Gupta is an Ashoka fellow and was conferred with "Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award" by Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in 2012. He won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2015.
Born in Meerut, Gupta spent his initial years in Chakrata, Banbasa smaller towns of Uttarakhand and Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh as his father got postings in his job with Indian Army's Military Engineer 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's in economics and a double major in journalism and mass communications. As a graduate student, he traveled 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 18 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.
It was a visit to Khooni Darwaza in Delhi,with a person who collects dead bodies of homeless or unidentified persons called "body collector" that he got idea of ‘Work for Cloth’. As he followed with the man to collect an unidentified body at Khooni Darwaza,he observed that the man was wearing nothing but a thin cotton shirt and was severely suffering with cold. This incident prompted Gupta to realise that one of the needs of humanity being clothing,for poor is often overlooked and in the year 1999 he quit his corporate job to start Goonj,with 67 pieces of clothing that he and his wife collected. However,as he felt charity deprives the people of self respect hence he did not want to give the clothes as an act of charity and the concept of "cloth for work" introduced. Goonj also helps to bridge the gap between victims during natural calamities like flood,earthquake with donors by participating in disaster relief,humanitarian aid and community development.
He is popularly known as "clothing man of India",for his mission of bringing ignored basics like clothing into the mapping of development work.
Cloth for Work
"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.
Not Just a Piece of Cloth
Gupta initiated the "Not Just a Piece of Cloth" (NJPC) campaign after the 2004 tsunami. According to Gupta, "... we dealt with more than 100 tracks of post-disaster cloth wastage on the roads of Tamil Nadu. The unwearable cloth from this lot was turned into cloth menstrual pads ...".
Awards and recognition
- 2004: Ashoka and Schwab Fellowship.
- 2012: Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.
- 2012:Forbes magazine listed Gupta as one of India's most powerful rural entrepreneurs.
- 2015: Ramon Magsaysay Award.
- Rout, Srinibas (29 July 2015). "10 things to know about Magsaysay award winner Anshu Gupta of Goonj". Business Standard India. https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/10-things-to-know-about-magsaysay-award-winner-anshu-gupta-of-goonj-115072900365_1.html.
- Fellow, Ashoka. "Anshu Gupta, Ashoka Fellow". http://india.ashoka.org/fellow/anshu-gupta. Retrieved 2015-08-12.
- Aditi (2012-11-13). "Goonj wins 'social entrepreneur' award". The HIndu. http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/goonj-wins-social-entrepreneur-award/article4093487.ece.
- Jatin Anand and Kritika Sharma Sebastian (2015-07-29). "Sanjeev Chaturvedi, Anshu Gupta win Ramon Magsaysay Award". The Hindu. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sanjiv-chaturvedi-anshu-gupta-win-ramon-magsaysay-award/article7476975.ece.
- Foundation, Ramon Magsaysay Award. "2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Announced". http://www.rmaf.org.ph/newrmaf/main/community/announcement/page/1/view/59. Retrieved 2015-07-29.
- "10 things to know about Magsaysay award winner Anshu Gupta of Goonj". Business Standard. 2015-07-25. http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/10-things-to-know-about-magsaysay-award-winner-anshu-gupta-of-goonj-115072900365_1.html.
- Goldapple, Lisa (1 March 2021). "India's 'Clothing Man' goes beyond cloth". https://atlasofthefuture.org/project/goonj/.
- "Anshu Gupta: Changed the culture of giving in India". Indian Express. 2015-07-30. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/magsaysay-award-winner-anshu-gupta-changed-the-culture-of-giving-in-india/.
- "Anshu Gupta – Goonj Founder Who Taught India The Joy Of Giving". 2016-10-03. http://www.knowyourstar.com/anshu-gupta-goonj/.
- "Donation is About the Receiver's Dignity: Magsaysay Award-Winner Anshu Gupta". NDTV. 2015-07-29. http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/donation-is-about-the-receivers-dignity-magsaysay-award-winner-anshu-gupta-1201751.