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Goonj is a non-­governmental organization based in Delhi since 1998 which undertakes poverty alleviation work, using the city's discard as material to fuel widespread development work across village India.

Founded by social entrepreneur Anshu Gupta, Goonj uses urban surplus as a tool to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the underprivileged. The scarcity of clothing—and cloth, is an overlooked contributor to poverty across the world. Without proper uniforms, children cannot attend school. Without decent clothing, people are prohibited from a variety of employment opportunities. Without sanitary napkins, women might be confined to the home throughout menses. Through barter between material and community efforts, Goonj stimulates an inclusive alternative economy where everyone is an equal stakeholder in the process, creating a model for development that maintains dignity and does not compromise quality. 

Communities are no longer ‘beneficiaries’ of charity in the paradigm created by Goonj, but rather workers who are paid in a non-­monetary form of currency. Goonj’s work has also led to systematic changes in disaster relief and rehabilitation work across India, addressing taboo issues such as menstrual hygiene to reduce stigma and increase access.  

Goonj has established a culture and mechanism of sustained mindful giving, grounded in dignity and empathy, for vast stocks of everyday necessities. It collects underutilized urban materials (like clothes, books, kitchen items, etc.) and processes them, sorting, repairing, repurposing, cleaning, and carefully curating them into need-based socio-geographically appropriate family kits comprising items such as clothing, toys, utensils, footwear and more.

Goonj’s innovative approach has spread throughout 31 states/UTs in India and has handled over 13,000 tons of material in 21-22 FY. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Goonj escalated its urban and rural network to rapidly deliver more than 1 million family/relief kits between April 2020 and March 2022 to severely affected families in the most neglected communities, working with a strong on-ground partner network.

Anshu Gupta was awarded the Magsaysay Award for his work on transforming the culture of giving in India and for highlighting material as a sustainable development resource for the socioeconomically disadvantaged. He was listed in Forbes Magazine as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs. We had a chance to speak with Anshu about Goonj’s remarkable program on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.

31 | Clothing, Currency and Community


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Dance for Arvasu" by Tom Teasley from his album "Dreams of India."