The Akshaya Patra Foundation commonly known as Akshaya Patra is a non-profit organisation in India that runs school lunch programme. The organisation was established in 2000.
In partnership with the Government of India; various State Governments, the inestimable support from many businesses, philanthropic donors and well-wishers; Aksayga Patra have grown from humble beginnings in the year 2000, serving just 1,500 children across 5 schools. Today Akshaya Patra is the world’s largest (not-for-profit run) mid-day meal programme serving wholesome food to over 1.6 million children from 13,839 schools across 12 states in India.
Akshaya Patra was started by two distinct groups of professionals, who were able to integrate their multidisciplinary perspectives. The first group was the leadership of ISKCON, a faith-based group in India. These leaders were trained as engineers and worked in the private sector before their religious service. They brought a tradition of service to people, and experience cooking for thousands of people at a time at their temples. The second group consisted of senior executives at Infosys and other Indian technology companies. They have spent the last thirty years solving complex global problems for many of the world’s largest companies. When the two groups came together, they decided to focus on addressing a specific challenge in India that has cascading effects. And they decided to focus on scalability from the start.
C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was the Krisna monk that inspired the founders.
He was a man who has lived a subversive life. Before adopting the life of a pious renunciant (vanaprastha) in 1950, he was married and had children and owned a small pharmaceutical business. In 1959 he took a vow of renunciation (sannyasa) and began writing commentaries on Vaishnava scriptures. In his later years, as a traveling Vaishnava monk, he became an influential communicator of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology to India and specifically to the West through his leadership of ISKCON, founded in 1966. As the founder of ISKCON, he “emerged as a major figure of the Western counterculture, initiating thousands of young Americans. “ He received criticism from anti-cult groups, as well as a favourable welcome from religious scholars such as J. Stillson Judah, Harvey Cox, Larry Shinn and Thomas Hopkins, who praised Bhaktivedanta Swami’s translations and defended the group against distorted media images and misinterpretations. In respect of his achievements, religious leaders from other Gaudiya Vaishnava movements have also given him credit.
The founders of Akshaya Parta explain how he inspired them:
“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. His inspiring resolve has helped us in making The Akshaya Patra Foundation, as what it is today”.
According to UNESCO Out-of-School children report (published in 2015), 17.7 million children in India are estimated to be out of school. School dropout in Uttar Pradesh leads with 1.6 million out of school children, followed by Bihar and Rajasthan. Akshaya Patra depends on corporate funds, philanthropic donors, volunteers and well-wishers for managing this large operation. The details of the operation include technological innovations, quality standards, delivery vehicles and interacting with various stakeholders.
The organisation is highly transparent and makes available not only the financial information, but also intellectual property to the public. Akshaya Patra believes that there is a dire need for the school lunch programme to be replicated so that it realises the vision that “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger”.
Nish Acharya the former Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Obama Administration. Is also a former Board member of Aksaya Patra. In an interview to Forbes he said:
“India has nearly 130 million children of school age. And of that, about 100 million are enrolled in school. And as one would expect, the schools are of varying quality. However, India’s public and private sectors agree that the availability of a nutritious midday meal is critical to driving attendance of boys and girls, improving cognitive abilities and providing children with the energy to learn in the classroom. Thus, India has a fairly sophisticated set of policies, enforced by India’s Supreme Court, that require schools to provide a school lunch to their students, and that NGO’s could be the provider along with government agencies. And while multiple agencies have received contracts to provide a midday meal, almost none of them focused solely on the midday meal. Any good entrepreneur knows the importance of focus. In addition, many of these agencies were education providers, but relatively inexperienced in the areas of food, supply chain and nutrition. In many ways, Akshaya Patra has succeeded because of its ability to stay focused on the midday meal, but to attack the complexities of the problem head on”.
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