J- 93 Sarita Vihar,
New Delhi - 110076.
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Anshu Gupta is creating a nation wide movement for channelising vital resources lying in excess in urban and middle-class households to far flung rural areas in India, thus addressing some of the very basic needs of millions of poor people. His efforts involving multiple stakeholders goes beyond the realm of 'charity' and plays a crucial role in the development process having economic implications.
Anshu has organized an effective distribution channel for disposing off reusable resources lying in urban, well-off households. Through shifting surplus urban resources to some of the poverty-stricken rural areas, Anshu is making a difference in the lives of thousands who lack the basic resources needed for survival. At the same time, his efforts are bringing about a change in the mind-set of the urban population about the optimal utilization of vital resources through concepts like recycle and reuse.
Anshu has started with the distribution of recycled clothes as an entry point into the movement. Apart from being one of the basic needs of mankind, Anshu has witnessed cases where a few pieces of clothing has freed up meager resources of the poor for more pressing needs and families being saved from a debt cycle for borrowing to buy clothes before a festival or even as a dire necessity. Efforts at distributing clothes has been at best a 'charitable' deed, but Anshu sees it playing a far greater part, where the necessity for such an outlet lies as much with the donors as with the beneficiaries. His idea tends to bridge the gap between the supply that exists due to the urban phenomena like space constraints and rising consumerism on one hand and demands for basic commodities that exists with millions in the country. His aim is to ultimately make large-scale resource mobilization a reality and to further apply his model with clothing to other critical resources like medicines, books.
His uniqueness lies in thinking and putting in place an efficient, systematic distribution channel on a nationwide scale and the establishment of a nodal agency for generating vital resources for the rural poor. Unlike similar efforts which 'take place' only during times of crises like natural disasters, his is a continuous process although the systems he has placed is well equipped to respond during times of disasters as well. Anshu's idea is also the first effort where instead of focusing on a limited target group or limited product, he is trying to spread awareness at such a level that anytime an urban household thinks of disposing off reusable materials it is aware of a channel through which it can be ultimately utilized to the fullest. His conceptualization of the idea start right from sensitizing the urban population through awareness campaigns to establishing a chain of operations for sourcing, collecting and distributing to remotest parts of India through partnership with local organizations. Anshu has engaged various stakeholders in the process- his organization GOONJ.. has a strong network of 300 Volunteers, works with corporate houses, schools, transporters, resident welfare associations, neighborhood communities and local grassroots organizations working in rural areas.
India has around 35% of its billion population living below the poverty line, with the majority of the poor living in the villages. Basic resources essential for survival is hard to procure, medicines for the sick, books for school children are still a far cry in many of the remotest and isolated rural areas, having escaped the attention of state policies. On the other side of the spectrum, India is said to be undergoing its biggest consumer boom with ever increasing purchasing power in the cities and towns. 'Conditions of plenty' along with shrinking space for the urban societies result in excess materials being accumulated that can be utilized, but lying as waste. There exists no proper channel to reach these vital resources to those who need it. He has often heard shocking accounts, like a family in Goa, was regularly burying old clothes as they did no know what to do with them.
Similar efforts have been and are been undertaken in India, but without any meaningful impact. These are usually small, sporadic, one-time events where there is indiscriminate collection of materials and random distribution. Also these mostly happen during times of disasters something that baffles Anshu. Wondering why the country swings into action when there is a disaster, he asks, "Why do we forget that half the country does not need a disaster to be helped". In fact every organization, office, school collect materials to be distributed in times of disasters without having any knowledge about the collecting agencies that 'suddenly' spring up during these times. Nor do they get the information on the final outcome of the materials or information about the beneficiaries. Clothes Banks formed by philanthropic organizations too operate on a small scale with no organized approach or purpose targeting a small group or geographical area.
In a country where disasters affect millions in a year, Anshu's idea has worked well in times of calamities. It has the potential of dealing with the inadequacies(use the word gaps instead of inadequacies) shown by the government and authorities in the name of disaster relief and response like wastage, unplanned distribution etc.
