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Discussion Room

Discussion Room

Social media and NGOs: Building a brand on a budget

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In the last several years social media has taken the world by storm. Not restricted to a particular age group or ethnicity, social media has succeeded in the allowing the world to connect in a way never seen before. Suddenly the world of communications has opened up surpassing geographical and technological barriers, and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to take advantage of it.

But social media is possibly most advantageous to the corporate sector as it allows businesses a platform to spread their message, gain visibility and increase recall value amongst a massive audience.

NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) especially rely on social media heavily to gather support for their cause. Usually constrained by small budgets NGOs cannot spend heavily on advertising to spread awareness of their message and inspire donors to invest in their brand.

Social media has several distinct advantages for NGOs:

  • NGOs use their free social media profiles as an additional platform to keep their audience up-to-date on the latest information regarding their organisation/cause, but in a more vivacious, interesting manner than their corporate website.
  • Aside from illustrations and status updates, NGOs have also wholeheartedly embraced the powerful audio-visual medium to create inspiring and hard-hitting messages, that social media gives them a platform to promote.
  • To non-profit organisations social media is a cost-effective yet the most extensive medium to promote news and updates, invite engagement, build an audience and petition for funding all in one place.
  • Instead of needing to restrict their awareness campaigns to only one platform due to budgetary concerns, NGOs can tailor make their campaigns to suit multiple social media platforms like Facebook vs Flickr, reaching out to a diverse audience, across different interests, geographical locations and age groups.

With so much riding on the need to differentiate themselves from their competition, having a great social media strategy is crucial to a NGOs’ success. Today social media is on an upswing, with the world just discovering the many different ways it can be used to transform a business, propagate an idea, and above all incite change. In fact, with the advantages social media offers, it looks to be a god-send for the NGO industry.

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Discussion Room

Who bears the brunt of food wastage in India?

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About 40 per cent of fresh fruit and vegetable produce in India spoils before it even reaches consumers. This produce has to pass hands, surviving several levels of negotiation, and travel long distances to finally make it to the retailers. After all this, despite the thousands of tonnes of food already lost before we even see it, food wastage in India is a huge problem.

In the modern, plentiful world of the average middle class family, excessive buying has become almost compulsive. What cannot be consumed can be discarded, after all what’s a little food wasted? Unfortunately, it’s millions of people with this thought that has brought India to the crisis point it’s at today.

But this indiscriminate food wastage directly takes away from someone else’s sustenance. In reality every third of the world’s malnourished children comes from India. Children stay poor, illiterate, weak and unhealthy because they have no access to the nutrition they need to thrive. With so much starvation all around the country, it’s time to take stock of the situation and take immediate steps to remedy it. And in order to solve the problem, we need to first understand it.

Food wastage can happen at various stages. Poor agricultural practices lead to pest infestation and loss of crop, while climatic fluctuations can damage the harvest as well. During packing and storage, India especially suffers significantly. In fact food worth Rs. 44,000 crore a year is wasted in India due to poor storage infrastructure. Once the remaining food produce reaches the market, huge quantities are wasted in the day-to-day lives of the affluent. Cultural customs and gatherings like weddings, meetings and business conferences dictate mammoth quantities of food, much of which is wasted.

While several of these factors are beyond the control of the common man, it is vital that we each do our bit to reduce food wastage in India. Some simple practices that can contribute to solving India’s food wastage problem are:

  • Maintain well-functioning food storage facilities in your home
  • Purchase and cook only as much as you need
  • Donate any excess food to those in need

These measures will ensure more food for young children in need. By making food more accessible to children they will grow healthier and have the opportunity to focus on their education. Let’s break their cycle of hunger and poverty by stopping food wastage. Together we can #EndClassroomHunger in India.

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Discussion Room

Breaking the cycle: Addressing malnutrition in India

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According to the World Bank, India ranks amongst the highest countries with children suffering from malnutrition. Despite a rapidly growing economy, the disparity between the poor and the middle-class family in India grows wider, with young children all over the country taking up manual labour and dubious forms of income to earn enough for their daily meal.

Malnutrition affects children in different ways. Physically it stunts their development, reduces the efficiency of their immune system, and increases their risk of long term ailments and infections. Cognitively malnutrition decreases the ability to concentrate, and causes impaired learning skills and memory capacity. Socially malnutrition can cause reduced language development and social skills. Economically poverty keeps children and their families tied in a cycle of malnutrition that can continue for generations. Parents cannot afford to send their children to school because they need to contribute to the daily income, while children in turn grow up to be uneducated, predominantly unemployed, and lacking regular access to healthy food. It is this link between hunger and education that has helped perpetuate poverty in India.

Classroom hunger is a very real thing in India. Children who long to be educated may never see the inside of a classroom because of hunger. They cannot afford to spend a day studying when their family’s welfare depends on them contributing to the income. They cannot concentrate or analyse information when their bellies are starved of food.

