Kameshwar Upadhyaya


Anshu Gupta – Building an Effective Resource Mobilisation Mechanism

Kameshwar Upadhyaya

Web Cover_Anshu Gupta Goonj Maysaysay Award Winner

Over one and a half decades ago, Anshu Gupta, then a young journalist, was out in the streets of old Delhi looking for a powerful story. It was his lucky day and he found a man with a tricycle-rickshaw who would pick up unclaimed dead bodies. This old man was called Habib and he had a wife who was blind and a young daughter who would hug dead bodies to fight the cold in Delhi. Most of these dead bodies which remained unclaimed were of poor migrant workers. The policemen would call Habib whenever they found an unclaimed dead body and pay him Rs 20 for every dead body he took to the crematorium. Gupta spent a week conducting his research around this story and was left gasping with what he found.

Habib’s work used to increase in the winters to an extent that he could not handle it on his own.Profile_Anshu Gupta He would pick up 10-12 dead bodies in a day just from a three to four km stretch! In the summers, the numbers would go down to four to five. The numbers clearly told him that more people were dying in winters. “What killed these people on the road?” he asked himself. It was not the cold, for if cold could kill people, the affluent would die too. It was the lack of warm clothes that actually killed these migrant workers. If it could kill people on the roads in the capital of one of the fastest growing economies in the world, how much worse would it be in the hinterlands!

The basic human needs are for food, shelter and clothing; yet clothing has been ignored by most governments, funding agencies and NGOs. Driven to solve the problem of clothing, Gupta founded Goonj in 1998.

 From Idea to Execution

Clothing the poor was a big challenge and Gupta came up with a unique answer to it. “I did not have a perfect solution to this problem. So, we came up with many small solutions and one of them was to channelise from the people who have the resource”, recalls Gupta. In the ever-increasing gap between urban prosperity and rural poverty where most see a problem, he could see an opportunity. He put together an innovative and efficient Cloth for Work (CFW) programme that turned the passive urban and rural masses of India into prime stakeholders in solving its problem of clothing. This system sources old clothes and other old materials from urban India, processes them, and uses them as the driving force for development works in rural areas. Clothes are being used as a currency and are ‘paid’ to the rural poor in return of a day’s labour towards a developmental activity in their own village.

Web_NJPC_S2S_Rahat_Anshu Gupta Goonj Maysaysay Award WinnerThis system works so well because it is not charity. Gupta just did not want to give out the clothes. There is no dignity in that. “Dignity is the biggest asset of the people in rural areas. You wouldn’t find beggars in the villages”, he says. By paying people in the currency of clothes, Goonj organised their efforts to build bamboo bridges, bunding farm lands, build canals for irrigation, repairing roads, building water-harvesting structures, dig wells, and erect school buildings for their children. Since no money is involved and in turn there are no pre-allotted budgets for pre-decided activities, Goonj is able to empower the villagers to decide which development work they want to take up. “We are now connected with hundreds different types of rural activities that how it is gradually taking the shape of a civic participation movement where people are not donors or beneficiaries but are stakeholders”, says Gupta.

Over the years, the scope of work has increased and Goonj has come up with other programs like Not Just a Piece of Cloth (NJPC), School to School (S2S) and Rahat among others. Over 1500 development activities have been taken up under Cloth for work (CFW) in the last three years. Three million sanitary pads (Goonj Pads) were produced utilising waste clothes. Over 500,000 kgs of throw away waste cloth converted into traditional mattresses/quilts. Goonj now deals with over 1000 tonnes of materials – clothes, books, toys, computers, doors and windows. All of this has been made possible in a very low annual budget of Rs four crore.

The Mechanism

In India, we see people donating clothes they do not need, mostly during the disaster relief drives. Other times, we are happy either exchanging them for utensils or using them to mop the floor. “When donating, you give out what you have. You do not give what the other person needs”, Anshu Gupta argues.  That is where Goonj’s detailed system of logistics comes into play, which ensures that the clothing problem is solved with a focus on receiver’s dignity as opposed to donor’s pride.

The mechanism consists of three distinct parts. The first part is the collection of materials and building awareness in the urban areas. The second part is the scientific and detailed processing of the collected materials by Goonj volunteers and employees at its dedicated processing centres. Finally, in the third part, materials reach the villages for distribution.


