How has Goonj’s tryst with development sector been so far?
We would like to work for 100 different issues, and for us the idea and the way we are operating- is a tool and a resource. We may come across as someone who are in the business giving and distributing clothes-but it’s not just about what you give, it’s more about how you give..what kind of value addition you do in the entire process. Today, the entire work of Goonj, we’ve been able to identify a couple of new currencies. When you give it to a community, the community ultimately pays back in the currency called labour, and gets rewarded in the currency—which in this case will be the material. So, two new currency operates—whether it is health, medicine, education, sanitation or rural development – it's a barter between two new currencies that leads to genesis of a parallel economy which is not cash based, but trash based.
- What is the core idea behind functioning of ‘Goonj’?
People and their need for cloth are taken for granted, if anything is done in villages, opinions of the villagers is taken for granted, If you are giving something to so-called financially backward person, the dignity of the person is taken for granted, Our work is just to challenge those taken-for-granted ideals, or rather the non issues that need attention.
- What do you think about evolving trend of social entrepreneurship?
We didn’t start Goonj as an enterprise or a model of social entrepreneurship, these are quite beautiful buzzwords right now and grossly misused. Creating two rupees soap for rural India doesn’t make you a social entrepreneur, because here the motive has to be important.
There must be a thousand different definitions to social entrepreneurship, but to me its a very simple concept- its a concept that does not have a donor or a beneficiary, it only has stakeholders. And, here the stake is not about money, stake is anything you can put in . In our case villagers are stakeholders when they put in labour or a skill or in fact their wisdom.
- Do you think that citizens of the country are playing the requisite role in nation building?
I think we are certainly not playing the role we need to play. Every year the democracy gets one year older, ultimately we need to understand that what is changing as a nation. Citizens like us are extremely self-centred people, we want the best possible paints and fittings inside our houses, but outside we don’t fight for very basic drainage system for which we pay from our tax money. We are not understanding the gravity of it, no one from outside world will come and solve it. The nations are not changed by building infrastructure alone, it changes when people change. When we travel on roads, we see the government’s role was limited to fixing up of red lights. it was citizen’s responsibility to follow the red light. The government’s role was to create a footpath; it was citizen’s role to go with rules. But, we as a citizens see it becoming a path for our motorcycles. Cribbing about governments is fine, but have we been able to respect our taxes spent? What is ‘not’ created we are happy to crib-about, rightly so…but what exists, we have been largely ignorant about it.
- What is your opinion on the neglect of rural sector in the process of nation building?
People in villages are doing their part of nation building through their local innovation. Be it ti bamboo bridges, use of bamboo as a pipe, instead proper PVC pipes, from local fan to mat, to how-to-cut-your-grass, it is all 100 per cent local innovation. We might not have valued it as a nation, but these are grassroot innovation that has been happening. They are the people who know it, but they do not know how to market it or patent it – that is why their local innovation is limited to their local area. If you are able to eat rice today, it is not because of the subsidy you give to the farmer, it is because of the subsidy that farmer gives to you, if you start paying the farmer at the actual daily wages rate, you won’t be able to touch the rice, leave alone eating.
- Are awards encouraging?
Life goes on, we have been fortunate for having our efforts recognised by various organisations. It’s been only a week that Magsaysay awards have been announced, but you won’t sense any difference here (in their office). It is certainly encouraging for sure-for so many people who are associated with us, a lot of people who have been watching us, the ones who have been part of this journey- for them it has been extremely encouraging. It is the recognition of non issues, if Kapda (clothes) has become a centre of talks, even for a week, it’s worth the achievement.