NEW DELHI: Madhu Pandit Dasa, Chairperson, Akshaya Patra Foundation (AP) is a finalist of The Social Entrepreneur of the Year India 2017 Award for his work on mid-day meal programme serving wholesome food to over 1.66 million children from 11,548 schools across 12 states in India. India Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award is a joint initiative of Jubilant Bhartia Foundation and Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization of the World Economic Forum.
India CSR Network interacted with Madhu Pandit Dasa. Edited excerpts:
What is your vision for the Foundation and do you think that by providing mid-day meal, you can eradicate huger from the country?
Hunger is definitely a major problem plaguing the world and we have to start somewhere if we hope to eradicate it. No child should deprived of education because of hunger. We dream of a world where children won’t have to choose between food and education. They are entitled to both, nutritious food and quality education. If the assurance of a square meal prompts children to come to school, we ought to use it to its full potential to solve the issue of classroom hunger. This assurance doesn’t just bring children to the school, but because of this even parents are willing to send them to school instead of sending them to work. A study showed that enrolment and attendance had increased significantly after the introduction of mid-day meals in the schools.
What makes your organization different and what are the significant milestones in terms of reach?
While a part of the cost per meal is covered by the Government, we are authorized to raise the deficit amount from corporate and individual donors through fundraising. These funds help us to provide multi-item menu cooked in state-of-the-art facilities where proper hygiene is given due importance.
We began with the feeding of 1,500 children in Bengaluru in 2000. Today, we reach out to over 1.6 million children of 13,839 schools across 12 states in the country. Over the course of time, we have reached several milestones. In 2003, when we signed a MoU with the Government of Karnataka for Akshaya Dashoha, we became the first organization to get into a Public-Private Partnership in this sector. In 2008, we became the first NGO to comply with the International Financials Reporting Standards (IFRS), and in 2013, we were inducted to Institute of Chartered Accountants of India’s (ICAI) Hall of Fame after having won the ICAI’s Gold Shield Award for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 5th consecutive year. In 2016, we reached one of our key milestones of cumulatively feeding 2 billion meals, commemorated in the presence of President of India.
What made you participate in SEOY India 2017 award, hosted by Jubilant Bhartia Foundation & Schwab Foundation?
The Schwab Foundation Network is a collective of individuals and organizations who believe that social innovation is the way forward. It has to its credit some of the most prominent global influencers and thought leaders in the world. Being on this network will help us raise awareness about the issue of classroom hunger. Furthermore, the funds/award collective can be utilized to strengthen the operations and scale up the programme, thus helping us reach more deserving children across the country. We are of the firm belief that it will put us in a better position in our pursuit of 5 million children every school day by 2020.
How important it is to be the part of platforms like SEOY and what are the plans if you win the award?
We believe that the Social Entrepreneur of the Year (SEOY) Award is an opportunity for us to reach out to people. It is an opportunity for us to be a part of the Schwab Foundation and World Economic Forum. We will be able to engage with key individuals and organizations which have a say in policy matters, right from Governments and academicians to media representatives and other non-profit organizations. As non-profits, we seek such engagements, for we know that these engagements can lead to sustainable solutions to address challenges in areas such as health and education.
What were the initial challenges you faced while addressing this need of hunger in school children?
In a country as large and diverse as India, implementing a programme of this scale is bound to be a challenge. For instance, when we realized it would be challenging for us to set up a centralized unit in remote areas of Baran (Rajasthan) or Nayagarh (Odisha), we adopted the decentralised model in these areas. The aim was to ensure that the children don’t miss out on nutritious meals just because it is not feasible for us to set up a unit there. Similarly, when manually preparing Rotis (flat breads) in large numbers became difficult, we opted for a customized roti-making machine which dished out 40,000 Rotis in less than an hour. So every time there has been a problem, we have found a solution in the form of people or technology.
What are your plans for eradicating hunger from the country as school children form a miniscule part of the population. Are you doing something for the destitute as well?
Besides school and anganwadi feeding as a part of the Mid-Day Meal Programme and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), we have also undertaken other feeding initiatives in different parts of the country. In Vrindavan, for instance, we have undertaken a feeding programme to support Widow Mothers. On a daily basis, they receive a balanced healthy meal comprising chapatti, rice, dal, and vegetable. Similarly, in Jaipur, Rajasthan, we provide evening meals for Rs. 5 to people from economically weak sections of the society as a part of the Akshaya Kalewa programme.
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