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“Akshaya Patra is present in 12 states, across 28 locations feeding more than 1.6 mn children”

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Shridhar Venkat, Chief Executive Officer, The Akshaya Patra Foundation has over 23 years of work experience and has been associated with leading multinationals like Philips, ABB, Webex Communications (now Cisco), etc. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Management. Shridhar is an Eisenhower Fellow 2014 and is a graduate of the Advanced Management Program from Wharton Business School 2014. In Akshaya Patra, Shridhar oversees all the executive functions such as resource mobilization, communication, finance, HRD, IT and operations excellence Initiative. 

 

Speaking to Pravin Prashant, Shridhar Venkat talked about vision, automation, secret of ICAI felicitation every year and future plan with respect to feeding 5 million children by 2020. Excerpts of the interview:

 

What kind of automation has Akshaya Patra done to feed a child for a meagre Rs950 per year?

Akshaya Patra’s Mid-Day Meal Programme is a perfect example of how technology can be leveraged for a good cause. We feed more than 1.6 million children of over 13,000 schools across 12 states. For this, we rely on our state-of-the-art centralised kitchens. Of the 28 locations in which we operate, 26 have centralised kitchens (Bengaluru has two centralised kitchens, which puts the total number of centralised units at 26). These state-of-the-art units are equipped to prepare food in huge quantities in as little as four hours. Everything is prepared at a huge scale without compromising on the quality. The rice cauldrons used in these kitchens can prepare 500 litres of rice, while roti making machines can dish out thousands of rotis at a time. Some of these units are equipped to prepare meals for 100,000 children at a time.

 

In two locations, i.e., Baran in Rajasthan and Nayagarh in Odisha, it is not feasible to set up centralised kitchens. So we have adopted the decentralised model. As a part of this, Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) are assigned the task of operating small kitchens, which typically cater to one or two schools in the vicinity. In this system, supervisors appointed by Akshaya Patra is monitoring the entire process. In Nayagarh, we feed 23,976 children, and in Baran, we feed 11,020 children.

Feeding over 1.6 million children every school day is not an easy task. It is a cumulative result of innovative technology, smart engineering, and good management. We believe in leveraging technology to make the best possible use of resources and reach as many children as possible. Some of our state-of-the-art centralized kitchens are equipped to prepare meals for 100,000 children at a time in just under four hours.

 

Our state-of-the-art centralized kitchens have served as a blueprint for the expansion of the programme, which has helped us reach over 1.6 million children in 28 locations across 12 states of the country. The technology and experience garnered over the period of 17 years, has put us in a better position in the pursuit of our mission to reach 5 million children by 2020.

 

To aid us in fulfilling our mission, we also rely on IT infrastructure and automations. Use of cloud, MPLS connectivity, ERP, CRM among other tools are used for day to day operations.

Akshaya Patra Achievements

• Akshaya Patra feeds more than 1.6 mn children every day to over 13,000 schools in 28 locations across 12 states.
• Of the 28 locations in which we operate, 26 have centralised kitchens and some of these units are equipped to prepare meals for 100,000 children at a time.
• The foundation also rely on IT infrastructure and automations. Use of cloud, MPLS connectivity, ERP, CRM among other tools are used for day to day operations.
• The organisation has won awards for excellence in financial reporting given by institutes like ICAI and South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA). Also won awards for food safety given by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Quality Mark.
• Focuses on improvement strategies like kaizen, continual improvement projects and six sigma are constantly being implemented in our kitchens across the country to ensure food safety and efficiency at all times.
• Akshaya Patra’s mission is to reach 5 mn children by 2020 and the rate at which we are expanding our footprint, we are confident that we will be able to realise it.

ICAI has been felicitating Akshaya Patra with Gold Medal for Financial reporting for the last 5 years. What is the secret of ICAI’s success?

We are of the firm belief that transparency and accountability are key to trust and reliability, and therefore, we make it a point to ensure that we don’t fall short in this context. While the annual report, audit reports, internal and third-party evaluation reports, impact studies, etc., help us in ensuring transparency, adherence to the food safety and management system (FSMS), standardized recipes, beneficiary feedback, the use of best raw material, etc., help us in guaranteeing quality.

 

We comply with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and the Indian Accounting Standards issued by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). Awards for excellence in financial reporting given by institutes like ICAI and South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA) and awards for food safety given by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Quality Mark add to our credibility.

Akshaya Patra vison is “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger”. How are you planning to achieve your vision?

We have come a long way since our collaboration with the state government of Karnataka for Akshara Dasoha back in 2003. We are open to the possibility of tie ups with other state governments. Our association with the states with which we have already partnered can serve as a template for future collaborations. In fact, with the support of MHRD, we are already in talks with other state governments to extend our services. In addition, we are also in the process of setting up new kitchens in the state of Uttar Pradesh where we already operate. Our mission is to reach 5 million children every school day by 2020 with a vision of “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger”.

 

We have galvanised strategic partnerships with corporates for acquiring and upgrading physical assets required for setting up of new kitchens, food distribution vehicles, for procuring lab equipment, and for Go Green initiatives like the Biogas Plants, Effluent Treatment Plants, and Solar Kitchens. Corporates have also given us pro-bono consulting services. These partnerships have facilitated Akshaya Patra to maintain and amplify the scope of the operations.

 

We also constantly strive towards improving the service levels for our beneficiaries. We have taken certain measures to ensure timely delivery of food in all our 13,529 beneficiary schools. Akshaya Patra believes that there is always a room for improvement. Therefore, improvement strategies like kaizen, continual improvement projects and six sigma are constantly being implemented in our kitchens across the country to ensure food safety and efficiency at all times.

 

Operational sustainability, resource mobilization on a larger scale and creating a pool of talented individuals to drive the NGO, form a part of the strategy to energize Akshaya Patra for realizing the mission to reach 5 million children by 2020. The rate at which we are expanding our footprint in the mid-day meal space, we are confident that we will be able to do so. Slowly and surely, we will be able to eradicate classroom hunger, altogether.

Akshaya Patra is providing mid-day Meal at 13,360+ schools in 26 locations across 11 states covering 1.6 million children every day. What’s your plan for FY2017-18?

Akshaya Patra is currently present in 12 states, across 28 locations feeding more than 1.6 million children every day. There are nine new kitchens in the pipeline, which are expected to add close to 0.4 million children to our beneficiaries list. We are also in talks with other state governments for possible partnerships.

What are your future plan in terms of building assets for new or existing kitchens for technology update, equipment, vessels and distribution vehicles?

As of now we cater over 1.6 million children from across 12 states. There are nine new kitchens in the pipeline, which are expected to add close to 0.4 million children to our beneficiaries list. We are in also in talks with other state governments for possible partnerships. Our mission is to reach 5 million children by 2020 and the rate at which we are expanding our footprint in the mid-day meal space, we are confident that we will be able to realise it.

 

We are open to the possibility of tie ups with other state governments. Our association with the states with which we have already partnered can serve as a template for future collaborations. In fact, with the support of MHRD, we are already in talks with other state governments to extend our services. In addition, we are also in the process of setting up new kitchens in the state of Uttar Pradesh where we already operate.

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