Akshaya Patra Foundation, which runs the world's largest not-for-profit school meal programme, intends to feed 3 million children by 2025, up from 2 million currently. The foundation which currently operates through a public-private partnership model, serves meals in 24,000 schools across the country. "India has 110 million children studying in Government schools, 92% are catered by the Government through its decentrali3ed kitchen system, while 8% are covered by not-for-profits like Akshaya Patra and out of the 8%, we are close to 2%," explains Shridhar Venkat, CEO, Akshaya Patra.

The foundation, says Venkat, has recently embarked upon a partnership model with corporate India. The idea is to make the model cost-efficient in order to reach out to more children with hot and nutritious food. It has partnered with Delhivery and Amazon for logistics, warehouse management and last mile delivery. "Logistics is 20% of our overall costs. I am trying to solve for sustainability, not for growth. If I save 1 Paise on the cost of one meal, it is food for 4,000 children for one full year without raising any additional funds," he explains. Similarly, the foundation has partnered with Infosys Springboard, the learning platform of Infosys for learning and development of its workforce, with chef Sanjeev Kapoor and Sadanand Maiya of MTR fame as nutrition and taste advisors.

The foundation is also looking at long-term associations for running its kitchen. As per the public private partnership model, the Government gives Akshaya Patra a ₹7 subsidy for each meal, even as the cost of each meal served is in the region ₹14-18. While the foundation manages to get corporate funding to set up kitchens (setting up a kitchen costs anywhere between ₹20 crore to ₹60 crore), it has to take care of the cost of feeding the children, which leads to stress from a working capital management perspective.

The foundation in the last few years has been nudging funders to also take care of the meals for at least three years. "Now, we are looking at renewing our pitch to our supporters to support us for 10-12 years. If somebody comes and asks me to set up a kitchen in Indore, I will say, can you support me for 10 years," Venkat explains. It has also partnered with companies such as Salesforce which helps with fund-raising on its platform. Though corporate funding is Akshaya Patra's main source of revenue, it has been looking at getting individual donors who could pay as low as ₹1,500 for a meal programme.

Though Akshaya Patra specialises in centralised kitchens, it has recently started evaluating a decentralised model (where kitchens are owned by third parties but operated by the foundation) in places such as Barmer in Rajasthan and Nayagarh in Odisha in order to be able to reach more children. To make the food more nutritious, it is experimenting with millet recipes. It has also set-up its first all-woman kitchen in Valsad, Gujarat. Venkat says that the idea is to bring in more diversity in the Akshaya Patra kitchens.

Does Akshaya Patra Foundation intend to look beyond mid-day meals? Venkat says that though the foundation is open to supporting other causes, it is important to focus on one and solve for it. Even mid-day meals he says has a long way to go. "There is a need to stay focused rather than doing 100 things. Someone offered to give ₹150 crore to build toilets? I could have easily said yes to it, but I said we want to stay focused on delivering hot, nutritious meals to children."

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