The eldest among four siblings, he came from a big middle-class family with limited resources. His upbringing taught him the relevance of making the most of the little. An understanding further imbibed from his mother who has played a profound influence in his life. A brilliant mind, he studied journalism as well as Advertising & Public Relations from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, and then Masters in Economics.
While still a graduate student in 1991, he travelled 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 shocked his urban sensibilities. After completing his studies, he joined the corporate sector. Insatiate, he craved for that feeling of satisfaction that went beyond one’s personal goal and self-interest. His longing to give back to society, do something different to benefit thousands and involve people’s participation, inspired an 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. 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. He has organised an effective distribution channel for disposing reusable resources lying in urban, well-off households.
Through shifting surplus urban resources to some of the poverty-stricken rural areas, he has made a difference in the lives of thousands who lack the basic resources needed for survival. He has witnessed cases where a few pieces of clothing has freed up meagre resources of the poor for more pressing needs. Clothes do not involve heavy investments but protect millions from extreme weather, shelter the homeless from the elements. His nationwide movement ‘Vastradaan’ is geared toward this end. Working with local grassroots organisations operating in rural areas, Goonj has built a network of about 60 distribution partners with bases in West Bengal, Assam, Uttaranchal, Kashmir and Jharkhand.
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. His 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 reusable materials it is aware of a channel to its fullest utilisation.
His organisation Goonj has a strong network of 300 volunteers, works with corporate houses, schools, transporters, resident welfare associations, neighbourhood communities and local grassroots organisations working in rural areas. Though Vastradaan operates as a continuous process, a part of his strategy has been also to focus on disaster preparedness. The idea is to spread the network in such a way that anytime disaster strikes, Goonj can reach them the relief material at the earliest. It made a difference in Gujarat riots where Goonj was able to collect truckloads of material within a few days’ time and support thousands.
Beginning with 67 items of clothing from his own closet to initiate Vastradaan, he has reached out and benefited lakhs of people. He has meticulously linked the urban affluent and the rural poor. His idea tends to bridge the gap between the supply that exists due to urban phenomena like space constraints and rising consumerism on one hand and demands for basic commodities that exist with millions in the country. His aim is to ultimately make large-scale resource mobilisation a reality and to further apply his model to clothing to other critical resources such as medicines, books.
He inspires many in the revered eighteen-day national odyssey, Tata Jagriti Yatra. He is a change maker. He is an Ashoka Fellow. Dear reader, he is Anshu Gupta, the Founder of Goonj.