Goonj is an idea that has the potential to be replicated across regions, economies and countries using urban discard as a tool to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the poor. Goonj is the first organisation worldwide to highlight clothing as a basic but unaddressed need which deserves a place on the development agenda.
Published on December 22, 2020 at 8:19 am
Updated on January 26, 2021 at 08:56 am
Goonj is the first organisation worldwide to highlight clothing as a basic but unaddressed need which deserves a place on the development agenda. It is the first to reposition discard of urban households as a development resource for villages, moving away from its age-old stance as a charitable object. It is one of the few organisations in the world constructively reviving and strengthening rural volunteerism to solve its own problems, digging deep into the age-old wisdom and knowledge base of the villages. Goonj has the rare distinction of an equally vast reach among the masses in the villages as well as the cities across India. The core idea is to address basic but neglected issues of the poor by involving them in evolving their own solutions with dignity and urban material as a reward.
Goonj is an idea that has the potential to be replicated across regions, economies and countries using urban discard as a tool to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the poor in the world. We aim to recognise and value the potential of local resource and traditional wisdom of people. Our focus is concentrated on the receiver’s dignity instead of the donor’s pride. We promote this circular economy by ensuring maximum use of each material. We value collaborative efforts with partner organisations to increase effectiveness and scale. Goonj views every entity as an equal stakeholder in the process of development rather than observing hierarchical relationships.
In the work of development as the world is focused on the machines i.e. the big and known issues, Goonj wants to bring attention to the most ignored needles – the basic needs.
Target Population & Geography
The work connects to the masses in cities and villages to build a network of communities, channelising surplus material from urban masses including individuals, institutions, corporates and FMCGs to the villages across India we work with a vast network of grassroots organisations, activists, panchayats, formal and informal groups, units of Indian army, Border Roads Organisation and others to reach out to some of the most remote and underserved communities, especially in disasters. In 2018- 19, Goonj reached out to communities in 25 states and union territories, including more than 4,600 villages.
Scale of Impact
According to our FY 18-19 annual report:
- We mobilised 6,200+ development projects across India, with 93,000+ people
- Dealt with 5.5 million kgs of material, including approx. 780 tonnes of cloth waste used to create innovative upcycled handmade products
- Reached out 2,48,400+ carefully designed basic needs material ‘Family Kits’
- Reached out to 1,47,400+ students in village schools under our ‘School to School’ initiative
- Apart from this, we have been doing massive disaster relief and rehabilitation work in the past two decades and also working with women in rural India on their menstrual hygiene, reaching them with millions of cloth pads made out of carefully processed urban surplus cotton/semi cotton urban surplus cloth
Our work touches almost all the SDGs as they connect with ecological aspects with reusing urban surplus material and using it as a tool to trigger work on many different development issues. Our focus is on changing the mindset of people around consumption, individual responsibility in the society, the inequality and wrong notions of rich and poor, donor and beneficiary and charity and dignity. Our work is about engaging and involving the society for systemic change that in turn impacts many different aspects of the wellbeing of the people and the planet.
Implementation & Sustainability
Goonj’s work across rural and urban India is led by its own teams, a wide network of partner organisations, our volunteers and the general masses. Goonj is triggering and nudging these different stakeholders to focus on some neglected communities and issues. Goonj is also mobilising many different kinds of material resources beyond money. In many geographies, Goonj teams are directly working with the communities, effective local partners also help set the stage for well-coordinated strategic field planning that both maximises resources and enhances the extent of coverage.
Goonj’s work in rural and urban India is built on a network of partnerships and collaborations engaging different entities and individuals in taking action from the space of their strength and aligned goals. In rural India, our backbone is a partner network of over 250 grassroots organisations, including units of Indian Army in remote sensitive border villages of J&K, government agencies like Border Roads Organisation (BRO) working with migrant labourers making roads on borders of Uttarakhand, SHGs, CBOs, Panchayats, etc. These partners are our critical last leg, hands, ears and eyes on the ground. They give us precise knowledge about the needs and realities of rural populations and act as trusted intermediaries for the communities and us. In disasters, especially this ongoing network of pan India partnerships plays a critical role as we just instigate it to deliver large-scale specific urgently needed disaster relief in a time-sensitive manner.