Web 1_Anshu Gupta Goonj Maysaysay Award WinnerIn cities, throughout the year, Goonj runs awareness campaigns to make the urban masses understand how their unwanted clothes and other materials can be invaluable for a family in rural India. At the same time, the volunteers orient them about the needs of rural people. It becomes important, given the sea of difference in the clothing habits of the urban and rural population in India. Urban women are likely to donate kurtis, jeans and tops but in rural India, women need sarees. The waist sizes of men in urban India are 32 to 40 inches while in rural India, they normally range from 26 to 30 inches.

Due to transportation costs, Goonj does not engage in door-to-door collection. Clothes are collected only at the designated dropping centres in their offices and collection centres set-up by volunteers, schools, colleges, exporters, retail chains, and other institutions to help Goonj.


Once the clothes and other materials are collected, they go through a rigorous, detailed and scientific process of sorting, packing, value add etc. according to set guidelines. The value-add can be washing, soothing, repairing, or creating a new product out of an old cloth. For example, the non-reusable cotton cloth is processed and converted into the hygienic cloth sanitary napkins called Goonj Pads.

Then the materials are grouped into kits, on the basis of need, culture, geographical requirements of different regions. These kits are dispatched to the villages for distribution. Data related to processing and logistics is recorded in daily internal reports at the collection centres.


Clothes and other materials are sent in batches to Goonj’s partner organisations in different states of India for distribution. Records of it are maintained to increase the efficiency of the system and keep a tab on the inventory. The kits in every dispatch are also tracked and a detailed list is sent to the partner organisations receiving the materials to acknowledge the receipt.

Structure that Facilitates Implementation

Goonj has 11 offices in India with approximately 200 regular employees on their payroll – numbers not sufficient to make the kind of impact Goonj has been able to make. “Although there were enough chances to open more offices and hire more people, we were very particular about this that we want to grow as an idea and not as an organisation,” Anshu Gupta gives the rationale for it. The fastest way to grow an idea to every nook and corner of the country is to partner and collaborate with like-minded locals. A dedicated national implementation team looks after these tie-ups for hundreds of activities all across the country.

Through a detailed due diligence, which includes a lot of paper work and field visits, Goonj chooses its implementation partners. These implementation partners become the bridges between Goonj and the villagers. They also bring to the table their wisdom and experience of working in the communities Goonj wants to help.  Together with its partner groups, Goonj organises village meetings where its volunteers discuss needs and problems of the village with the villagers. During these meetings, a consensus is reached with the villagers about which local problem they will tackle. Goonj works with over 250 such partners in remote parts of 21 states in India. These partners include development organisations, village panchayats, community based organisations, Ashoka Fellows, units of the Indian army, other social activists and social entrepreneurs. “We started alone with a sole focus on clothes. We are now connected with hundreds of different types of rural activities. With our partners, it is gradually taking the shape of a civic participation movement where people are not donors or beneficiaries but are stakeholders”, says Gupta.

Engaged People

Web 2_Anshu Gupta Goonj Maysaysay Award WinnerMost people working with Goonj are not professionally trained and do not come with experience in the development sector.  Many of them started their career with Goonj and they continue to grow within the organisation. “I think today’s generation needs space. They want to experiment and come up with new ideas. They do not want a mundane job. At Goonj, there is excitement and there is newness. One of the core things that keeps the spirits alive in us is that every few months or even days, an innovative idea comes through. The work here is very interesting and exciting. It does not revolve around PowerPoint slides. Here instead, of you talk about the work, you let the work talk about you. That is why we have been able to not only retain people but also acquire talent through references”, says Anshu Gupta with a chuckle in his voice.

Goonj has also done very well to engage its partners and the people it has set out to help. Its good and clean image helps. “We are very upfront people having sensible and neutral values. We have developed this highly logistic heavy organisation without paying a single penny in bribe”, says Gupta.  And this reputation gets solidified when they don’t spend money on their own infrastructure, furniture etc. They practice what they promote and use old material for table, chairs, computers, and office stationary. But what works best for Goonj in engaging its partners and the people in villages is the respect it shows to them. They do not try to do everything on their own and use the strengths of their stakeholders. Involving their stakeholders often helps them to get subsidised cost on transportation, printing etc. “Our strong belief in the wisdom of people we are working for, to find solutions to their own problems, is our core strength”, says Gupta.

Sharad Mathur has put together this article based on Kameshwar Upadhyaya’s research and his interview with Anshu Gupta. This was Kameshwar Upadhyaya’s last interview and he will be sorely missed by The Leadership Review team.

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