“I didn’t want to just give away clothes as an act of charity. Charity strips people of self-respect”
Anshu Gupta, popularly known as the Clothing Man, is a social entrepreneur and the founder of Goonj, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation that uses under-utilised urban material as a development resource for the rural parts of India.
Anshu Gupta was born in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. He holds a Masters in Economics, and a double major in Journalism and Mass Communications. As a student at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Gupta often went to Old Delhi, where he met a professional unclaimed body collector. One December night, Gupta accompanied him to collect a body in the city. When he saw that the man had died of cold, wearing nothing but a thin cotton shirt, Gupta realised that clothing as a basic human right was often overlooked, brought to the fore only as a disaster-relief measure. From this realization, the idea for Goonj developed and the organisation was born in 1999, with 67 clothes collected by him and his wife, Meenakshi.
In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, Goonj stepped in when tonnes of cloth meant for survivors of the disaster lay piled up in warehouses in Tamil Nadu. They recycled this cloth into sanitary pads under an initiative called Not Just a Piece of Cloth. Under their flagship initiative Cloth for Work, Goonj identifies infrastructural improvements that need to be undertaken in villages. The residents there then use local resources to dig wells, clean ponds, and build roads in the community, for which they are compensated with material resources like clothing, utensils, furniture, and food grains. There are currently more than two thousand such development activities carried out annually, with the material acting as a catalyst for reviving and creating community assets.
Gupta brings to the table an instinctive empathy and a connect with the people, moving the focus from the conventional giver’s pride to the less common receiver’s dignity. He was conferred the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, or Asia’s Nobel, in 2015 for his creative vision in transforming the culture of giving in India, his enterprising leadership in treating cloth as a sustainable development resource for the poor, and for reminding the world that true giving always respects and preserves human dignity.
Gupta has proved his mettle as an entrepreneur by bringing up Goonj, which he describes as not just a pan-India movement, but an idea that makes urban prosperity eradicate rural poverty. He has brought to the limelight the hardships of the masses who cannot afford clothing. Anshu Gupta has won recognition as an Ashoka and Schwab Fellow and has been listed as one of India’s top social entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine and Fast Company. He is also earned himself a place as a member of the Humanitarian Crisis Council of the World Economic Forum.