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.”