Reigniting the swabhimaan of Indian Villages

A warm hello from the team of Gram Swabhimaan and fellowships at Goonj!!

Starting with an introduction of Goonj-

Goonj ( aims to build an equitable relationship of strength, sustenance, and dignity between the resource-abundant and resource-scarce communities, creating a barter between surplus material and the efforts and wisdom of resource-scarce people as two new currencies, to trigger development with dignity. Founded in 1999 by Magsaysay award winner Mr. Anshu Gupta, works on poverty alleviation, rural development, and disaster relief & rehab, by using the cities’ discards as a fuel for wide-spread development work across villages in India addressing issues around water, sanitation, agriculture, education, local infrastructure, access, etc. Working with a strong network of 600+ grassroots partners, in the last 8 years (2014-2022) itself, we have reached out to more than 12 million people, facilitated 55,000+ development activities, and channelized more than 45 million kgs of material across 31 states & UTs of India.

Through Gram Swabhimaan our aim is to work towards fostering village empowerment and development by catalyzing collective participation, setting positive narratives, building environmental consciousness, and capacitating youth to encourage a solution-based approach for complex issues amongst several other similar goals

This will be achieved via an amalgamation of urban-rural events, volunteer meets, partner meets, fellowships, etc

To give you an overview, the initiative has reached 249 villages in 3 states, namely Maharashtra, Odisha, and Rajasthan. Through fellowships, we have engaged with 150+ youth

Kickstarting the association in August, Goonj’s annual event Chaupal- no agenda conversations was held in Delhi (H.O). The event witnessed the attendance of over 300+ urban volunteers, well-wishers, partners discussing the imperative need for a transformative language and lens through which we view certain issues, communities, and objects. These discussions ranged from valuing the capacities, wisdom of the grassroots, to conversations around recurring disasters, environmental consciousness, and the need for ecosystem strengthening

Largely amplifying the aims of Gram Swabhimaan the event successfully engaged the attendees in these thought-provoking discussions

Another good news is the launch of the second edition of the Next-Gen fellowship at Goonj.
The Next Gen Fellowship has been designed to provide exposure opportunities to the children of people who have been associated with Goonj for a long time— including people working in the processing units, office staff, and community mobilizers, amongst others.
The first cohort saw the engagement of 14 fellows of diverse backgrounds with the aim of engaging them in the organization’s work as exposure to better prepare themselves to achieve their dreams.


In October updates,

This month’s meeting in Karkatta village, in the Latur district of Maharashtra marked the 250 villages spread under Gram Swabhimaan.

This is the next phase of diving deep into these communities and building/reigniting swabhimaan together, wherein we are holding cluster meetings with 10 villages at a time, gathering feedback along the developed understanding of Gram Swabhimaan. This is coupled with group discussions and street plays building upon the idea of model villages. These discussions also touched upon certain aspects of self-reflection where individuals sat together and reflected on what self-respect means to them.

The first set of these meetings was held in the Latur district with approximately 60 participants in the first two meetings. Similar meetings will be held across districts of Maharashtra from November onwards.

Sharing here a few pictures and testimonials from the meetings:


“Ek mul ek jhad paus padel dhad dhad

(Ek bacha ek podha, baarish giregi jor jor)” - Prerana Bansode, Village-Sakhara, District-Latur

“Aapne hume humara bachpan lauta diya, gaon ki mahila ghar ke aage kahi nhi nikalti, na hi use ijjat milti hai. Aapne humara samman kiya yehi sabse badi baat hai” - Damini, Village-Malkaranja, District-Latur

“Ped lagane se, paani bachane se gram ka swabhimaan nhi hoga, jab tak hum har vyakti ka samaan aur ijjat na kare” - Damini, Village-Malkaranja, District-Latur

October also saw the launch of Gram Swabhimaan internship in Maharashtra and Rajasthan, the applications for the same are open till 15th November. The aim is to start with the 6-month internship by December.


Hi @Arundhati.goonj Loved it! And I can echo those testimonials when you don’t remember stages of your life or you have completely forgotten due to external and internal factors - resisting those brings infinite joy! Next time do capture the invaluable facial experiences - it will unravel a lot about us (humans).


In December Updates,

We are happy to share with you all that we initiated the Gram Swabhimaan internship in December. The initial application phase saw an overwhelming response from both states, after a thorough analysis few candidates were called for interviews in Banswara (Rajasthan) and Mumbai and finally a total of 13 interns were inducted in the 1st cohort.

