He won the Ramon Magsaysay Award 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 in reminding the world that true giving always respects and preserves human dignity." Also, Gupta is an Ashoka fellow and was conferred with ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award' by Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in 2012, amongst many others.
Born in Meerut, (Uttar Pradesh), Gupta spent his initial years in Chakrauta, Banbasa and Bareilly, smaller towns of Uttar Pradesh as his father got postings in his job with Indian Army’s Military Engineering Services (MES).
Anshu is the eldest of four siblings in a middle-class family from Dehradun. A road accident at the end of Class 12 rendered him bed-ridden – botched healthcare because his father refused to pay a bribe has left him with a lifelong pain when he stands for too long – but the yearlong confinement in bed served as a period for reading and introspection. Even then, he started contributing to household expenses by writing articles for Hindi newspapers. He holds a Masters in economics, and a double major in journalism and mass communications. As a graduate student he travelled to Uttarkashi in North India in 1991 to help with relief efforts after a devastating earthquake in the region. This was his first real exposure to the scale of problems of India’s rural masses.
After working in the corporate sector for some time, he started Goonj in 1999, with his wife Meenakshi Gupta and a few friends, to work on the basic need of clothing, an issue that does not have a place in the development agenda. Using cloth as a metaphor for other crucial but ignored needs like sanitary pads for menses or school material for education, for the last 16 years, under Gupta’s leadership Goonj has taken the growing urban waste and used it as a tool to trigger development work on diverse issues; roads, water, environment, education, health etc. in backward and remote pockets of India. Under Goonj’s flagship initiative ‘Cloth for Work’ village communities across India work on their own issues and get the urban material as a reward for their efforts. Cloth for work and all other initiatives of Goonj have received various, national and international, awards and accolades.
‘Cloth for Work’ (CFW) has evolved two new currencies of development – material and labor. Under this initiative, Goonj works with partners and communities to identify infrastructural improvements that need to be undertaken in the villages. Villagers then work to dig wells, clean ponds, repair roads, and build schools in the community using local resources and their own wisdom, for which they are compensated with material resources like clothing, utensils, furniture, and food grains.
Anshu was quoted saying "We promote the idea of cloth-for-work where people who do work are rewarded with the material. There is a sense of dignity in this. Our initiative is also sort of a parallel economy - not cash based but trash based"
Anshu says "We started ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth‘ (NJPC) campaign after the 2004 tsunami, when we dealt with more than 100 trucks of post disaster cloth wastage on the roads of Tamil Nadu. The unwearable cloth from this lot was turned into cloth pads which later came to be called MY Pads. The subject of a menstrual cycle is a taboo in most societies of the world, not just in the developing countries. In India, Goonj was one of the earliest to create awareness and get people to talk about it while making cotton-based sanitary pads available from the non-wearable cotton cloth we collected from the urban masses."
July 2015: Ramon Magsaysay Award 2015 to Mr. Anshu Gupta, Founder, Goonj.
August 2014: Asia’s leading magazine ‘The Top 10 of Asia’ featured Anshu Gupta, Founder Goonj among Asia’s top 10 social entrepreneurs.
February 2014: Goonj listed among The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in India, by Fast Company.
November 2012: Anshu Gupta, Founder Goonj gets ‘Social Entrepreneur of the year award’ by Schwab Foundation, sister concern of the World Economic Forum.
November 2010: Anshu Gupta listed in Forbes as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs.
June 2009: Changemaker’s Innovation Award for the initiative Not just a piece of cloth(NJPC)
March 2009: CNN IBN’s ‘Real Heros’ award to Anshu Gupta in women welfare segment.
2006: Changemaker’s Innovation Award, second time, for Goonj’s disaster relief initiative RAHAT.
2004: Prestigious Ashoka Fellowship to Anshu Gupta, for his innovative idea & its mass social impact.