The mid-day meal programme proposed by the Government of India, and taken up by NGOs across the country aims to address this issue of classroom hunger. By forming a public-private partnership with organisations like The Akshaya Patra Foundation, children are provided the free, tasty and nutritious mid-day meal at Government, and Government aided schools.

These meals act as an incentive for parents to send their children to school by relieving them of an extra mouth to feed, while it combats malnutrition in children and provides them with access to education at the same time. A study of the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal programme has shown how effective this initiative is. By gaining regular access to sufficient food, the children benefitting from the programme have shown better concentration in class and academic progress, more classroom attendance and school enrolment, and lower school dropout rates.

Though malnutrition is an insidious ailment eating away at India’s socio-economic progress, initiatives like the mid-day meal programme provide a viable means to cure the cause and not just the symptoms. With the concerted efforts of the Government of India, corporates, donors and other well-wishers, India can one day achieve a hunger free society.

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Discussion RoomFood and Education

Interview with Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa

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Excerpts from an interview with Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa:, Chairman of World’s largest NGO run School Meal Program, Akshaya Patra.

Question: Why the name Askhaya Patra to the mid-day meal program?

Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa: The divine vessel ‘Akshaya Patra’ of Mahabharata symbolizes unlimited portions that can feed countless mouths. But this ‘vessel’ sought a few willing human hearts, minds and hands to feed ONE MILLION everyday.

Question: To whom all do you attribute this success of feeding one million everyday?

Question: Why the name Askhaya Patra to the mid-day meal program? Cooks, cleaners, drivers, guards, supervisors, managers, donors, government authorities, advisors, board members and missionaries were all inspired and activated to make this possible.

Question: What really motivated you to initiate and make this movement so successful?
Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa: When we began we had not the slightest idea of this scale. But someone was watching within all of us and noted our wanting to do more and more and willing to battle everyday to beat the hurdles. He kept opening new paths , kept fanning our spirits , pushed us bit by bit up the scale of feeding more and more children month after month and year after year .

As His grace fell on a million children, we were graced with great lessons too. That, big things can be done when what is to be done is greater than all of us and that God helps those who help themselves, especially to help others beyond themselves. He gave that extra direction, that extra support, that extra determination and fanned the spark of desire to feed a blazing ONE MILLION! He took us that extra distance we never conceived of when we started. And He rewarded our humble efforts by fulfilling our ever growing dream. Blessed are we who could experience this.

Question: How do you think this movement will bear an effect on the society?

Question: Why the name Askhaya Patra to the mid-day meal program? One thing is certain from this experience. Boundless compassion is waiting to explode into this world to lessen the suffering provided we involve more and more willing human hearts, minds and hands to deliver His blessings upon many more millions in the years to come. We are determined to seek out for more and more such willing people out in the world who do not know that many more millions mouths are waiting for the blessing to transform their lives. Their smiles will transform our lives too.

A pride that humbles us, yet spirits us to reach our next target of five million.

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Discussion Room

Educating The Girls – not a piecemeal measure

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Life can be challenging when you are a girl child in India. Previously bound by social custom, girl children in India were either not provided with education at all, forced to drop out of school and help at home or married young to ease the financial burden on the family. But today that picture is slowly and undeniably changing.

By adopting the vision that ‘no child in India shall be deprived of an education because of hunger,’ The Akshaya Patra Foundation effectively found a vehicle to bring the country’s daughters under the umbrella of government education.

With the help of the state government, the foundation ensures that every day, each student shall be served a hot, nutritious and freshly cooked mid-day meal, suddenly making getting an education an exciting prospect for both parents and their children.

educating-girlsYoung Rabeena who studies in D.K.Z.P, Modern Higher Primary School, Mangalore works hard at getting her education, studying a couple of hours every day. Her mother who studied only till the fifth grade is adamant that both her children will complete their education. Rabeena’s mother says, “The best part of the mid-day meal is that the menu has a variety of dishes and every day the children get something different to eat. The food is nutritious and is provided not only to the primary classes but also to the higher grades.”

For Sarita, a student of the Government High School, Makali, Bangalore North District, these mid-day meals have changed her life. Now a grade ten student, she has been a beneficiary of the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal programme since the first grade. She expresses her pleasure over the programme saying, “I have been a beneficiary of the Akshaya Patra meal since I was a little girl and still love to eat it every day. Like many of my friends and classmates, I too depend on this meal to get through the day.”

For students like Rabeena and Sarita who have their whole lives ahead of them, The Akshaya Patra mid-day meal programme has shone a beacon of hope on their future. The 2011 census, which indicated a 2001-2011 nationwide decadal literacy growth of 9.2 per cent shows us that we are getting there. In 2011, the literacy rates of age seven and above was 82.14 per cent for men and 65.46 per cent for women.

While progress may be slow, it is still heartening to know that at the end of it all, where there is a will, there is most certainly, a way.

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