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In the post-COVID world, role of CSR will become even more important: Shridhar Venkat, CEO of Akshaya Patra  

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The COVID-19 disaster has hit the world laborious, particularly the poor and destitute are left to fetch all the pieces for themselves. State of affairs turned extra determined because the authorities imposed a strict lockdown as a fight measure in opposition to the Covid-19. At this hour of want, many organisations stepped up and coordinated with State Governments & District Administration to supply aid to the needy. They provided free meals to hundreds of individuals throughout the nation. Akshaya Patra is offering meal or packed grocery kits to the poor and destitute and different low-income teams of the society together with each day wage employees, migrant labourers, development web site employees, and many others. Presently, Akshaya Patra claims that it’s offering meals aid many state viz., Rajasthan, Karnataka, Telangana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, NCR, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand ,Tripura, West Bengal, Punjab, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh. It operates in 55 kitchens throughout 13 States and 1 Union Territory of India. Its centralised kitchens have the capability to prepare dinner as much as 100,000 meals. In an unique dialog with the Monetary Specific On-line Shridhar Venkat, CEO of Akshaya Patra talked concerning the work they’re doing, CSR initiatives, challenges forward of them and extra. Excerpts:

How was 2020 for the CSR sector? What challenges do you see on the highway forward on this sector? 

2020 was predominantly marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented occasion that compounded varied socio-economic points and affected individuals from all walks of life—particularly the susceptible communities. In these tough instances, the company sector proactively stepped as much as assist these in want. Corporations donated a bulk of their CSR funds to aid actions. The truth is, a number of massive corporations went past the prescribed CSR funds and pledged their sources in direction of aid efforts.

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Within the post-COVID world, the position of CSR will turn out to be much more necessary. The CSR spend to deal with points like poverty, starvation, illiteracy, and many others., has seen regular development in the previous few years. The pandemic has already reversed years of progress on Sustainable Improvement Objectives (SDGs). Contemplating the criticality of the scenario, it will likely be of immense assist if corporates take a inventory of predictions concerning the post-COVID state of affairs and redefine the scope of their CSR funding initiatives.

How & what sort of funds have gone into this COVID feeding program & how is the help of donors & funds in comparison with the primary wave & now the second wave? Who’re the most important donors?

Over the past 14 months, we now have been working with the Authorities and donors to mitigate the starvation disaster triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The continued help of our donors to undertake the aid feeding programme has validated our perception that we’re stronger collectively. We obtained donations from corporates, the general public sector, and people, with all our stakeholders proactively coming ahead to help our efforts. Apart from grants, worker payroll giving and on-line giving by way of Particular person Social Duty (ISR) additionally contributed a big sum final 12 months.

With the pandemic scenario evolving, the main target has shifted from starvation to malnutrition. We’re striving to make sure that the susceptible populations have continued entry to meals and vitamin. For example, we’re reaching out to youngsters throughout the size and breadth of our nation and offering them Happiness Kits comprising of grocery, hygiene merchandise, and academic provides to boost their dietary stage, increase their immunity and tackle the data hole. The help of our donors has helped in making certain continuity that’s integral to this endeavour.

In addition to aid feeding, we’re additionally conducting a pilot programme to vaccinate the mother and father and relations of our beneficiaries in affiliation with our donors. We’re assured that we can scale this vaccination drive and canopy a good portion of the inhabitants within the subsequent few months.

Our mission is to get our kids ‘Again to Colleges’ and we now have all of the co-operation and dedication from our donor household.

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How did the group remodel from mid-day meal suppliers to catastrophe – aid feeding program? How are you managing to feed the core beneficiaries of Akshaya Patra?

Because the implementing accomplice of the Authorities’s flagship college feeding programme, the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme, Akshaya Patra serves over 1.8 million youngsters in 13 states and one union territory (UT) each college day. The programme is a results of the synergetic efforts of all of the stakeholders concerned—the Central Authorities, State Governments, company companions, particular person donors, college authorities, volunteers and our workers. The collective efforts of all these stakeholders assist make sure that youngsters wouldn’t have to decide on between schooling and meals. Right now, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re drawing upon the identical synergetic efforts to supply vitamin help to youngsters and communities. Our strategic funding in infrastructure and useful resource mobilisation during the last 20 years has added to the effectivity and effectiveness of each, the college feeding programme and aid feeding initiatives.

As for our core beneficiaries—the youngsters, college closures because of the pandemic has disadvantaged them of schooling in addition to mid-day meals. We’ve been offering important groceries kits to households from susceptible communities. Moreover, we now have began the Happiness Kits initiative for MDM beneficiaries to take studying and vitamin to their doorstep. These kits concentrate on the well being and schooling of kids, and comprise dry ration in addition to hygiene merchandise and stationery with exercise workbooks.

Throughout the Covid-19, Akshaya Patra has been serving meals to susceptible sections of the nation since early 2020. Are you able to briefly describe the impression that this initiative has had and what are/had been the challenges confronted?

A pandemic outbreak is usually accompanied by widespread meals insecurity as a consequence of disruptions in provide chains. In such a scenario, aid feeding turns into a significant part of subsequent humanitarian efforts. Conscious of this important position of aid feeding, we now have been utilizing our sources to increase meals aid to susceptible populations in 19 states and one UT throughout the nation. We’ve thus far served over 129 million meals within the type of cooked meals, important groceries kits and Happiness Kits. In doing so, we now have been in a position to actively contribute to the meals and vitamin safety of susceptible populations. Our community of kitchens throughout the nation has enabled us to supply assist to wider demography throughout city, rural and peri-urban areas during the last 14 months. By means of these efforts, we now have been in a position to uphold individuals’s Proper to Meals throughout an emergency.