Their induction took place in Delhi, it was a three-day workshop held at Goonj’s Delhi office. The interns not only visited our Goonj Delhi processing and production centers but also participated in several team-building activities and group discussions. For 11 out of these 13 zealous interns, it was their first visit to Delhi, filled with anxiety and doubt they had started their journey to Delhi but the warm welcome here and each other’s support helped them work through that and continue to embark on this new exciting journey of a 6 month internship. Our agenda for the next month now is to start this internship in Odisha as well.

Additionally, as previously shared we continued to host cluster meetings in Maharashtra covering three other districts namely, Ratnagiri, Palghar and Jalgoan. In the next month, our focus would also be to arrange these cluster meetings in Rajasthan which were earlier delayed because of socio-political tensions in the region.


In March updates

Continuing the cluster meetings started in Maharasathra, the last two months saw cluster meetings across Odisha and Rajasthan.

In Odisha, a combined cluster meeting was held for the Daringbadi and Puri regions. It brought together the first and last regions that have been covered by the initiative so far. It was interesting to witness the concept retention of both groups. This meeting was held in the Gram Vikas campus in Mohuda, which also enabled these groups to stay together in the same campus, allowing for the exchange of thoughts and ideas. We used this opportunity to then introduce our internship in Odisha, we selected 6 interns from the whole cluster. These interns are now working in the Puri and Daringbadi blocks respectively.

Towards the end of January, we also introduced the cluster meetings in Rajasthan. A total of 12 meetings were scheduled across Rajasthan in a month. The team covered all the villages under Gram Swabhimaan in the Banswara, Pratapgarh, and Udaipur districts.

Simultaneously, we also had a very engaging interaction with the climate champions in Odisha in a 2-day dialogue series held in Gram Vikas. These climate champions are working on traditional ways of restoring ecosystems and agriculture in their respective villages and were very swift in understanding and picking up the concept of Gram Swabhimaan. This interaction also introduced the concept in a whole new geography, opening several doors for future collaborations.

In February, we also got the opportunity to introduce the concept of Gram Swabhimaan in a very interesting workshop designed by Rainmatter for all their partners, “Sense of the House”, on the 14th and 15th Feb. This also allowed Gram Swabhimaan to learn from various grassroots approaches which are being successfully implemented on the ground.

Lastly, on the 18th of February Goonj celebrated its 25th anniversary. Our annual Chaupal was graced by over 350+ urban volunteers, well-wishers, students, and teams from pan India. It allowed us to present the concept of Gram Swabhimaan to a whole new audience and share the gathered learnings and insights.

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In May updates

The last two months have been full of events for the Gram Swabhimaan team from forging new partnerships and experimenting on completely new grounds to formally introducing the idea to our own ground team pan India.

These months have been crucial for our internship as well, given that the 6-month internship would soon enter its last leg, we carefully planned monitoring and evaluation visits in the intern geographies.

Our latest interaction with Nature’s Club opened avenues of experimenting Gram swabhimaan in a whole new geography for the first time in Kendrapara, Odisha. Nature’s Club works along with 133 Climate Champions across 153 villages in the district. Through regular trainings and knowledge gathered from other sources, climate champions take up larger conversations around water conservation, mangrove regeneration, resilient climate cropping pattern and educating a new generation on climate change and ecosystem conservation

The conversation around Gram Swabhimaan with the climate champions was rather engaging and enthralling and inspired them to carry Gram Swabhimaan in each of their geographies, to kickstart this venture. The first village Junus Nagar marked the beginning and the community there showcases the peak of rural volunteerism where inspired by the idea they took up the huge task of reviving a creek in their region. 1 km of the creek has already been revived and the ground work continues

Second update is from Rishikesh where we held our national team meeting celebrating 25 years of Goonj and finally found the ground to introduce Gram swabhimaan to our larger team from around 20 states in India. It was overwhelming to see how quickly the team could embrace and understand the concept. The curiosity and eagerness of the team to take this up in each village of Goonj’s implementation area gives us strength and support. The conversation also delved into the deeper concepts of entrenched ideas of poverty even in individuals who might have been able to break out of the material poverty cycles

The location of the team meeting also allowed for some Ghat side meeting for discussion around visioning and annual planning

Lastly, some updates from our internship:

  1. A thorough monitoring and evaluation visit was conducted by the Gram Swabhimaan ground team in each of the intern geographies. This helped us understand seek insights and feedback directly from the field
  2. We along with the Land T team at Goonj, held sessions around leadership and IDG (Inner development Goals) with the interns
  3. Regular engagement with communities on ground continues along with integrating some cultural and fun activities as well.


