BURLINGAME, Calif. –The Bay Area chapter of Akshaya Patra, the nonprofit running the world’s largest mid-day meal program in collaboration with 12 state governments in India, held its 2019 fundraiser Sept. 29 at the Hyatt Regency here, a day after the Los Angeles chapter held its gala Sept. 28 at Delta Hotels by Marriott in Garden Grove.
Akshaya Patra serves nutritious and sumptuous mid-day meals to 1.76 million school kids for six days a week in 15,668 schools in India.
Gururaj Desh Deshpande, Indian American board chairman of the Akshaya Patra Foundation USA, thanked the Bay Area donors for their support. “Akshaya Patra is tasked with providing the children educational opportunities that entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have enjoyed to thrive. We need to scale as the need is to feed 100 million children of which we are feeding 1.8 million. We need to extend our technology, processes, our controls to anyone that wants to make this happen. It’s not like a company where we need to own the market share.”
He also complimented the Indian state governments for their support and acknowledged that without it the organization would not be able to open a kitchen.
“This is one of the largest public-private partnerships. Indian Government gave us Rs. 250 crores last year. Next thing is to bring what we have developed back to the government, so that they can do it themselves. These are hard problems to solve and it takes time, effort, good partnership and trust,” Deshpande said.
“We partner with lots of organizations that are doing great things in the education space as it’s not just feeding but also educating the children. We have partnered with ConAGRA, who have visited our kitchens and taught us about food safety and scalable processes. We will need still closer partnerships with companies in renewable energy, good construction technologies and latest food processing technologies,” added Deshpande.
Siva Sivaram, executive vice president at SanDisk/Western Digital, who is also on the board of directors of the U.S. arm of the NGO, reiterated his commitment to the scale, efficiency and care of Akshaya Patra. “If education is the most transformative agent in the world, a hungry child does not get educated,” he said.
In the same vein, patron Navin Chadha also agreed that the dual benefits of feeding hungry children and helping them get educated are what make his support to the organization as the best cause that he has been involved in.
“It’s the word of mouth that has made Akshaya Patra popular in the Bay Area. Food in kitchens in different states is based on local cuisines. We will be adding other states like Madhya Pradesh. It’s not the funding but the permissions to serve food by the state governments that slows us down,” noted Vandana Tilak, CEO of Akshaya Patra Foundation USA, at the formal part of the evening.
The keynote speaker of the evening, Chet Kapoor, vice president at Google Cloud, spoke about the impact of education, the education market and the growth opportunities in the space. “Family support, drive, education and luck are the four essential pillars to my success. Education for me is about exposure, the art of what is possible, but nothing happens without nourishment,” he told the audience.
Then he went on to quote from the Global Hunger Index Survey of 2018, which lists 119 countries in the world, with undernourished children with India being 103 on the list. He complimented the work of Akshaya Patra in tackling the mammoth challenge.
“Currently we do not learn the way we live. Learning needs to change significantly. Five things must change over the next few years. Learning needs to happen across media—offline and online learning must blend. We must start teaching kids based on real world problems. We must have machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate mundane tasks for teachers and realize that it’s not just what you learn, but what you can do with your learning that is of essence. Learning for each of us is progress for all of us,” said Kapoor.
Finally, the special guest of the evening, actor Anupam Kher, regaled the audience with stories and anecdotes from his childhood and growing up in a middle-class joint family household.
“Life is about courage, dreams, being optimistic and not taking yourself too seriously,” said Kher. “When a father takes away the fear of failure from a young child, then nothing can stop a child. Life is about the choices that you make and not getting bogged down by failures or challenges.”
Kher was also present as a special guest at the Los Angeles gala of the nonprofit at which the guest of honor was Cerritos Mayor Naresh Solanki.
At the outset, Solanki commended the organization for all the valuable work that it was doing to feed millions of children in India.
“I am humbled by the work of the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which was started in 2000 as a mid-day meal program for children in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India, and has since expanded to 12 states in India,” stated Solanki. “With 43 centralized kitchens, it feeds 1.76 million children a day, and is well on its way to reaching its goal of feeding five billion children by the year 2025. Tonight’s event continues the foundation’s work to raise money for this worthy cause.”
Other special guests at the Los Angeles event included Rajesh Shah, president of MS International, Inc. Comedian Paul Varghese served as the master of ceremonies at the event which included a Bollywood performance by Vinaini Jayasinghe.