Giving life, once again

empowerment

Giving life, once again

Selling used items that are in good condition at affordable rates, this Bangalore shop is giving social responsibility fresh direction, writes Vijayalakshmi Narasimhan

On first look, it appears to be another nondescript shop, tucked away in the remote alleys of a busy city. But as you explore it, you realise that it is a one-of-its-kind outlet in this bustling city—probably even one of a few in the country.

Called Once Again, this not-for-profit shop sells used items in the slum area of Janakiram Nagar Layout near Banaswadi in Bangalore and uses the funds raised for community empowerment, much like the charity shops in the UK and the thrift shops in the US that sell used goods to raise money for other charitable purposes. Once Again started its operations in November 2011 as a partnership trust with three members on board.

“The idea came about when I was working with a group of volunteers from Netherlands on other social improvement activities. One of them spoke about how a second-hand shop is very popular there and suggested that we could start one here. Even in India, everyone has loads of stuff that they don’t use but don’t know what to do with either. We collect these goods and sell them at reasonable prices to the community in Janakiram Nagar,” says Rajesh Krishnan, founder president of Once Again. 

“The unique format not only helps us sell essential products at reasonable prices, it also generates money that is fed back to empower the community through services such as education, crèche facilities, vocational training and sustainable craft,” he says, adding that Once Again has sold goods worth around Rs 5 lakh since inception. It operates in association with the Centre for Social Action (CSA), which is the social responsibility facet of Christ University, under its Desirable, Dynamic, Development (3-D empowerment) unit. While CSA handles the community empowerment activities and training, Once Again caters to the material needs of the local community.

“Once Again is a joint effort to support the poor and underprivileged in Janakiram Nagar. We were already working with the migrant labour population in the Janakiram Nagar Layout to provide them with certain basic facilities, education and training. During our interactions with Rajesh, we realised that it would be a viable idea to partner with a charity shop that sold used goods at affordable rates to the community members. That is how our association began,” says Dr Godfred Victor Singh, Director-Programme, Centre for Social Action.

Once Again and CSA support vocational training for youngsters in plumbing and electrical jobs and mobile repair. “It is also intended to support the women’s business unit, ANU, which makes bags by using recycled tetra packs, an afterschool activity centre for children, and a computer training unit,” says Ranjit Kumar Singh, programme manager, CSA. 

It is not only the nature of the shop that makes it unique, but also the means that it used to get publicity that has set it apart. Challenged by the drawbacks of using traditional publicity methods to evoke a sense of philanthropy among savvy people, Once Again is credited with innovatively using social media, particularly Facebook, to spread the word with minimal investment and a greater probability of interest. “We had to create more awareness, that too with zero budget. While discussing this with friends from Ogilvy, we came up with the idea of a tagging drive that leverages the popular Facebook feature.

Ogilvy worked on the campaign as its contribution towards corporate social responsibility,” says Rajesh. Today, Once Again has close to 2,000 likes, 100 volunteers and over 100 donors.

The mode of operation is simple. “In the tagging drive, you tag Once Again on the clothes, furniture, toys and other useful items on your friends’ old photographs the same way that you tag friends on photographs. This sends them a notification and we get the publicity. People can then either sign up as volunteers or donate stuff,” he says, adding that this became a big hit with the youth and is branded as one of the biggest tagging drives in Bangalore.

Goods are collected through collection drives in apartments and at select locations, where people drop the stuff they wish to donate. Once Again also arranges pick-up vehicles to collect donations from homes or offices. “We orient people about the quality and type of goods that can be donated before we collect the goods. Then we filter the collections and appropriately classify goods as saleable, reusable and discards,” explains Dr Godfred. “We try to reuse clothes that are not fit for sale in our ANU business unit and other items elsewhere. The remaining goods are safely disposed in a landfill,” he adds.

Calling charity shops a fairly new concept in India, Rajesh says that people commonly donate a lot of old clothes. For now, Once Again is seeking more awareness and more donations. Interested donors and volunteers can visit: https://www.facebook.com/onceagainbangalore/info.

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