Gupta , Anshu | CITATION

Monumental disasters in recent years have starkly exposed the vulnerabilities of the world’s poor, but have also shown that there is a tremendous wellspring of human empathy that can be tapped to help them. The formidable challenge is to find ever better, more sustainable ways of organizing the effort to help those in need.
In India, Anshu Gupta left his job in a well-known firm to devote himself to this task. His journey began in 1999, when he and his wife contributed sixty-seven pieces of personal clothing for the use of the homeless during winter. This experience drew their attention to the vast quantities of underutilized cloth and other materials lying unused in India’s urban households, while many rural poor die because they do not have enough clothing. Thus Gupta founded Goonj, a volunteer organization built on the powerful, life-changing lessons he learned: that much more than random disaster relief needed to be done; that better ways of mobilizing public concern and assistance had to be organized; and most importantly, that giving must put at the center the recipient’s rights and dignity rather than the giver’s goodness and satisfaction. For Gupta, extreme poverty is actually a continuing human disaster; hence, giving must have no season. Choosing cloth as an entry point for giving, he has seen its importance for a person’s dignity and survival in a vast country where, aside from disastrous flooding, the winter cold kills many who are underclothed. Gupta’s own epiphany came in meeting a poorly-clad six-year-old girl who grew up with corpses because her father eked out a living picking up abandoned dead bodies and cremating them for a fee. When he asked the girl what she did to avoid the cold in Delhi’s harsh winter, she said: “When I feel cold, I hug a dead body and sleep.”

Goonj is now a movement working in twenty-one of India’s twenty-nine states, and is much more than a channel for clothing and other recycled articles. Through its staff, its thousands of volunteers, and numerous partner organizations, Goonj redistributes contributed items, and processes cloth and others to fit the identified needs of recipient groups. Dormant, underutilized cloth—including cloth scraps and loose threads—are used to fabricate essential articles like rugs, blankets, mattresses, and even clean cloth sanitary pads, as a hygienic alternative to the rags that poor girls and women use during their menses. Goonj has branded them “MY Pads,” producing to date over three million sanitary pads that are the cheapest in the world, while raising the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene as an issue of social concern.

The Goonj strategy involves the poor in identifying their needs, employs them in recycling and fabrication, and inspires poor communities to undertake projects like building bridges and repairing schools in exchange for clothes and other essential articles. Every year, over a thousand such projects have been undertaken in rural India under Goonj’s “Cloth for Work” initiative, a program that innovatively converts cloth into a development resource.

Today, Goonj handles more than one million kilograms of materials annually; has a wide network of collection and processing centers; and runs a vigorous program that educates the public in sustained and responsible giving. It has had an impact on the lives of millions. Paradoxically, Goonj is concerned less with its organizational growth than with the spread of its ideas. Gupta says, “We live in a world which has problems in volumes. We need solutions in volumes, and people who work on these in volume. We all need to get up and do something.”

In electing Anshu Gupta to receive the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes 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 in reminding the world that true giving always respects and preserves human dignity.

The five 2015 Magsaysay awardees join the community of 307 other Magsaysay laureates who have received Asia’s highest honor to date. This year’s Magsaysay Award winners will each receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late President, and a cash prize. They will be formally conferred the Magsaysay Award during formal Presentation Ceremonies to be held on Monday, 31 August 2015 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, to which the public is cordially invited. ”

Watch the Acceptance Speech