Akshaya Patra Foundation in India is a shining example of how social entrepreneurship combined with power of innovation can make a HUGE difference.
First, some background information. Akshaya Patra is an Indian NGO that provides mid day meals to about 1.2 million children across India on all school days. These meals act as an incentive for these kids to come to the school and study. Even more amazing is the fact that for one kid, the cost of a nutritious mid day meal for one full year is only Rs. 600 (or ~$13). How do they achieve this sort of scale at such low cost? I wondered too, till I visited one of their kitchens in Ahmedabad recently.
Innovation in Delivery: Kitchens are specially designed to meet the scale and quality requirements. They use technology to cook more food in less time. When we visited the kitchen, it was no less than a highly advanced factory with machines for everything including grain cleaning, cutting the vegetables, preparing the chapatti (breads), boiling the rice and loading the containers. These machines cook food that meets the defined nutrition requirements and taste. Many of these machines are indigenously modified to meet their unique requirement.
Focus on Quality: When we went into the office, I could see some well defined checklists. On further inquiry, we found that their kitchen was ISO 22000 (Food Safety) Certified. They collect some key metrics including cost per meal and constantly look for ways to optimize it. They have built their own standard for supply chain right from procuring raw material to delivery of these meals in schools across. Truly remarkable!
Entrepreneurship: Akshaya Patra’s mission is “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger” and that is no small one. But after visiting Akshaya Patra, I can only say one thing: If you really want to do something, you always find ways to do it. At the core of entrepreneurship is the ability to see a gap and more importantly, do something about it. Their website says,
“The surest way to break out of the cycle of poverty is through education. Education can significantly improve the quality of life of a family for generations to come. When the basic needs of a child, such as food are not met, education often becomes the last priority. The meal is an incentive for them to continue their education. It helps reduce the dropout rate to an enormous extent and increases classroom attendance.”
For many children who are beneficiaries of these meals, it is probably the one and only meal that they get in the day. President Obama lauded their efforts and recently, Akshaya Patra was also featured at Harvard Business Blogs.
Akshaya Patra is a great example of how entrepreneurial spirit combined with focus on innovation and quality can overcome all roadblocks and bring about a big difference to our society and our future.