BRIDGEWATER, NJ – The New Jersey Chapter of the Akshaya Patra Foundation USA raised $500,000 at their first annual charity benefit gala held on Saturday, October 28, at Martinsville Gardens, with Narayana Murthy, founder and chairman emeritus of Infosys Ltd., a star presence at the meet.
Other attendees at the gala included Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, founder and chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media, and his wife Dr. Sudha Parikh; Padma Shri H. R. Shah of TV Asia; Kiran Kothari; Dr. Anand Kulkarni; Dr. Rachana Kulkarni; Dr. Kusum Punjabi, who hosted the evening; Ankita Narula, the Director of Development on the East Coast for Akshaya Patra; and Emily Rosenbaum, the CEO of Akshaya Patra.
Murthy was joined by Akshaya Patra Board chairman of Akshaya Patra USA, Desh Deshpande, in a fireside chat along with Indian American mathematician Manjul Bhargava.
The chat was conducted by Deshpande who asked Murthy and Bhargava what would be the advantages and disadvantages of technology in the future.
“The future is big data and machine learning,” said Bhargava, who was agreeing to what Murthy had to say. “The big thing that everybody is talking about and some population has already made considerate stride, is in the area of big data, machine learning and automation,” he said.
“There are predictions that a lot of jobs, like truck driving, will all become autonomous. Any deterministic task can be executed by a machine and the good thing about these machines is that they don’t get tired, they don’t make mistakes and they listen to what you say,” he added.
Murthy mentioned that the industrial revolution in the United States took away 98 percent of jobs from the agriculture sector and that may happen again due to a the rapid advancement of technology.
“So the issue is, how do we ensure that we retrain all of these people to use better judgment to provide human touch, to bring the benefit of human feelings and human warmth to jobs that require people to feel even more attracted to populations,” he said.
“Every area of human endeavor is being taken over by an area of machine learning, machine learning is a way in which a computer does something over and over again, experiments, until it gets better and better,” Bhargava added. “Computers are going to take away all of the materialistic jobs but those jobs that require creativity, that require programming the computer to make it do what humans do, that is where the future is going to be.”
Deshpande has been an entrepreneur for the last 30 years and was appointed by former President Barack Obama as the co-chair to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He is currently the President and Chairman of Sparta Group LLC and the Chairman of Tejas Networks as well as the Chirman of Akshaya Patra USA since 2008.
“Sometimes you lose compassion as you try to keep up in the competitive world, you forget about the people, about the their environment, about everything else around you; non profits have that compassion, so if you use that execution excellence towards non profits, you can do amazing things,” Deshpande told the audience.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a non-profit organization which employs about 5,800 employees who use the organization’s model of combining good management with innovative technology and smart engineering to prepare and distribute one mid-day meal to 1,675,008 children every day, in 13,839 government schools throughout 12 states in India from 32 kitchen locations.
These meals are made fresh every day and are catered to the palette of the children depending upon the area they live in.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation believes that by providing one nutritious mid-day meal to less fortunate children, will give them the motivation to come to school every day, wanting to learn and eventually further their education.
In fact the program has increased school enrollment, especially for girls, and has increased school attendance as well as retention and has improved the performance and health of children.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation was formed in 2000 and began as a pilot program which fed 1,500 children every day in five schools, today it is the world’s largest non-profit school meal program and has 19 chapters in the United States.
The New Jersey chapter was founded by Drs. Rachana and Anand Kulkarni, both cardiologists in New Jersey.
Rachna got involved in Akshaya Patra because of her childhood friend, her maid’s daughter, who died at the age of 23 due to domestic abuse because she did not get the education she needed to fulfill her dream and thus could not support herself.
“She never got the education because her parents had to make a hard choice between food and education and Akshaya Patra’s mid-day meal program lets parents choose education,” she said.
“It is eye-opening to know that even today, millions of kids and their parents in India have to choose food over education and this lack of education can change the trajectory of their lives forever and they are unable to break the cycle of poverty that they are stuck in and as a parent we all know how difficult it is, it is such a tough choice for any parent to deny their kid an opportunity to better their lives. Akshaya Patra makes that choice easy for parents,” Rachana added.
Anand got involved because he said that his father had chosen education over food when he decided to go to the city to pursue further studies.
“My father left his ancestral village at the age of 12 to come to a bigger city for education. He had the intelligence, desire and ability to do hard work however; he had no money, not even for his daily meals and when he went to the school headmaster to seek admission, the headmaster wrote a letter and told him to circulate it among the staff members. The letter stated that ‘the young lad is seeking admission to the school’ but does not have money for meals so if anyone would like to help him out please do so and everybody volunteered,” he said.
“When I found out about the fabulous work that Akshaya Patra is doing, I knew that I have found the right medium to extend my helping hand and pass on the kindness shown to my father,” he added. “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger.”