If you haven’t, you should.
I met Anshu Gupta last week, the face behind GOONJ, whose organization has won many awards for his social entrepreneurship: the Economy of Trash — where one man’s waste is recycled into another man’s object of need, even desire. I realized how one man, with good entrepreneurial skills, an insatiable curiosity for inconvenient problems and the ability to innovate in order to solve them, can create a revolution.
The New Yorker says it better than I’ll ever say it , but what you essentially need to know is this:
1. Goonj takes urban waste in India (clothes, blankets etc ), and recycles it into commodities (schoolbags, sanitary napkins) for the rural poor. If you want to see what real, intensive recycling looks like, take a few minutes to watch this video.
2. The Goonj drive to create affordable sanitary protection for Indian rural women addresses a big gap in demand and supply, and starts off a dialogue on a topic that is taboo in most Indian living rooms. “Many Indians possess only one or two items of clothing….a woman with one sari must conceal herself while it dries after washing. And many women stay hidden indoors during their menstrual cycles because of orthodox religious beliefs and because they have no proper undergarments and only a piece of cloth to serve as a sanitary napkin.” (Here’s how you can help these women through Goonj)
3. The clothes are given in exchange for development work in the village, which gives the receivers the feeling that they earned it. This might seem strange, but we’re talking about a scenario in some parts of rural India where people become indentured labor just in order to buy new clothes.
4. Most of Goonj’s operating costs come from individual contributions, because the urban dwellers are made aware of the dismal state of their rural counterparts, and contribute their unwanted, but still usable items in order to help out. What lies unused in the wardrobes of the urban middle-class and the rich, is turned into pure gold for the rural poor via Goonj’s process of value addition.
What I loved about the Goonj approach is the open-ness towards innovation, the dignity afforded to those who receive donations, and the readiness to let others replicate the organizational model.
With an annual budget of $550,000, 150 employees, and hundreds of volunteers, Goonj is growing apace. What it needs are folks who see the beauty of its concept, nurture it, and contribute towards its upkeep, because it is a win-win, no matter how you look at it.
Would you like to be part of this economy of trash? Check the IndiChange site and ISB iDiya contest page for more details on this post.