The coming months will see Gram swabhimaan modules reaching the Gram Vikas team in Odisha and comprehensive training sessions with the climate champions in Kendrapara, Odisha

In July updates

The Gram Swabhimaan team, in collaboration with Nature’s Club and Socratus, commenced work in the Kendrapara district. As previously reported, the training of climate champions included a three-day workshop, which participants eagerly attended in preparation for conducting Gram Swabhimaan sessions in the 100 villages where they operate. This workshop was followed by on-ground training sessions in 11 villages within the Kendrapara district, with the Gram Vikas team also contributing to this initiative.

Throughout the ten-day period, we received numerous insightful comments. A particularly noteworthy highlight was the active participation of many school children and young people, who engaged enthusiastically in the meetings.

Here are a few comments from the meetings:

In the forthcoming updates, we will provide the final remarks from our internship program. The Gram Swabhimaan internship, a six-month journey, has successfully concluded. This internship spanned all three implementation states of Gram Swabhimaan, ensuring comprehensive engagement in the villages.

In the final phase, the interns constructed water structures in each village and culminated the internship by celebrating GS Utsav with the community. These water structures were developed through discussions on how water symbolizes the self-respect and dignity of the village. The theme, ‘Paani Swabhimaan ka Pratik,’ was a focal point, sparking numerous conversations around this topic. The interns also prepared detailed six-month reports reflecting on their experiences, challenges, memorable moments, highlights, and suggestions. These reports will be shared during regional convocations scheduled for next month.

Additionally, we plan to continue and expand cluster meetings to the Beed district of Maharashtra, where Gram Swabhimaan meetings were previously held in collaboration with Navchetna, a grassroots organization in the region.

This month was very important for our fellowship vertical as well-

In an effort towards Eco-system creation, fellowship plays an important role by engaging the Youth and leaders from the grassroots ; Goonj runs 4 fellowships :

Goonj Setu Fellowship (2018 - present) : offers youth from cities, a year-long opportunity to expand their horizons, exposing them to opportunities as they collaborate with Goonj’s teams, partners, volunteers and communities, gaining valuable insights and practical experience.

Next-Generation Fellowship (2021 - present) : was inspired by the Goonj Founder’s vision that children of the Goonj Processing Teams,primarily women from urban slums, should have the opportunity to grow and prosper. This one- year Fellowship identifies promising young individuals and involves them in hands-on learning, providing exposure to ideas and skills that are a foundation for their aspirations.

Grassroots Fellowship (2019 - present) : aims to enhance capacity and empower rural youth to proactively engage in developmental issues within their local communities over one year. It enables Fellows to contribute to their own villages through civic engagement, local leadership, and sustainable change.

Sanjha Fellowship (2021 - present) : is designed specifically for our grassroots partner organisations. Its objective is to facilitate collaboration and encourage growth of the leaders by providing the necessary tools and knowledge.

Selection process for Setu Fellowship kicked off in March :

  • Developed a comprehensive application form for prospective candidates to apply for the fellowship. - Identify the key information needed from applicants (personal details, academic background, work experience, etc.).Consulted with the team to understand what information is critical for assessing Applicants.
  • Communication material developed for the release of the application form and promotion of fellowship - Target audiences (students, professionals, academic institutions) and communication channels (social media platforms, email lists, partner organizations, educational institutions) were identified, accordingly visually appealing communication materials aligned with the Goonj’s branding guidelines was developed and circulated by team. Promotional calendar was developed. We also developed and reworked the web page for the fellowship program,including updated content.We organized webinars twice to respond to the queries from people and to give a detailed overview of the fellowship
  • Orientation of Pan India team members on effective strategies for promoting the fellowship. - Content covering promotion strategies, key messages, and target audiences. We set up regular meetings to review progress and address challenges. The regional teams organized sessions in various educational institutions.

During April and May

  • Screening of Application forms - Evaluation of applications was done by the assessors (team members) based on predefined criteria (qualifications, experience, essays).
  • Applications for Grassroot fellowship launched
  • Overall : We are in the process of developing a high-level curriculum framework for all the fellowship programs.-Meta level - The overall goals and learning objectives of the fellowship program are brainstormed and the key modules or components of the curriculum are being laid out along with the partnership with Wisdom Tree ; The team will be in touch throughout the year for regular monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes of each of the fellowship.

In June

  • For Setu Fellowship, second stage of the selection process was assessment based exercises and Panel interviews, where the candidates selected after the first round were called physically at 4 Goonj offices i.e Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai.
    • Group discussions, individual exercises were conducted to assess the applicants
    • Panels interviews consisting of team members and external members were set up to review and evaluate applicants. They were provided with guidelines, evaluation criteria, and relevant materials for the interview…
  • Sanjha Fellowship : Defined objectives of the fellowship, researched on best practices and drafted initial ideas, Developed a detailed program structure, eligibility criteria, timelines and application process. Review the new format with stakeholders