A Goonj On Poverty Alleviation, Disaster Relief, Humanitarian Aid And Community Development Across The Country

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What Is Goonj? And What Are The Company’s Vision And Mission

Goonj is a 21 years old non-governmental organization headquartered in Delhi, India, that has work spread across 25 states of India. It undertakes poverty alleviation work and primarily focused on disaster relief, humanitarian aid and community development across the country. Goonj envisions growth as an idea across regions and economies using urban surplus as a tool to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the underprivileged in the world. It wants to mobilize, motivate and empower the underprivileged to evolve their solutions to their basic but neglected issues with dignity and urban material as a reward for their efforts. Focusing on the receiver’s dignity instead of the donor’s pride Goonj aims to bring attention and value to the traditional wisdom of people and the potential of locally available resources. Goonj wants to bring attention and value to neglected people and material and engage rural communities as equal stakeholders in the process of development.

Goonj’s Founder, Mr. Anshu Gupta Is An Indian Social Entrepreneur, And A Recipient Of Ramon Magsaysay Award, What Inspired Him To Work For Sustainable Development Resources For The Poor

There have been many aspects that led to starting this work but sharing the initial few here… As a graduate student, Anshu Gupta travelled to Uttarkashi in North India in 1991 to help with the relief efforts after a devastating earthquake struck the region. It was his first real exposure to the scale of problems of Indian rural masses. Later in 1999, Anshu founded Goonj with 67 clothes that he and his wife had collected. 

One December night, while accompanying a scantily-clad Habib – a professional unclaimed body collector he met in Old Delhi – Anshu realized that proper clothing is every individual’s right. Since then, he and his Goonj have been ensuring that the underprivileged masses of the nation are given dignity by being clothed. Donations lend a sense of pride to the donor but it snatches away the dignity from the recipient. “I didn’t want to give these clothes as an act of charity. Charity strips people of self-respect,” Anshu says. Hence, he sought to undo this gap and dedicate his life to give back to the society which nourished him.

How Does Your Sustainable Economic Model Work For Eradicating Poverty And Related Issues?

Our model looks at the entire spectrum of needs and issues that drive people to poverty. People, irrespective of where they have some basic needs including material needs but every human being also needs self-actualization and dignity. Goonj’s model applies the dignity lens to development work by thinking of everyone as a stakeholder in the work, instead of the traditional donor beneficiary hierarchy. It also looks at the growing gap between urban prosperity and rural poverty and builds a bridge of material from one’s abundance to the other scarcity, prioritizing the dignity of the receiver rather than the pride of the giver. When Goonj reaches with material kits to rural families. IT saves the expense of spending money on those basic needs material. In turn, this frees up their very meagre resources for other urgent needs like food, health etc. Goonj’s engagement with both the urban and rural population has galvanized mass civic participation in addressing basic but neglected issues. Urban underutilized material is used as a tool to address crucial gaps in rural infrastructure, water, environment, livelihood, education, health, disaster relief and rehabilitation. Goonj’s model of Development through barter between material and community efforts proposes a more inclusive alternative economy where everyone is an equal stakeholder in the process. The success and sustainability of our model is attributed to our focus on development with dignity.

It is done primarily in two ways:

By making communities equal stakeholders of their development process we Transfer decision making, accountability, and ownership back to the communities.

Goonj encourages dignity instead of charity among rural communities by talking to them about reward earned – as material family kits – instead of just ‘receiving them as a charity as beneficiaries.

How Does Goonj Promote Both Sustainable Development And CSR Practices?

We don’t see these as conflicting or contrasting things, as both aim at positively impacting the wellbeing of people and nature as a common goal. We proactively consistently work on reshaping the mindset of the CSR funders and intermediary organizations in their understanding of the ground realities and their lens of looking at rural communities, as equal stakeholders who have wisdom, skills and natural resources to offer, for the work of transformative change. The abiding principle behind Goonj’s approach is to value what people have, instead of what they don’t have. It builds their confidence and dignity. It also promotes stronger ownership of their problems and solutions in the communities and decreases their dependencies on outside resources and expertise.

Thus, through our work across thousands of villages by extending sustainable solutions around water. It reduces migration and brings improved sanitation that affects the positive impact on the health of people. A locally made road results in increased accessibility and a piece of cloth as menstrual pad nudges change in the menstrual health and hygiene of women. In FY 2018-19 itself, we reached more than 5000+ tons of material, triggering 6200+ community development projects across 4000+ villages of India. Thus many such CSR projects in the discipline of eradication of poverty, rural development, gender equality etc.

