Akshaya Patra, India - winners of an international competition to change the world
The sheer scale of need in India is often remarked upon, but the sheer scale of ambition can be remarkable too. Akshaya Patra has, quite simply, set up the world’s largest school feeding programme, providing more than one million school dinners every school day. This vast undertaking clearly has appeal to corporate donors, for it attracted the attention of American Express when they were running a competition to find projects that have real impact. It also clearly has appeal to individual donors too, because members of the public who took part in the competition voted for Akshaya Patra to be one of only five organisations worldwide to share in the Amex prize.
Medium of communication:Online.
Type of charity:Poverty/social justice, social change.
Target audience:social change campaign, corporations.
Country of origin:India.
Akshaya Patra team.
Name of exhibitor:Sattva.
Date of first appearance:October, 2008.
Akshaya Patra is the world’s largest nonprofit school feeding programme. The vision of Akshaya Patra (meaning: abundant, inexhaustible vessel) is that no child shall be deprived of education because of hunger. Started modestly in 2000 to feed 1500 children from a temporary kitchen in Bangalore, the organisation now feeds over one million children on a daily basis in government schools, through 17 state-of-the art kitchens in seven states. Akshaya Patra’s largest kitchen, in Hubli-Dharwad, Karnataka, prepares meals for 185,000 children in less than five hours.
Akshaya Patra’s goal was to be able to feed one million children each school day by 2010. By 2008 the organisation was inching towards its goal – 850,000 children were being fed. However, they needed more funds to be able achieve their ultimate goal.
Each year, American Express runs the members project, which looks for projects that are innovative, achievable and can make a positive impact on the lives of people all over the world. The winners are chosen based on two rounds of public votes and the winners are awarded between 100,000 to 250,000 dollars.
In 2008, thanks largely to its effective Internet campaign, Akshaya Patra was one of the five organisations worldwide to win the members project award – and the only one from India.
A total of 1190 projects applied for the members project award. During the first round, 213,522 people nominated the projects of their choice. Akshaya Patra was third, based on the number of votes they received. A distinguished panel of judges together with American Express selected the top 25 projects. Projects were evaluated by various factors including the number of nominations received, a review of achievability and advisory panel scoring. After the second round of voting, only five projects remained.
Akshaya Patra’s campaign title ‘feeding one million children daily’ highlighted the scale and impact the organisation wanted to achieve across the country. It emphasised the importance of food in keeping children at school and showed how providing them with healthy food has a sustainable impact on the children’s lives.
To get the required votes, Akshaya Patra aggressively leveraged their network and reached out across the globe to encourage people to vote for them. Their chapters in the United States and United Kingdom distributed pamphlets and again used their personal and professional networks. Their partners – including NGOs, corporates and government organisations – helped spread the word among their networks. In addition, Akshaya Patra’s huge volunteer base pledged its support publicly and encouraged others to contribute.
There are three key innovations in Akshaya Patra’s campaign – creating a simple and effective message, leveraging the network and building credibility through transparency.
Firstly, their message was straightforward and had high impact – ‘Feeding one child for an entire year costs Akshaya Patra 28 dollars. With an average government subsidy of 50 percent, $28 can feed two children. A prize amount of 250,000 dollars would help them feed close to 18,000 children and help achieve their target of one million children.’ The message clearly highlighted the value of the prize money to Akshaya Patra; it was easy for anyone to share this message and, therefore, helped create and sustain a strong viral campaign. Even children could relate to the message and raised funds for the cause by conducting programmes within their schools
Secondly, all its corporate partners were encouraged to use Akshaya Patra’s screensaver as their default internally so that their employees could vote for Akshaya Patra by clicking on a direct link. Corporates, such as Chennai Sweets, volunteered to have the Akshaya Patra logo on their websites to help promote the cause. Akshaya Patra also sought the assistance of government departments with whom it works, for example the Department of Education, to support this challenge. Partner organisations like the Pratham Foundation wrote about Akshaya Patra’s campaign in their communications to encourage their volunteers to vote for Akshaya Patra.
Thirdly, Akshaya Patra provides extensive information on its operations to show quite openly how it manages its funds. Their website has links to its annual audit reports (done for free by KPMG), an impact assessment report by A C Nielsen, a case study by Harvard Business School and information about the International Standard Organisation (ISO) guidelines it follows in its kitchens. The reports show, for instance, how for every dollar that comes in, an impressive 90 cents is used to buy food. The A C Nielsen report shows a 13.8 percent and 34.2 percent improvement in enrolment, for boys and girls respectively, in Bangalore schools due to Akshaya Patra’s intervention.
In addition to the prize money, the competition provided Akshaya Patra with high visibility globally. In the same year, Akshaya Patra received a letter from Barack Obama congratulating them, ‘… for the incredible progress you've made in feeding the children of India. Your use of efficient and innovative business practices to scale up in just a few years from feeding 1500 school children daily to almost a million is a powerful demonstration of what’s possible when people work together.’
The entire campaign was predominantly done through the Internet, so there were practically no direct costs. The only cost was in terms of time and effort of the Internet marketing team, who aggressively campaigned through various channels on the Internet.
By June 2009, Akshaya Patra had already achieved their 2010 objective of feeding a million children. The organisation’s next goal is to serve five million children daily by 2020.
They are also extending their network to care for the health of children. In addition to providing mid-day meals, Akshaya Patra, in partnerships with other charities, provides medical assistance in the form of de-worming and vitamin supplements. To curb malnutrition among new-born children, the Foundation also encourages pregnant and nursing mothers to eat the nutritious meals provided in schools.
They are working with the government and the other organisations to find solutions to the widespread hunger and malnutrition affecting 57 million children in India, as well as the debilitating effects of lack of schooling and resulting illiteracy.
Akshaya Patra’s ‘feeding one million children daily’ is an excellent example of a successful viral campaign. It is a simple message that appeals to young and old alike. They used their extensive international network to provide detailed and credible information about their work to convince people to vote for them.
Other relevant information:
More information about Akshaya Patra is available at: http://www.akshayapatra.org