'We have grossly failed in organising unorganised sector'

'We have grossly failed in organising unorganised sector'

Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj and one of the two Magsaysay Award winners for 2015 was in Bengaluru to participate in the Changemaker Week organised by Ashoka Innovators for the Public.

He spoke to the Ashoka’s Nafisa Islam sharing his thoughts on the ‘Start-up India’ initiative and the role of social entrepreneurs in India. Experts:

Many say that India is a country of job seekers. Initiatives such as Start-up India aim to turn that around. Your thoughts.

I don’t agree with that… As a nation we have grossly failed in organising the unorganised sector. Why do we think that only Flipkart, Snapdeal or even Goonj are big entrepreneurs in the country? Look around. Look at the number of roadside dhabas, look at the way the village haats operate. These are also start-ups. It is just a game of vocabulary.

Why are they so dependent on the mercy of various circumstances? I think they are organised amongst themselves. We need to first bring in systems there. We are entrepreneurs by nature, not job seekers. We all need to get involved with them; right from the government to the individuals.

Did your childhood play a key role in shaping up your passion, and Goonj later?

I come from a middle class family. Today, many parents believe that kids should not change schools and all those kind of things but in my childhood, every two to three years, we had move cities and go to different schools. They offered different environments for us to grow in, sometimes very different from the earlier school we were going to. This helped us adapt to changing situations very early on in life.

We didn’t realise how important these experiences would be. Now, when I look back, I realise how these experiences helped in shaping my character in life. Limited resources didn’t mean we were poor but it helped us to be stronger individuals who could adapt to any system in life. This has been my biggest asset.

Why is it important for the youth to be changemakers?

I think there is a need to ‘Indianise’ the concept of changemaker. It is important that we understand our eco system, the real causes and problems in the country. I see a lot of great grassroots level work by the youth that we truly need in India. I also see youth initiatives that look good on social media like Facebook.

The positive part is that genuine people who want to see positive change are also growing in number. However, the volume is far behind in terms of what we need in the country to bring about substantial change. The youth of the country needs to understand this.

What are the obstacles to the youth changemakers today?

This is a golden time for the youth who want to either make a change on their own or to get involved in change making initiatives. Having said that, people may be not able to sustain because many are looking for quick results. We have become target-oriented. We need to explore and, most importantly, exploit our potential more than focusing on the target first.

One thing I notice is how we are encouraging structured thought processes but entrepreneurs need to be free in their thinking and hone their creativity. When people come to Goonj and say that we are as efficient as any corporates, I tell them that making money doesn’t necessarily mean efficiency. The voluntary sector is equally efficient.

What has been the biggest setback and biggest success for you?

We entered into a niche area and our success is that we were able to make a small dent somewhere. At least, people have started talking about the cause and have been able to define certain norms. We have been able to change certain mindsets. That for me is success.

The challenge is that we have not yet been able to transform everybody’s mindset. That’s where we need to make a positive change. We have a long way to go.

How important is it to have a good team?

The team is everything. In our case, it’s a totally different kind of a team where members have come with references and with an honest passion to make a difference. Half the people at Goonj are below 30 years of age, but they are all very passionate. It’s not easy to work with dedication and passion on an issue like this.

What role does a family play in supporting young changemakers and social entrepreneurs?

Family plays a major role in an entrepreneur’s life. As I say, it’s a lonely road for entrepreneurs. When we started Goonj, a word of caution always came from my parents but they never opposed it. They never wanted me to leave my job. Today, whenever youngsters complain, I always tell them that their parents were not being negative, but are concerned and we need to take them with us on this journey. If we can’t convince them of our ideas, then how will we convince the world?

Some people say that it's enough to be an active citizen. Why become a changemaker or a social entrepreneur?

Activism doesn’t really mean shouting slogans. We have labelled activism in a very negative way. What will we call people like (social activist/crusader) Aruna Roy? Isn’t she an activist?

There is no harm in being an activist. You can be an activist in your thought process and in the way you work. But your thoughts and your work need to turn into something positive. So, every changemaker is an activist in some respect with their radical thinking. Only then can there be a change. 

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