The following answer is transcribed from CEO Charity’s Podcast host Divya O Connor who recently interviewed Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, CEO (Akshaya Patra – Europe)
Meaning of Akshaya Patra
Akshaya Patra literally is Sanskrit for a ‘pot of food that never runs out.’ Akshaya literally means ‘Limitless’ and Patra is the root of the word ‘Pot’. So it is a pot of food that is limitless and the name is derived from mythology, etc.
How did it start?
Essentially, the organisation was set up, I think, and I’d like to believe largely on a whim. In other words, people who are behind Akshaya Patra, who were really the anchors and the pillars of Akshaya Patra were people who were constantly questioning the state of affairs that the world presented and clearly one of the biggest challenges was why do we have this amazing paradox – On one hand, our global economy galloping away and yet we still struggle with poverty malnutrition, children not going to school, etc.
So, the organization was set up to try and figure out a way in which we could empower education because it is an area, that all of us, should really invest behind. But, how would we empower education in a way that education delivers this, on the promises of education?
What role did ‘Education’ play in the genesis of Akshaya Patra?
So what if education wasn’t just about people getting degrees or enrolment numbers or classroom attendance. What if education was truly seen to be that force for good that dramatically changed countries, nations, economies, and people, at an individual level as well.
So Akshaya Patra was set up to try and ensure that a large number of children actually went to school. But as they went into school they also received education in the finest possible manner. And, as we were going about looking at this we realized that ‘Powered Education’ was not education.
In other words, if you were to put the best technology in classrooms, ergonomic furniture, paint all of our wonderful walls orange, and train our teachers, and improve curriculum, and do all of the things that good education institutes must do then, the best-funded schools produce the happiest, healthiest children. And, that clearly wasn’t the case.
The role of ‘Nutrition’ in solving for hunger.
We found that what truly powered education was ‘Nutrition’ which was an often ignored area. Unless and until the body that served right, it’s very hard for the mind to function well. Therefore, combining the very very strong tenets of Ayurveda, which is an ancient Indian system of looking at food as a way of life as opposed to purely organoleptic or sensorial exchanges between the environment and the body.
So if that was what powered the body, what would fuel the mind, that sort of concept Akshaya Patra was set up to provide a fantastic plate of food, in the classroom that allowed children to study better and eventually truly get educated.
As we started doing this, we also realised that this was not going to be successful if it was a. piecemeal b. at a small scale. We had to look at ways in which we could solve this issue of hunger, malnutrition, poor education, this whole conundrum, with speed and at scale, and subsequently, we introduced a whole range of science in the way we did this. Science, engineering, which did not dilute the philosophy but really allowed the organisation to gallop away so that’s truly the genesis of Akshaya Patra.
You can listen to the full podcast below.