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SEI25 Series: Shridhar Venkat, CEO, Akshaya Patra

By: Shridhar Venkat 02 May 2019

This post is part of our Social Enterprise Initiative 25th anniversary blog series, which highlights some of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni who have been a part of SEI throughout the years. Shridhar Venkat is the CEO of Akshaya Patra, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating classroom hunger in India. Shridhar participated in the HBS Executive Education Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management (SPNM) program. In this post, he describes how he and his organization are pursuing social change.

How would you describe the social impact you seek to have in the world? Empowering children we serve and their communities, and to create and sustain a milieu that best serves the interests of children—that is the social impact we seek to have in the world. I would like to see a world where every child has access to good health and education—a world where every child is happy.

How is the organization in which you’re involved pursuing social change? Balanced nutrition and basic education are important for children to live, grow, learn, and develop to their full potential. Through its school lunch program, Akshaya Patra has constantly endeavored to tackle the issue of classroom hunger and bring more children to schools. The Foundation began its service by providing freshly cooked wholesome meals to 1,500 children across five schools in one city, in the year 2000. Today, it serves hot, nutritious, safe, and tasty meals to 1.76 million school children in 15,024 Government schools across 12 states of India. 

Akshaya Patra is seeking to enhance the lives of children and the communities that they come from. The organization is able to do this because of its expertise in nutrition, food safety and hygiene, technology, and innovation. By ensuring that all children have access to nutritious food and education, Akshaya Patra can help them and their communities realize their maximum potential, thus expanding equality and opportunity for all. Promoting healthy child development is an investment in a country’s future workforce and capacity to thrive as a society, and Akshaya Patra is contributing towards this social change. 

What does social enterprise mean to you? I believe that a social enterprise should have the heart of a not-for-profit and the mind of a corporation. An enterprise that is pursuing social change must be a focused organization—with a vision of creating sustainable and transformative impact. A social enterprise should strive to use technological innovation to bring about change with scale. We began our work as a social enterprise in the year 2000 by serving 1,500 children in one city. We have continuously integrated technological innovations in our state-of-the-art kitchens, and today we serve over 1.76 million children across the country.

What is one "aha" moment you've had related to social enterprise? In a recent alumni meeting of our beneficiaries, all of whom Akshaya Patra has fed wholesome meals during their education in Government schools, one beneficiary mentioned that he would like to support 100 deserving children who are in need—this was my “Aha!” moment. It is in moments like this that we are reassured of the power of one hot meal in a child’s life. We hope that more such beneficiaries go on to become conscientious citizens in the future who support others in need.