A philanthropist's passion for eradicating classroom hunger

Philanthropist Desh Deshpande talks to  India New England, about his involvement with The Akshaya Patra Foundation and his role in supporting the organisation to reach its mission of serving 5 million children daily by 2020.

desh-deshpande-interviewThe Akshaya Patra Foundation, USA, is scheduled to hold its 7th Annual Boston Benefit Event on 29 March, 2014. Over 400 Business, Non-profit, Government and Philanthropic leaders from around the region are expected to attend and support the organisation's dual mission of addressing classroom hunger and malnutrition and to promote education for economically backward children in India.

On this occasion, Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, Board Chairman of The Akshaya Patra Foundation USA, spoke to INDIA New England about his passion and vision for Akshaya Patra.

QUESTION: Akshaya Patra has been very close to your heart and to your wife, Jaishree. How has it impacted your own life?
DESHPANDE: The key to better life is education. We all know this. We also know that there are millions of people in India who just don't have the opportunity to be educated. Giving a deserving child a hot nutritious midday meal at school and making sure that the child is not deprived of education because of hunger is a very satisfying feeling.

 

Akshaya Patra now feeds 1.3 million children every day. Having the opportunity to play a small role in making it happen is quite a privilege. Akshaya Patra has impacted me personally in a big way. I go all over and talk about this noble effort. It has broadened my circle of friends. My connection to others is a lot deeper because together we are helping the deserving children.

Also, when I see such genuine compassion and support from so many people it brings me hope. The 24 hours a day constant bad news makes you feel that the world is broken. However, when I meet so many compassionate, caring people I get energized and feel very hopeful that if we all come together we can make it a better world. Jaishree and I are very committed to Akshay Patra. Jaishree, being a mother, now feels like a mother to 1.3 million children.

QUESTION: It seems Akshaya Patra event on March 29th is shaping quite well with amazing guests and speakers. What do you expect from this event?
DESHPANDE: We already have many long term strong supporters in Boston. This event will help us spread the word to more people. Akshaya Patra's goal is to serve 5 million children every day by 2020. We need much more people to understand the impact of what this organisation is doing and help us.

QUESTION: How can the local community help Akshaya Patra?
DESHPANDE: The local community can help us financially, professionally and emotionally. Financially, people can help us by coming to the event on March 29th and contributing to the cause. Those who cannot make it to the event can become a part of our "POWER of ONE" program. In Power of One, an individual contributes $15 a month. It costs us $30 to feed a child for the whole year. We serve only Government Schools and Government contributes $15 a year. Therefore just a $15 donation will enable the organisation to feed a child for the whole year.

This organisation has to continuously innovate to make sure that the meals we serve are nutritious, tasty and cost effective. We use a lot of technology and management processes to achieve this. We are always looking for new ideas to improve. We welcome those who have the expertise and can take time off and spend time with our kitchens in India and make suggestions for improvement.

Everyone's emotional support is probably the most important; bot in USA and in India. We need a lot of volunteers to help us spread the good word in USA. We have hundreds of people from USA visit the Kitchens in India every year. When they see an Akshaya Patra kitchen, its massive operation and the compassion of the people running the kitchens, everyone is very impressed. They also visit schools and share a meal with the school children. These visits are very motivating for both the kitchen staff and the school children. We need more Bostonians to visit the kitchens in India.

QUESTION: When and how did you get involve with Akshaya Patra?
DESHPANDE: I got involved with Akshaya Patra about eight years ago. Deshpande Foundation runs a program in India called ‘Social Innovation Sandbox’ in Hubli, Karnataka. We have several NGOs that work in the Sandbox and find new news to improve their program. Akshaya Patra built their largest kitchen in Hubli. I was so impressed with their ability to execute that I decided to jump in.

QUESTION: How has Akshaya Patra created such an efficient process to prepare and deliver food?
DESHPANDE: Organisations like Akshaya Patra inherently are committed to the cause and have a huge amount of compassion. For-Profit companies usually excel in execution. Akshaya Patra has done an excellent job of combining the compassion and the execution excellence. Akshaya Patra builds large kitchens using advanced technologies. Kitchens are designed so that they can efficiently use resources. There are 20 kitchens all over India and each kitchen serves anywhere from 50,000 meals to 175,000 meals.

After the food is cooked, there are specially designed vessels and vehicles to distribute the food to school children. The organisation uses advanced Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to manage the supply chain and human resources. The organisation has consistently won the GOLD award for the best accounting practices. The detailed accounting helps the organisation measure everything that is important and manage it. Making sure that the food is warm and safe when we serve children is the most important part of the operations. The organisation has established very detailed Food Safety processes and uses ISO certification to make sure that the processes are followed.

QUESTION: Can this model be replicated in other developing countries and have you any plans to expand in other nations?
DESHPANDE: This is the most exciting part. Akshaya Patra not only does excellent work, but more than that it is showing the world what is possible. The organisation will focus its operations in India, but is very keen to spread the word. The organisation shares its best practices and blue prints for kitchen designs with anyone who wants to duplicate the program. We have visitors from all over the world coming to India to look at the operations. Last month, President Vincente Fox, ex-President of Mexico visited the kitchens. He was very impressed. He would like to duplicate it in Mexico. A few years ago, I was invited by President Clinton to visit Haiti. I went to Haiti with President Clinton and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon. It turns out if you build a kitchen with 70,000 meals a day, you can feed all the school children and patients in the hospitals at Haiti. Relatively speaking, it is a simple problem. However, we are still looking for leadership in Haiti to Champion the effort.

Source: INDIA New England

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