“I have grabbed this opportunity to be associated with Akshaya Patra”, said Shankar Mahadevan, legendary singer and brand ambassador of Akshaya Patra, at the one billionth meal celebration held in Bangalore on August 5th. “I know that music is a very powerful medium. It makes people cry, it makes people laugh, it inspires, it motivates, and it can help people in realizing many things. So I am definitely going to use this opportunity, this platform, with music and spread awareness about Akshaya Patra and the wonderful work that they are doing.”
Mahadevan and his wife used to sit and think in what ways they could help feed India’s children. He calls the first email from Akshaya Patra, requesting that he join as ambassador, a “God send”. It was exactly what they were looking to do for society. Renowned lyricist, Javed Akthar, commenting on Mahadevan’s status of Ambassador to Akshaya Patra, stated that, “with his kind of charm and his kind of talent I am sure that Sankar will be able to spread the message of Akshaya Patra to every nook and corner of India!”
The Akshaya Patra Foundation has accomplished the significant milestone of serving one billion meals to school children in India from the program’s inception. To commemorate this momentous occasion Mahadevan composed and sung a special song written by Akthar and performed it live at the celebration in Bangalore. The music video accompanying the song was released by Infosys Foundation Chairperson Sudha Murty.
Akshaya Patra’s leadership has called this occasion not only a time for celebration but a time for introspection into what has been accomplished over the last 11 years and what should be accomplished in the years to come. The organizations goal is to serve 5 million children by 2020 but there was also talk of diversifying the mid day meal program to address other challenges, such as safe drinking water and sanitation. While their core focus will remain the mid day meal program they have pledged to find ways to address these other concerns in the communities they serve.
Beginning in 2000 in just one location and serving 1500 children the program now serves over 1.3 million children, freshly prepared nutritious meals in over 9,000 schools, throughout 9 states of India DAILY. Mohan Das Pai, Chairman of Manipal Universal Learning, who also spoke during the festivities said, “The idea behind the mid day meal program was to make sure children came to school, had a meal and got an education. If 45% of our children are malnourished and most children are born low weight what is the future of this great county? We must solve this challenge once and for all.”
Co-founder and Chairmen Emeritus of Infosys Limited, Narayana Murthy, who is on the advisory board of Akshaya Patra USA, elaborated on the uniqueness and success of the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which is one of the world’s largest NGO-run school feeding programs, and what other NGO’s may have to learn from their model. He praised the organizations ability to, and progress in, scaling its operations through use of technology, the secular nature of the mid day meal program, their outstanding annual reports and accounts, and the institutional policies and government partnerships that have been established, which he claims, “is something that every NGO in the country has to mimic and learn, to progress”.
Both Pai and Murthy spoke of perhaps the most unique feature of the Akshaya Patra Foundation; its desire to end its program by 2030. “We hope and pray fervently that by 2030 we do not have to run this program”, said Pai. “We want to see an India where there is not hunger, every child has a home, every child has great parent, every child has an education, every child has food on the table, every child has great career, and every child gets all the love and care that the child is due.”
Madhu Sridhar, President and CEO of Akshaya Patra USA said, “This milestone could not have been achieved without the unstinting efforts, devotion, dedication, support and perseverance of the Akshaya Patra India team, compassionate donors around the world and the Government of India. Akshaya Patra has successfully combined the execution excellence of the for-profit sector with the deep compassion of the non-profit sector to design solutions that are helping to make poverty history.”
A public-private partnership, Akshaya Patra combines good management, innovative technology and smart engineering to deliver school lunch at a fraction of the cost of similar programs in other parts of the world. It costs Akshaya Patra only $15 to feed a child for an entire year. In a short time, the foundation has grown to become the largest, and certainly most innovative, school lunch program in the world.
To listen to Shankar Mahadevan’s song commemorating the one billionth meal and to learn more about Akshaya Patra’s program please visitwww.foodforeducation.org.