Once we began final March, we skilled a number of challenges. Provide chains had been disrupted because of the pandemic and containment measures to curb the outbreak. The motion of automobiles was tough, which, in flip, made it tough to supply uncooked materials and non-food necessities. Nonetheless, well timed permissions and authorisations from the administration and the help of our suppliers helped us tackle these challenges. When the variety of areas we served elevated, our manpower necessities additionally elevated. A number of volunteering teams and people selflessly got here ahead to assist meet our requirement. Whereas challenges had been many as we had anticipated, we discovered options for them in a single kind or the opposite and continued our efforts.

How is the meals ready on a struggle footing mechanism & What are the security precautions carried out throughout this COVID whereas executing the feeding program?

Our community of kitchens with workers skilled to function in emergencies is essential to our aid feeding initiative. Meals is cooked at our kitchens and transported to the aid feeding centres the place it’s then served to these in want. In addition to cooked meals, we now have additionally carried out some need-based options. These embrace the distribution of important groceries kits with dry ration for 42/28 meals, Happiness Kits for MDM beneficiaries with dry ration for 20 meals and academic provides, and snacks kits for migrants returning house on trains. Along with our kitchens, we additionally arrange makeshift packaging centres to pack necessities groceries kits and Happiness Kits.

We’ve at all times strived to keep up the very best requirements of security and hygiene in all our processes. We’re in the course of an unprecedented disaster. We perceive the urgency in addition to the criticality of the initiative. To make sure meals security and the security of our workers and volunteers, we now have adopted stricter hygiene and security compliance norms in our kitchens. Our workers mandatorily wears the mandatory protecting gear, similar to masks and gloves, and maintains social distancing always. Their temperature can also be checked after they enter the premises and at common intervals. Such measures have helped us guarantee the security of the meals ready in addition to everybody concerned within the preparation course of.

Akshaya Patra works on a PPP (Public-Personal Partnership) mannequin. Are you able to briefly describe what the mannequin is and the way you might be benefited from this mannequin?

Through the years, the collaboration between the Authorities, Akshaya Patra and donors for the Mid-Day Meal Programme has turn out to be one of many much-appreciated partnerships within the growth sector. It has demonstrated how the much-touted Public-Personal Partnership (PPP) mannequin, which is kind of well-liked within the infrastructure sector, may be efficiently carried out for social good.

We’ve collaborated with the Central Authorities, State Governments, civic our bodies, and company entities and their philanthropic arms to implement the college feeding programme. On its half, the Authorities gives subsidies and grants permission to boost funds from inside the nation and overseas. Our contribution contains funding in manpower, distribution of meals, meals security and hygiene, automation, organising of kitchens, and many others., which is met by way of fundraising.

In essence, we now have efficiently harnessed the may of the PPP mannequin by bringing collectively varied private and non-private sector entities to deal with a social trigger on a large scale, feeding greater than 1.8 million college youngsters throughout the nation, offering them nutritious mid-day meals as an incentive to come back to highschool.

What are the longer term plans & how shut are you to your mission of feeding 5 million youngsters by 2025?

Our mission is to feed 5 million youngsters each college day. We’re working in direction of the identical in affiliation with the Authorities and donors. We’re in talks with varied State Governments to begin new kitchens, which can allow us to succeed in extra youngsters. We can even attempt to improve the MDM Programme by way of need-based options. Such modern measures can be notably necessary within the post-COVID period with starvation and malnutrition compounding because of the pandemic.

We’ve began a breakfast programme on a pilot foundation in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. We are going to look into the feasibility of extending it to different areas. It’s a well-known indisputable fact that breakfast is crucial meal of the day. It should play a vital position in addressing short-term starvation amongst beneficiary youngsters and enhance their focus within the classroom, thus enhancing their tutorial efficiency.

We’ve additionally designed and carried out initiatives that transcend the meals to make sure that youngsters have a conducive atmosphere at faculties, nurture their expertise and supply monetary assist. These embrace the college rejuvenation venture, Giving Each Dream a Likelihood mentorship initiative and the AVSAR scholarship programme. These initiatives are clubbed collectively beneath the Basis’s Nationwide Endeavour for Scholar Transformation (NEST).

We’re on our method to attain the 4 billionth cumulative meal milestone. The milestone can be a big achievement, validating the efforts of all of the individuals who work day by day to deal with starvation amongst youngsters and communities.

What’s your opinion of the Mission Poshan 2.0 initiative launched by the federal government in February 2021 in an effort to enhance dietary outcomes? What position can Akshaya Patra play in direction of making certain that dietary outcomes throughout the nation as talked about within the initiative present an enchancment?

Mission Poshan 2.0 is a welcome transfer that can play a vital position in serving to us tackle the difficulty of malnutrition by way of an built-in method. It has been launched at a vital second with a number of specialists fearing that the malnutrition disaster will worsen because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside the MDM Programme, Akshaya Patra additionally serves because the implementing accomplice of the ICDS Anganwadi feeding initiative. We’ve at all times strived to work with the Ministry of Ladies and Little one Improvement – Authorities of India, on its varied developmental programmes and initiatives. We are going to proceed working with them to concentrate on meals and vitamin safety for kids and communities throughout the nation.