives, from the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and the 2004 tsunami to the floods in Bihar, Uttarakhand and Kashmir.

As apart of the relief effort, it converts the waste generated during the disaster into 'resource'.

Goonj ships 70,000 kg of material a month and has converted 1,000 tonnes of waste into usable resources

Goonj has revolutionised the way waste, especially waste cloth, is utilised in India.

It's model has been the subject of many studies on social entrepreneurship. And Gupta has spoken about it at NASA, the US State Department and the HAAS School of Business at Berkeley.

The effort hasn't gone unappreciated. In 2007, Goonj received the World Banks' Development Marketplace Award.

Gupta himself was chosen as an Ashoka Fellow in 2004 and went on to receive the prestigious Schwab Fellowship.

The Magsaysay Award is well deserved. Hopefully, it will only amplify Goonj's echo.

First published: 30 July 2015, 17:40 IST
Aastha Tyagi @snnickel

Before being drawn into the yellow, sunlit Catch office, Aastha worked as a Junior Assistant Producer for ET NOW. She has lived her life in Delhi and Mumbai, managing to get an education while traipsing back and forth. She studied media and culture studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and has a degree in English Lit from IP College, Delhi University. Constantly caffeinated, she has a weirdly sharp memory for Bollywood music from the '90s.