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Fighting Poverty with a Seamless Mid-Day Meal Program

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Shri Madhu Pandit Dasa founded Akshaya Patra in the year 2000. The school feeding programme started with serving meals to 1,500 children in 5 Government schools of Bengaluru. Presently, this programme reaches out to over 1.65 million school children in 27 locations across eleven states in India.

Created as a not-for-profit, the Bangalore based Akshaya Patra Foundation strives to fight issues of hunger and malnutrition for school going children in India. What started as a pilot project in five schools in Bangalore, feeding 1,500 has now exponentially evolved and developed into a mammoth endeavour reaching out to 16,10,396 children in 13,529 Government and Government aided schools and Anganwadis in 27 locations, across 11 states in India. Today, Akshaya Patra is the world’s largest NGO-run school meal programme.

The genesis of The Foundation is born out of a story of compassion. Looking out of a window one day in Mayapur, a village near Calcutta, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada saw a group of children fighting with stray dogs over scraps of food. From this simple, yet heart-breaking incident was born a determination that ‘no child within a radius of ten miles from our centre should go hungry.’ It is this inspiration that helped in laying the foundation blocks of The Akshaya Patra Foundation as it is today.

“Our CSR vision for 2017 is to engage as
many corporates as possible and community to fulfil the core objectives of Akshaya Patra programme and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme,” says Madhu Pandit Dasa, Chairman – The Akshaya Patra Foundation. “The CSR mandate has come as an opportunity for not-for-profits to get a concrete source of funding.”

The Akshaya Patra Foundation is committed to carry out the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in a safe and sustainable manner, which will survive the challenges of the future. “We don’t merely want to provide a meal; we want to provide health, hope and above all, happiness to the millions of children in need of it. Hence there are numerous mechanisms and processes in place that are consistently implemented for regular monitoring and evaluation of our school lunch programme,” he explains.

In order to understand the impact of the Mid-day Meals program on children’s health and education, APF conducts impact studies in association with A.C Nielson to understand and evaluate the impacts of the meals served to its 1.5 million beneficiaries every school day. The results were very encouraging and positive in nature.

“In all of the centres surveyed, a significant increase in enrolment was reported. In places such as Baran, there was an increase of as much as 41% enrolment in Class 1 students. Overall attendance in the schools had also increased by a total of 11.67%. Even teachers and parents reported that more children are attending school after Akshaya Patra’s school lunch programme. Close to 85% of Heads of institutions and teachers across all locations reported that the proportion of students getting higher grades has increased, while the proportion of students getting lower grades has significantly reduced. Lastly, around 78.2 % of all parents across all locations observed that their child’s health had improved after consuming Akshaya Patra’s mid-day meals at schools,” says the Chairman.

However, the movement was not devoid of challenges and it met with several of them, the major being –

• Maintaining world class quality standards, so that beneficiaries get nutritious food, every school day.
• Ensuring sustainability of the programme by leveraging its expertise in nutrition, food safety, hygiene, technology, innovation and through advocacy.
• Obtaining necessary approvals for reducing the cycle time for setting up of new kitchen facilities.
• Logistics; ensuring its 13,529 beneficiary schools get their meals within the specified window of time.

However, with the CSR mandate in the Company’s Act coming into the picture, corporates are on a lookout for not-for-profits to partner with as they can use the latter’s expertise and groundwork. In return, not-for-profits get a sustainable source of funds.

“The CSR mandate has helped us by presenting more avenues to raise funds, with more corporates coming forward to do their bit for the community. If we are to make the most of this opportunity, it is important that we establish ourselves as a credible organisation. It is not just important to utilise the grants in the most efficient manner, but equally important to communicate it. Corporates prefer organisations with robust accounting mechanisms, and therefore, we resort to audits, third-party evaluations, impact studies, stakeholder feedback, etc., to communicate the efficient use of resources to our stakeholders. It is our belief that transparency and accountability are key to trust and reliability, which translate into enhanced performance in the long run,” Madhu Pandit Dasa recollects.

Besides the Mid-Day Meal Programme, Akshaya Patra has also undertaken other feeding and social initiatives which are as follows:

Feeding Initiatives
• Anganwadi feeding
• Feeding expecting and lactating mothers
• Feeding programmes in old-age homes
• Feeding programmes in special schools
• Feeding runaway children
• Feeding the homeless
• Subsidized lunch for the economically disadvantaged

Apart from the feeding initiatives, the Foundation also works towards social initiatives like –

• After class tuitions
• Community health camps
• Health check-up camps
• Life-skills programmes
• Scholarship programmes

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