Ex­pand­ing net­work

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build­ing the bridge. He says about 100 peo­ple con­trib­uted bam­boo and a few days of labour to build the bridge. Goonj sup­plied nails and other hard­ware. The en­tire project cost around Dh180 in terms of raw ma­te­ri­als. Goonj then paid the work­ers in kind – neat, clean clothes that had been do­nated.

The vil­lage el­ders later pe­ti­tioned the gov­ern­ment to im­prove the bridge and this re­sulted in a bridge made of con­crete.

Since then Goonj has sup­ported hun­dreds of sim­i­lar Cloth for­Work cam­paigns. The projects Goonj un­der­takes in­clude build­ing bridges, re­pair­ing roads, dig­ging wells, build­ing schools, any­thing that can be termed a de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­ity. And the projects are re­ward­ing for the Cloth for­Work team too. “It is heart-warm­ing to see the smiles on the faces of work­ers when they get the clothes. You can see the pride they have when they walk around with the clothes that they have earned,’’ says An­shu.

An­shu says he wants to en­cour­age the next gen­er­a­tion to find so­lu­tions for prob­lems they face, and for this rea­son he en­cour­ages youth or­gan­i­sa­tions across In­dia to con­tact Goonj to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gramme.

“Once we get a re­quest from a group for a Cloth for­Work project, the Goonj team vets the re­quest to find out how it would ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity, and what kind of clothes the lo­cal peo­ple who would be work­ing on it would re­quire. We then check our ware­house to see if we have the req­ui­site clothes and then give our ap­proval to the project. If we don’t have the right clothes, we go on a col­lec­tion drive, con­tact­ing in­di­vid­u­als as well as cor­po­rates and, once the clothes are ready, we give the go-ahead.’’ Another area where Goonj has made a huge dif­fer­ence is in the largely tribal area of Sal­i­dana in the north­ern In­dian state of Mad­hya Pradesh.

“The tribal peo­ple were strug­gling be­cause there was a scarcity of potable wa­ter as the near­est well was sev­eral kilo­me­tres away from their vil­lage,’’ Anush ex­plains. Goonj vol­un­teers got a group of tribal peo­ple to­gether who were well-dig­gers and promised to pay them in kind for their labour. In less than a week, the vil­lage had a well. The vil­lagers were over­joyed.”

To­day, Goonj op­er­ates col­lec­tion cen­tres in 10 In­dian cities – Delhi, In­dore, Siliguri, Goonj’s main of­fice in Delhi is a mi­cro­cosm of its op­er­a­tions. The staff work with fac­tory-like ef­fi­ciency to sort, grade, ster­ilise, match, re­pair, re­pur­pose and pack con­tri­bu­tions based on the needs of the re­cip­i­ents. Goonj makes use of just about ev­ery­thing it re­ceives. It re­pairs saris and woollen clothes, which have the high­est de­mand, and adds draw­strings to trousers, turns jeans into school­bags, T-shirts into un­der­gar­ments and cloth scraps into quilts. It even matches school uni­forms by colour. Goonj has the rep­u­ta­tion of en­sur­ing that the do­nated ma­te­ri­als ac­tu­ally reach the in­tended re­cip­i­ents. The mem­bers of staff care­fully vet char­ity part­ners and do fol­low-up vis­its. If that is im­pos­si­ble, they ask that photographs be taken to show the dis­tri­bu­tion of goods. They have a net­work of trusted lo­ca­tions for truck stor­age. “This is hard-core lo­gis­tics and we have proved suc­cess­ful,” says An­shu.

It is lit­tle won­der that the UAE-based Land­mark Group did not think twice when choos­ing Goonj as the re­cip­i­ent of the used clothes it had col­lected un­der its re­cent Clothes for Com­pas­sion col­lec­tion drive.

An­shu’s work with Goonj has won him many awards, in­clud­ing the Game Chang­ing In­no­va­tion award from Nasa and the US State Depart­ment. He has also been cho­sen for the CNN-IBN Real He­roes award, the World Bank’s De­vel­op­ment Mar­ket­place award, the Global De­vel­op­ment Net­work award for the most in­no­va­tive de­vel­op­ment project, and the 2012 So­cial En­tre­pre­neur of the Year award from the Schwab Foun­da­tion for So­cial En­trepreneur­ship in Switzer­land.

But he doesn’t think it’s a suc­cess be­cause of him. “Goonj, or rather the idea be­hind it, has taken on a life of its own,” he says con­fi­dently. “In fact, that’s my dream – that peo­ple take this idea and run with it, form­ing their own groups to han­dle de­vel­op­ment is­sues as is al­ready hap­pen­ing in many places in In­dia.

“That’s when I’ll be happy.”

sthekkepat@gulfnews.com @Shiva_fri­day

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