How ‘Desh’ Deshpande Is Helping Indian NGOs Scale Up
Friday, January 2, 2015
In 1996, when venture capitalist and entrepreneur Gururaj Deshpande started his first innovation centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, he was clear about two things. First, his philanthropic activities would not involve merely funding grants. Second, he would approach his giving in much the same way as he approached his life as an entrepreneur. “An idea does not have an impact unless it is directed at some burning problem in the world,” the 64-year-old tech billionaire tells Forbes India during a phone conversation from Boston.
Deshpande applies this core tenet to every project he works on, including Akshaya Patra, a non-profit organisation that is very close to his heart. He is the chairman of the US chapter of the NGO, which provides free lunch to more than a million schoolchildren across India. The scale of its operation at Hubli, Karnataka, is impressive.
At 6.30 am, the town’s largest industrial kitchen was busy preparing mid-day meals for 1.75 lakh schoolchildren in 800 government schools across the districts of Hubli and Dharwad. The building, spread over a three-acre campus, is fitted out with industrial-sized tumblers to prepare rice and sambar. It’s also equipped with its own heating plant to provide fuel needed for cooking. That’s 14,000 kilos of rice, 12,000 litres of sambar and 5,500 litres of milk every day. By 7.30 am, trucks are loaded with food.
Feeding 1.75 lakh children costs about Rs 15 lakh a day, and while the government helps with rice supplies from the Food Corporation of India, the programme relies on donors to fund the bulk of its operations.