In cities, we partner with every part of the society – FMCGs, corporates, institutions and individuals – to turn the tide of waste by reverse supply chains, recycling and circular economic model, using their infrastructure. Our focus is on making them aware of village India’s challenges and issues and the simple, achievable solutions possible with the material they are discarding.
Ours is a sustainable model because it is creating a win-win situation for all the stakeholders – the material contributors in the cities because they are able to channelise their surplus underutilised material in a constructive way for development work and the receiver because it’s not only addressing their needs specifically but, in addition, it is addressing their community needs as well plus the biggest aspect is that it is enhancing their dignity and sense of self. It is mobilising communities to take their own decisions and own their own solutions. That is a powerful aspect of sustenance.
Challenge & Mitigation Approach
We do face challenges in the course of carrying out our activities. Some of those are:
- Increasing transport cost and rentals for storage space, vehicles.
- Technology; high-end laptops and computers to streamline data and systems.
- Documentation of knowledge – new ideas and innovative approaches in our work since our inception.
- Mismatch in the supply of specific material like sarees, children clothing, school material, winter clothing and blankets etc.
- Financial resources, retaining and nurturing our values and processes.
Our challenges are connected with our desire to do more. It is a constant struggle but working with people for the past two decades on their mindset around participating in the development work, not as donors but as stakeholders, has led to more co-ownership and a sense of responsibility among the masses. We do believe that when people own their issues and solutions, generating resources or facing challenges becomes easier.
There has been a big innovation in many principles of development work and the circular economy principles, and we are connecting these two different genres seamlessly.
The Way Forward
The way forward is led by the people, by giving value to what we have, whether it is material, people, relationships and others. The need is to change our inequality-led mindset of donors, beneficiaries, poor, rich, skilled and unskilled. Goonj’s model has shown that phenomenal things can be achieved when we value rural efforts and use urban surplus as a new currency. The need is to listen to people, work with their sense of agency and dignity and not apply only our lenses of looking at issues and solutions.
Flagship Project: Dignity for Work
Worldwide when we think of resources for any kind of development work, we think of money. Goonj works on turning urban surplus material as a resource for thousands of rural development activities. Communities build huge bamboo bridges, dig up wells, do bunding of acres of land, develop irrigation canals, build drainage systems, build village schools and take up massive exercises of repairing roads, develop water harvesting systems to cleaning up their water bodies. All these works are done by making people understand their own community power and using carefully processed usable old material, matched to their needs, as a reward for their efforts.
The goal is to build and maintain a connection of empathy, dignity and value between the issues of the poor and the rich. The strategy is to build an economic bridge between cities and villages, by sharing the surplus of one’s prosperity to address the lack of resources of another. We use urban surplus and rural efforts as two alternate development currencies to bring dignity and a better life for communities in cities and villages across India. The impact is that the village communities are being vitalised as their standards of living improve with material inputs and reduction in cash expenditure for low-income households, expanding their spending power in small but critical ways. In the process, massive urban waste is constructively utilised instead of becoming an environmental disaster.
The ‘Dignity for Work’ initiative is enabling communities to confront their realities, encouraging them into action. This work is addressing ignored needs and gap areas in the work of other development agencies. For the people, it is freeing up their meagre resources as when Goonj reaches out with material, larger value addition is basic economic development as the limited money a person would otherwise spend on buying this material is freed up to fulfil more critical needs of food or health etc.
Goonj’s interventions include water (digging/cleaning/making of ponds, canals & wells; rainwater harvesting/groundwater recharging; making reservoirs, check dams, new ponds for water catchment; cleaning and reviving defunct ponds, reservoirs), access & infrastructure (road repair; bridge related; drain/toilet making/repairing; road making; dustbin making/repairing), sanitation (road cleaning; cleaning of hand-pump premises; drainage making/cleaning; village colony cleaning; community centre/school/park cleaning), agriculture (kitchen garden, land bunding, community farming, environment, plantation and vermicompost pit making) and education.