How Are You Bridging The Gap Between The Urban And Rural Sector, Through Your Work?

Goonj aims to build an equitable relationship of strength, sustenance and dignity between the Cities and villages using the under-utilized urban material as a tool to trigger development with dignity, across the country. In one seamless channel from the cities to the villages across India, it marries the circularity principle of material produced in the cities, to create dignity and value for the village communities, across urban India. Goonj has established a culture and mechanism of sustained mindful giving, grounded in dignity and empathy, for vast stocks of everyday necessities. We collect underutilized urban materials (like clothes, books, kitchen items, etc.) and process them (sort, repair, repurpose, clean and carefully curate) into need-based socio-geographically appropriate family kits comprising clothing, toys, utensils, footwear, etc. 

Our sustained awareness and collection campaigns are aimed at re-positioning giving as ‘contribution’ instead of ‘charity’ thereby eliminating the humiliating inferior superior dynamic of a donor and a beneficiary.

What Initiatives, Projects And Plans Does Goonj Hold For The Future?

In the last 4 months of COVID, Goonj escalated its urban and rural network to rapidly reach 3 million kgs of ration and relief kits including 1, 63,000+ kgs of fruits and vegetables to most neglected communities, working with a network of 390+ partner grassroots organizations. It also made and reached 4,58,000 masks, 1,93,000+ sanitary napkins, 21,000+ undergarments and channelized 7,21,000+ essential hygiene items. Moving disaster-hit communities to dignity. Goonj has used relief material to mobilize people and initiated 2000+ rural projects to solve their neglected issues like repairing their roads, making bamboo bridges, cleaning water bodies. It also involving rural occupations for 200,000 families by mapping what people know, have and can do and their aspirations for a better life. Goonj’s GARRD (Goonj Alliance for Rapid Response on Disasters) is bringing together funders and disaster-hit communities together for rapid disaster response and systemic change in commitment of resources for disasters.

Share An Experience From The Field With Us.

Lohardaga, Jharkhand, In September 2016, a bridge over Bokta River in village Bhujania was severely damaged due to heavy rains. This bridge was not only this village’s only link to the rest of the world, but it was also crucial for transporting hundreds of liters of milk produced in the area, to the local market. The villagers even approached the local authorities with their earnest appeal to repair the bridge, but in vain. When Goonj started work in this area under the Cloth for Work (now Dignity For Work) initiative, we encouraged the villagers to solve this problem with their efforts. As a result, two members from each family (from a total of 110 families) in the village got together with their spades and baskets and started filling the huge gap with 20-25 tractor trolleys of mud and stones. After two days of hardcore labour, a 20 meter-gap was filled, restoring the connection with the bridge. Bihari Pahan, a milk producer from the village, said, “Due to the damaged bridge we had to spend more time and money to supply the milk to the city. Now things will be back to normal and the milk van will come to our village to collect milk.” Another example of what collective responsibility and hard work of village communities can achieve. 

There are many such remarkable stories of people we make the mistake of calling ‘beneficiaries’, and what they can achieve with their local resources, wisdom and hard work. 

For us, these experiences are also great learning… about the power of the so-called discarded cloth and other material. Goonj’s bridge-making work has spread to many other states, like Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, West Bengal etc. where bigger and sturdier bamboo and wooden bridges have been made.

Share Your Achievements, Honours And Accolades With The Readers

Rewriting many rules of the development sector, winner of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award Anshu Gupta has made the masses his prime focus – not only as givers and receivers of material but also as the prime source of skills and services. He has structured imaginative solutions with the urban surplus, to some basic but neglected needs outside the radar of the development sector and the civil society. Over the years as Goonj garnered major awards, including World Bank Development Marketplace Award and NASA Launch Award. 

Anshu Gupta also won recognition as an Ashoka and Schwab Fellow while he was also listed as one of India’s top social entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine and Fast Company. 

Share A Quote About Your Initiative

According to the Goonj Founder Anshu Gupta, “Poverty is the biggest ongoing disaster for millions. Why do we wait for a disaster to stand with people? If we want to change the world, let’s improve it first… In this global pandemic, we don’t need thinkers for some time, we need doers… Problems are in volume, we need solutions in volume and we need people who will work on these solutions also in volume… ” – Mr. Ravikant

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent those of Diggaj Media. The pictures are provided by the author and is not authorized to be used by anyone else.

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