Startup Sunday Season 1 Episode 19 (Goonj)

Already Feeling Cold?

goonjHave you ever thought of the people not able to fulfil their basic necessities of life? Why is it that we don’t look twice when passing a naked infant in the arms of an urban beggar? If you would have ever thought of why the poor people are not able to get proper clothing in the winters and what other problems they face, then there would not have been the situation where we have to face an average 781 Indians deaths per year.

On a winter night, Anshul Gupta saw advertisement on rickshaw asking people to come and deposit dead bodies. Anshul talked to the guy and realized Habib the rickshaw guy collects 10-12 dead bodies everyday from old delhi and get them cremnated. The reason for such strange activity was that his 5-6 years old daughter would hug the dead body and sleep and this doesn’t trouble her as bodies don’t move. Her words made him think that how fortunate he is that he never had to deal with clothing as a challenge in winters. The fact is, clothing is a basic need for everyone and many people like Habib’s daughter have to struggle daily for cloths to wear. During winters the condition becomes worse when people don’t have clothes to cover themselves. That is just what Goonj, as a social organization seeks to remind us. And Anshul Gupta, popularly known as the Clothing Man. left his corporate career in 1998 and founded GOONJ with a mission to let people know clothing is a matter of concern and to bring it among the list of subjects for the development sector.

What was started as a small initiative has now grown into a mass movement among the urban and rural masses. Goonj does collection drives across cities and collect things like clothes, shoes, toys, books and other urban waste. They divide the Contributed materials according to gender, age, size and other demographic and geographic needs and then the segregated material is transported to the villages. There they, together with their grassroots partner groups, motivate village communities to work on their own issues and then get material as reward as a part of their ‘Cloth for Work’ programe. Villagers get clothing in return for their work, as motivation and not as charity. They repair roads, build wells, school boundaries, etc. A major benefit of this innovative idea is to create a sense of belongingness.

Goonj also has a separate unit dedicated to making low-cost sanitary napkins which supplies sanitary pads at Rs. 3 for a pack of 5 to rural women. In 2005, they started an initiative, “Not Just a Piece of Cloth”, to provide women with clean cloth as sanitary pads. They collect reusable cloth from urban households, out of these the unwearable cotton cloth is used to make clean cloth sanitary pads for poor women. And they employ women from nearby slums for the purpose. There is also a big challenge of the deeply entrenched taboos and myths around menses due to which women and even adolescent girls suffer a lot. The worst part is the shame and silence associated with this natural process. Till now over 3 million sanitary pads produced out of waste cloth & reached to slums.

For schools, Goonj has developed a concept called S2S.In ‘School to School’, Goonj encourages urban schools to send their used materials to them, which they in turn send to rural school children. Goonj is not creating anything new, they are just a key link to meet the resource crunch in rural India. What sets this initiative apart from any other is the way simple ideas have been used to make a dignified living possible for so many across India. Goonj runs entirely on voluntary basis and is much more than cladding the naked population.

The biggest challenge Goonj faces is to bring a change in mindset and attitude of people. At times it is very difficult to make the city residents understand as they are always fortunate to get fancy clothes. Other challenges faced are Growing transport costs & rentals for storage space, people and admin, gaps in the supply of specific material like cotton cloth, children clothing, school material, saris, & blankets and lack of research on impact, knowledge, new ideas, innovative approaches in our work.

For the first five years of its existence Goonj operated without any major source of funding. Today, Goonj has a turnover of around 4 crore rupees, around 40-50% of which comes from individual contributions which reflects a strong base of supporters. The rest is a mix of funds from sale of products, co branded campaigns and other self generated income. Goonj evolved income generation initiatives like school bags making, Sujni, Vaapsi, Village Hats (markets) and tailoring centers to bring back disaster hit local economy to normalcy.

Goonj seeks to bring dignity to the act of giving. In doing so, they want to shift the focus from the donor’s pride to the receivers’ dignity. What Goonj does is by the people and for the people.In the race of development we all are too focused on machines i.e. the big, known issues, and are ignoring the needles- the most important basic needs. At GOONJ focus is on these needles. With a large scale civic participation it is not only becoming a big people’s movement for developement but is also creating a parallel economy where every work doesn’t have to wait for money; huge quantities of old re-usable material becomes a valuable resource. Over the last decade a parallel economy which is not CASH based but TRASH based, is emerging.

GOONJ has reached parts of 22 states in partnership with over 250 grass-root organizations, Ashoka Fellows, social activists & social movements. Apart from thousands of volunteers all across, GOONJ has a formal team of 200+ people with 12 offices across India. Goonj annually deals with around 3000 tons of material.

“Clothing is a synonym of dignity. What matters is how you give, not only what you give.”

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