The India CSR Leadership Series always has a surprise up its sleeve for its loyal readers. Like, in this month’s series, it brings a stalwart from the top civil society organisation of India, viz. Akshaya Patra. Presenting an exclusive interview of Sundeep Talwar, Chief Marketing Officer, The Akshaya Patra Foundation with Rusen Kumar, India CSR.
Akshaya Patra has completed around 20 years and served over 3 billion meals. What is the NGO’s roadmap for the next decade and what does it hope to achieve in terms of social impact during this period?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented crisis. Among other things, it has widened the nutritional gap, leaving millions of people across the world without food. As the implementing partner of the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme, we are committed to work for the well-being of children. We are working with the Government and our donors to provide nutrition support to children through the distribution of Happiness Kits. These kits contain dry ration, hygiene products and educational supplies. We have also been using our kitchen infrastructure and leveraging our partnerships to provide food relief to vulnerable communities. This is being done by serving cooked meals and distributing food relief kits. We will strive to continue these efforts until the situation returns to normal.
In the post-COVID world, the number of people affected by various levels of food insecurity is expected to rise. In this situation, nutrition welfare programmes will play a crucial role in addressing the compounded hunger and malnutrition crisis. We will strive to upgrade our feeding initiatives with evidence-based solutions focusing on food and nutrition security for children and communities. We will try to design and implement innovative solutions to supplement welfare programmes contributing to the health and well-being of children and communities. We understand that collaborations and partnerships at a global level will play a crucial role in the effective implementation of welfare initiatives on-ground. Accordingly, we will endeavour to partner with various organisations and agencies to contribute to food and nutrition security.
As the implementing partner of the MDM Programme, we reach out to over 1.8 million children of nearly 20,000 schools with nutritious mid-day meals. Our mission is to reach 5 million children every school day. We are in talks with the various state governments to set up new kitchens which will enable us to serve more children. In addition, we are also implementing initiatives that go beyond the meals to contribute to the overall development of children. These initiatives are grouped together as the National Endeavour for Student Transformation (NEST) and include a school rejuvenation programme, a mentorship initiative called Giving Every Dream a Chance and a scholarship initiative.
Akshaya Patra works on a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model. Can you briefly describe what the model is and how underprivileged sections of society are benefited by this model?
The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model is not new. It is known to be highly productive and has been immensely popular in the infrastructure sector for several decades now. Of late, the development sector has also started seeing an increase in the adoption of the PPP model, with the Government, private entities and NGOs coming together to undertake projects of social relevance. Akshaya Patra is one such example. We have been able to establish a strong partnership with the Central Government, State Governments, UT Administrations, civic bodies, corporate partners and individual donors.
The collective efforts of all our stakeholders enable us to reach 1.8 million children every school day with a nutritious mid-day meal. For many children, this is the first proper meal of the day. For many parents, it is an incentive to send their children to school instead of sending them to work. Over the last two decades, Akshaya Patra has successfully channelised the power of collective efforts to make the MDM Programme a much appreciated public-private partnership in the social sector. Through these collective efforts, we strive to ensure that hunger is no more a barrier to education and consequently, a better future for the children of our country.
In the Covid-19 feeding activity Akshaya Patra has been serving meals to vulnerable sections of the country since early 2020. Can you briefly describe the impact that this initiative had and what were the challenges faced?
Since March 2020, we have cumulatively served over 12.4 crore meals to vulnerable populations across 19 states and one UT. These include 6.07 crore cooked meals, 10.19 lakh essential grocery kits (over 4 crore meal servings) and 10.63 lakh Happiness Kits with dry ration (over 2 crore meal servings), hygiene products and educational supplies. Through our initiative, we have endeavoured to ensure food and nutrition security of vulnerable communities across the country for an extended period when the pandemic made it difficult for millions of people across the country to access food. Through our Happiness Kits initiative, we have strived to take learning to children’s doorstep at a time when schools are closed due to the pandemic.
We knew that undertaking an initiative of this scale will have its challenges. However, when faced with these challenges, we also found a solution and kept moving ahead. For instance, when movement restrictions disrupted the supply chain, we got the necessary permits for the movement of our vehicles. Our suppliers were also gracious enough to help us with the sourcing of raw materials during this phase. Similarly, ensuring food safety and the safety of our staff and volunteers was also a challenge in the prevailing circumstances. We introduced additional safety protocols and continued our operations. When manpower was an issue, we had several volunteering groups and corporate employees selflessly coming forward to help us with the relief efforts. The whole experience has validated our belief that when you are pursuing a cause, people will always come forward to help.
How is Akshaya Patra maximising and leveraging utilisation of resources for emergency food assistance during the pandemic?
We have always believed that food assistance has a crucial role to play in humanitarian efforts in the aftermath of disasters. Therefore, we have time and again endeavoured to utilise our kitchen infrastructure and resources to undertake relief feeding in various parts of the country, right from Gujarat to Assam and from Uttar Pradesh to Tamil Nadu. With the whole world grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been using our kitchens and resources to provide relief to the affected people across 19 states and one UT.
Our ability to undertake food assistance on a large scale during this pandemic is the result of our strategic investment in infrastructures and resources. For the implementation of the school feeding programme, we have built a substantial network of kitchens. With schools closed due to the pandemic, we are using this kitchen network for food assistance. We are cooking food at our kitchens and delivering it to centres assigned by the authorities, where it is then served to people in need. We are also packing essential groceries kits at some of our kitchens and makeshift packaging centres and distributing them. In states where we are in the process of setting up kitchens, we are using existing structures to undertake the initiative. In all this, we have had the proactive support of the Government, our corporate partners, individual donors and well-wishers. Working together, we have been able to serve over 12.4 crore meals to those in need.
How is the relationship between corporate and individual donors and what is the percentage of involvement? Can you name a few celebrities & corporates who supported this noble cause?
Our cordial relations with our corporate partners and individual donors, their proactive support, in particular, plays a crucial role in all our endeavours. As mentioned earlier, at Akshaya Patra, we have adopted the PPP model in our functioning. So we have ₹1 in the form of Government support and ₹1 from donors, while ₹1 contribution in the form of technology intervention. The multiplier effect of this investment helps us maximise the impact of our feeding programmes, enabling us to serve our children and communities.
(CopyRight @ India CSR Network)