Anshu's main strategies are: using clothes as an entry point into the recycling and distribution channel, setting up an efficient and round the year system for proper collection and distribution, building partnerships with various stakeholders to reach a wider network of people. His nation wide movement 'Vastradaan' is geared toward this end. Clothes were a conscious decision as it is does not involve heavy investments and policy issues. It protects millions from extreme weather, as well as for the homeless it is a shelter from the elements. One of the uniqueness of the idea is that, materials are sourced out and sent according to the needs of the people to whom it is going. This is done by working with local grassroots organization operating in rural areas. GOONJ.. has built a network of about 60 such organizations over the years, who act as distribution partners. These organizations write with the requirements of its target communities along with details like gender ratio, dressing habits, clothing needs etc. It is based on such details that the material collected is sorted out and sent. Anshu is aware that GOONJ.. to be solely involved in distribution across the country is a difficult task. A local organization on the other hand can make a better analysis of the needs of its area as well as have the accessibility to some of the remotest regions. Strict monitoring of the distribution is however overseen by Anshu. Every organization is also cross checked before establishing any kind of a partnership. Through these organizations GOONJ.. has distribution bases in West Bengal, Assam, Uttaranchal, Kashmir and Jharkhand. The emphasis has been to reach out to the worst affected and the most marginalized people.
Sourcing and generation of materials takes place through collection camps in big neighborhoods with the help of Resident Welfare Associations (RWA), Schools, Corporate offices. People are informed about the camp in advance through pamphlets, door-to-door campaigning. Spreading the idea is a big part of Anshu's strategies. Awareness is spread through the Internet, campaigns, street plays, pamphlets and participation in various forums. The volunteers play a big role in these efforts. Besides there are 35 collection centers, which are mostly houses of volunteers in Delhi and in other cities meant for the individual donor. On an average, GOONJ..gets 15-20 calls a day from all over Delhi and outside from people who want to give in their materials.
Anshu ensures quality checks too for the material that is dispatched. The material before being sent out comes to a central storehouse where sorting and inspection takes place. A small number of the staff are involved as well as people hired to do the washing and the repairing. Small details are paid attention to- like every shoe has a string and is paired correctly. Attention to such minute details goes a long way in avoiding wastage and ensures full utility. In order to cut down costs and achieve highest matching of needs, Anshu is focusing on his 'state model'. Here the resources generated from the cities of a state will reach the beneficiaries in the rural areas of that particular state. A strong feedback system is followed where detailed reports are required from the organizations including acknowledgement from the beneficiaries and visual proof. Anshu is aware that many of the urban resources has good monetary value in rural India, therefore every precaution is taken to ensure that proper distribution takes place to the deserving people. GOONJ.. tries to be a part of the distribution at various levels and crosscheck through many sources.
Though Vastradaan operates as a continuous process, a part of Anshu's strategy has been also to focus on disaster preparedness. The idea is to spread the network in such a way that any time a disaster strikes, the local organizations can contact GOONJ..for relief material that can reach them at the earliest. The idea is not to store and then wait for a disaster to strike, but rather to work on establishing connections so that by just a single mail or call the network of Volunteers, schools, corporates, supporters, transporters swing into action. The trial run of this worked very well during the Gujarat riots where GOONJ.. was able to collect truckloads of material within a few days time and support thousands.
A new program that Anshu is concentrating on is the 'school-to -school' campaign. From experience gathered through extensive traveling Anshu has witnessed that one of the reasons for high rates of absentees or lack of enthusiasm among children to attend school in rural villages is the lack of basic things like uniforms, paper to write on for instance which give the children sense of identity of 'a school'. He is thus motivating urban schools starting from Delhi to give in their uniforms, school bags, copies at the end of a term, material which they normally discard. An urban school with 1,500-2,000 students can support 4-5 rural schools. This program has been implemented in Bihar.
GOONJ.. apart from a small team of staff has a dedicated network of 300 volunteers many of whom are working professionals as well as people from all walks of life. Anshu has roped in corporate houses like Citibank, Maruti, American Express who have supported him by holding collection camps within their offices or bringing in other regional offices within the net. The total transparency of the processes and the strong feedback system helps establish credibility of GOONJ.., which is very important for the donors. Anshu encourages the Volunteers, donors, supporters to see the final result of their efforts through the feedback reports, visual proof and acknowledgement from the beneficiaries.
