The Vice-Chairman of a charitable organisation highlights how global Akshaya Patra is addressing hunger and malnutrition in India by harnessing the power of corporate partnerships.
Malnutrition is one of the major challenges our country is facing today. According to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018, jointly published by some of the most reputed organisations in the global nutrition space, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO), 195.9 million people in India are undernourished. The 2018 Global Nutrition Report states that India has the largest number of stunted (46.6 million) and wasted (25.5 million) children in the world. In the 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI), India ranks 103rd out of 119 countries. Simply put, the problem is of epic proportions, and if we are to address it effectively, we need to work together. This idea of working together forms the basis of our feeding programme.
We have always believed that in a country like India, typically characterised by diversity in terms of geography, demography, languages, and even social practices, the responsibility of nation building should not be on the Government alone. If the civil society proactively participates in the process, it can do immense good to millions of people. This makes for a strong case of the adoption of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model in the social sector. This is especially evident in the nutrition welfare space with initiatives like the Mid-Day Meal Scheme reaping rich dividends from well-designed collaborations.
The Mid-Day Meal Programme is an amalgamation of the efforts of the Government, philanthropic organisations and individuals to address a social cause on a massive scale - feeding millions of school children across the country, providing them nutritious mid-day meals as an incentive to come to school. As an implementing partner of the Government's Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme, Akshaya Patra serves freshly cooked, nutritious school lunch to over 1.76 million children every day.
We began with the feeding of 1,500 children of ten schools in Bengaluru, Karnataka, in the year 2000. As time elapsed, many like-minded people came on board to support our cause and we grew from strength to strength. When the MDM Scheme was launched, we partnered with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India, and various State Governments to implement the programme and add to its economic viability. This partnership has enabled us to reach out to more and more children with nutritious food.
Today, we serve over 1.76 million children of more than 15,000 schools in 45 locations across 12 states as a part of the MDM feeding programme. We also serve as the implementing partner of the ICDS Anganwadi feeding programme, reaching out to over 135,000 beneficiaries through more than 5,000 centres across 10 locations. While the MDM beneficiaries comprise of children in the age group of 6-14 years, ICDS beneficiaries comprise pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children in the age group of 0-6 years.
The strength of this collaboration lies in clearly defined roles for all the entities involved, with the well-being of children at the core of the collective efforts. The MHRD, Government of India, and State Governments have accorded us permission to implement the programme in various locations. The Government provides cash subsidies and grains - the latter through the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and the Food and Civil Supplies Corporations - for the programme.
We raise funds from corporate and individual donors from within the country and abroad to implement and enhance the programme. The Ministry of Finance has granted us permission to seek donations from within the country and the Ministry of Home Affairs has permitted us to collect donations from abroad under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 1976, thereby aiding our resource mobilisation efforts. The Government's sustained and valued support has enabled us to serve wholesome meals to over 1.75 million children across the country.
All along, we have been supported by corporates in various capacities right from donating funds to sponsoring delivery vans and kitchen equipment. Several corporate entities and philanthropic arms of reputed business houses have partnered with us to implement the MDM Programme in various locations. These include reputed names such as the Infosys Foundation, Tata Trusts, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), Amazon Cares, ABB, etc.
We have also partnered with reputed organisations, institutions, and agencies to leverage technology and knowledge to further innovate and get the best possible input and guidance on various aspects of the meal programme. These include organisations such as the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), PATH, Bain & Company, M.S. University - Vadodara, M.S. Ramaiah University - Bengaluru, etc. Corporates, such as Accenture and Cisco, have also been contributing to the feeding programme through technology and knowledge sharing.
Our collective efforts put us in a better position to achieve the objectives of the MDM: improving the nutritional status of children, encouraging children belonging to disadvantaged sections to attend school, addressing the issue of school dropouts, addressing classroom hunger and ensuring that children concentrate on classroom activities. Furthermore, the programme has an indirect impact on the economic conditions of several families across the country. In bringing children closer to education, it enables them to break the vicious poverty cycle. Similarly, as all the children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, sit together to have a meal every day, the programme improves social equity. With the assurance of a meal prompting more parents to send their girl child to school, it also contributes to gender equity.
We believe that it is important to evolve constantly to stay relevant to changing times. We will continue to establish long-term strategic partnerships to find sustainable solutions for long-standing challenges. To bring the community on board as a partner, we are looking into the scope of increased community engagement in various aspects of decision making to formulate solutions for maximising the impact of our initiatives. This step, we believe is necessary, if we are to get a better understanding of the grassroots to maximise the impact of all our initiatives and address the issue of malnutrition more efficiently and effectively.
Over the years, our school lunch programme has evolved into one of the most admired public-private partnerships in the social sector. It has validated our belief that together, we can make a difference. More and more people are realising the power of collective efforts and stepping up to do what needs to be done. This gives us the confidence that very soon the time will come when Akshaya Patra's services will be no longer necessary, as no child in India will be hungry and hunger will no more be an impediment to education and growth.
Shri Chanchalapathi Dasa is the Vice-Chair of the Akshay patra Foundation.