Ankit Kawatra has helped to feed over 1 million people in India so far (Photo Courtesy Feeding India).
For a lot of people in India, Word Food Day (October 16) is celebrated by volunteering, either filling up a bag of non-perishable food items for a food drive, or sending donations to charities. If you haven’t, you certainly know someone who has.
Then there are those who go above and beyond 365 days a year. Twenty-four-year old Ankit Kawatra is one of them. He has helped to feed over 1 million people in India so far.
Two years ago, Kawatra, a management graduate, wanted to make it big in the corporate world. But had a change of heart.
“I went to a celebrity wedding in Delhi where more than 35 different kinds of dishes were laid out for guests. As I was curious to see what they did with the uneaten food, I decided to stay back,” says Kawatra. “To my shock, I saw a lot of food was thrown in the trash, which could have fed 10,000 people that night,”
That experience, he says, “troubled his mind for weeks.” At 22, it wasn’t an easy decision for Kawatra to quit his job at a business advisory firm and start a not-for-profit organization to tackle hunger and food waste. “My friends and colleagues told me my plan was silly and might mean an end to my career. But I’d rather spend my energy and skills on solving a social problem than follow the path that everyone expected of me,” he says.
Kawatra launched Feeding India in late 2104 after he partnered with a few caterers in Delhi and convinced five people to volunteer for donating excess food from weddings and restaurants to orphans and impoverished people in Delhi.
Today, Feeding India has a network of 2,200 volunteers across 32 cities in India. The companies and event planners with whom Feeding India collaborate inform volunteers through a mobile app about where they are located. The volunteers collect the surplus food and distribute it where it’s needed most.
“One of our focus areas is providing nutritious food to children in low-income schools to help them lead healthier lives and put their hearts into education,” says Kawatra.
Kawatra’s work towards solving hunger resonates in a country that is home to the highest number of hungry people in the world, 94 million, according to a UN hunger report.
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This week, India has been placed at the bottom of the rankings in the Global Hunger Index report released by U.S.-based International Food Policy Research Institute. In the 2016 rankings of 118 countries, India is ranked 97th.
In September, Kawatra was selected as one of 17 young global leaders by the UN to end global hunger, poverty and inequality by 2030. Motivated by his experience at the international organization, Kawatra says, “I am honored that my work towards eliminating hunger has been viewed as innovative and useful. My learnings at the UN will help me to mobilize the country’s youth better to solve the hunger problem and food waste.”
Food waste is an alarming issue in India, one with statistics that will make you think twice about what you throw out. According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40% of the food produced in India is wasted. All this waste is costing the country $10 billion annually, according to India’s Ministry of Agriculture.
In the past two years, Kawatra has undertaken several projects to spread awareness about food waste in the country. “We have encouraged chefs, TV stars, food bloggers and restaurateurs to join us in our fight against hunger and food waste. And they have done their part through social media and our official website,” he says, adding that he’s currently running a charity drive, #BeAHungerHero, across India for World Food Day. He aims to feed a million more people during the 10-day charity drive, which runs until October 20.
But Kawatra says he needs help from businesses and individuals who can commit resources to make “hunger history”. “In the coming months, I want to start sustainable feeding programs for children in low-income schools. My aim is to feed 100 million people by 2020.”