GOONJ.. has operated for the last 5 years without any major source of funding. A reason for its self-sustainability is Anshu's innovative methods that make operations extremely low-cost whether it be negotiating with the transport companies for lesser charges or procuring jute bags from grain merchants for packing. A part of the transportation costs is borne by the local organization if able to do so. The entire concept of GOONJ.. is developed in such a manner that if 3 million pieces of apparel and related items are targeted for this year, in just a small cost of 97 paisa (2 cents) per cloth, it can reach anywhere in the country and this includes costs of collection, sorting, packing, transportation and distributing. Anshu is thus thinking of asking every donor to give 97 paisa per cloth to cover its costs. Besides Anshu has developed innovative strategies for resource generation. He is asking households, offices, hotels to give their stock of old newspapers that are then sold by GOONJ.. to raise funds. Nothing by way of material goes to waste. Rags, scraps, torn clothes are made into bags and sold at strategic locations for the urban clientele which not only raises funds but also helps spread the message to the customers. Waste paper are made into notebooks and sold in Delhi. Anshu is thinking of approaching garment exporters who possess huge surplus or rejected quantity that is sold in the second-hand markets.
Beginning with 67 items of clothing from his own closet to initiate Vastradaan, GOONJ..has been sending 3,000-5,000 kg of material in a month regularly. This excludes the collection and distribution drives that happens in Delhi and in times of disasters. He has already reached out and benefited lakhs of people. It is a win-win situation for all the parties involved. It establishes linkages between different segments of society especially between the urban affluent segment and the rural poor. The local organizations often connect this initiative to the overall development activities of the villages for instance an NGO working with GOONJ.. in Vavipalyam, Coimbator District, Tamil Nadu in South India is linking it with something like the 'work for cloth' program to initiate cleanliness drives in the village. Anshu is constantly trying to engage more and more people in the processes. Recently a wing of the Indian Army has joined hands with him as a distribution partner to reach woolens and blankets to some of the inaccessible isolated regions in Kashmir. He is working in South India with Ilango Rangaswamy (Ashoka Fellow) in Kuthambakkam where 18 schools have been identified under the 'school-to-school' program under which 4,000 children will be benefited in the first phase (till June). GOONJ.. will also be working for 6 villages, with an average of 1,000 families per village. Anshu aims to spread his idea nationally where every donor in every city and town is sensitized to the point that no essential reusable material goes to waste, as they are aware of an efficient outlet and distribution system. Some of the immediate targets that Anshu is working on is to open full operations of GOONJ..in 30 more cities this year, add more states like Himachal Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra in the distribution network and increase the flow of materials three times to the existing channels.
The eldest among four siblings, Anshu comes from a middle-class family. Being brought up in a big family with limited resources taught him the relevance of recycling and reusing and making the most of the little resources that 'one has' right from childhood. An understanding further imbibed from his mother who has played a profound influence in his life. His father was in the army and the family traveled to various parts of the country. These initial experiences of exploring new places and getting to know the people later manifested in his zeal for traveling.
A brilliant and inquisitive mind, he studied journalism as well as Advertising & Public Relations from one of the premier Institute in India (Indian Institute of Mass Communication), and then went on to do a Masters in Economics. While still a graduate student in 1991, he traveled to Uttarkashi, North India after a major earthquake. Missing out on his classes, he lived in tents for days and helped in the relief efforts. This was his first real exposure to the problems of rural masses in far off parts of the country, something that shocked his urban sensibilities.
After completing his studies, he joined the corporate sector. However, he always felt a void during this time and craved for that feeling of satisfaction that went beyond one's personal goal and self-interest. It was his longing to give back to society, do something different that would benefit thousands and involve people's participation that he started thinking on the idea. He ultimately left Escorts as Manager, Corporate Communications in 1998 to work full time on his idea.
GOONJ.., his dream for many years, was set up in the same year with the support of his wife and a few friends. From collecting clothes from his own house, relatives and friends and distributing them on the roads in the chilly winter nights of Delhi, his dream has come a long way. It proves his determination and entrepreneurial ability. His passion is photography and traveling. He travels extensively across the country trying to understand the needs of the people and building partnerships with organizations. The experiences are captured in his pictures that are displayed in exhibitions, in various forums, during the collection camps - all for spreading the message across to people
He lives with his wife and daughter in Faridabad.