Goonj is a nongovernmental organization based in Delhi and founded by Anshu Gupta in 1998. The organization follows a simple model: it uses cloth as a form of currency which can be traded for works directed at community improvement.
The need for ‘cloth’ creates a condition of community poverty in many communities across the world – a particular condition not easily understood by those in the first world. Without proper uniforms, children cannot attend school. Without decent clothing, many are prohibited from working at jobs they otherwise could do. And without sanitary napkins, women can be confined to the home throughout menses.
The dearth of cloth places severe limits on a community’s productivity and ultimate happiness.
Rather than respond to this need with a form of charity, Goonj undertook a closed loop program which trades cloth for development. A community is asked of itself: what does this community need? The answer could be a sewer system, a playground, etc. The work is then commissioned and facilitated by Goonj, the workers are recruited from within the community, and are paid with various forms of clothing and cloth.
By creating this sort of loop, Goonj accomplishes several social objectives:
First, the program operates as a sort of class exchange, where resources of the upper classes (like used clothing) are transferred to the disadvantaged classes who otherwise wouldn’t have them. Distinct from pure charity, those transferred resources are put to productive use, eventually addressing multiple needs within that community.
Primary among those needs is the need for empowerment. Goonj’s program allows poorer communities to direct their own development. They cease to be passive recipients of charity, and instead become instigators and owners of their own community’s improvement. They are no longer ‘beneficiaries,’ as much as they are workers who are getting paid in a non-monetary form of currency.
This innovation approach has spread throughout 22 states in India, and currently handles over 3000 tons of material every year. We had a chance to speak with Anshu about this remarkable program on July 20, 2017. Hear him in his own words on Social Design Insights here.