How a campaign is following startup model to feed millions during lockdown

Topics Startup | Coronavirus | Lockdown

KVN Foundation plans to continue serving free meals for at least a fortnight after the end of the lockdown. Photos courtesy: KVN Foundation/FeedMyCity
Reports suggest that civil society has outperformed the state in helping to feed India’s poorest during the ongoing lockdown. Social media are full of inspirational stories of individuals and NGOs who are ensuring nobody goes hungry. Among them, one stands out for its extraordinary growth story: KVN Foundation.

 
Like so many others, K Ganesh, Juggy Marwaha and Venkat K Narayana of Bangalore-based KVN Foundation started by dishing out a modest 500 free meals on March 28 in the FeedMyBangalore campaign. Eighteen days later, they were serving one million meals a day. On May 7, the Foundation had served a total of 3.6 million meals across five cities. Here’s their story.

“When the lockdown was announced, we realised that the most impacted would be daily wagers and the homeless,” says Ganesh, a serial entrepreneur who’s promoted startups like BigBasket, Portea Medical, HouseJoy, FreshMenu and HungerBox. Ganesh, Marwaha and Narayana decided to provide hot meals to such people, as well as to frontline workers — police, healthcare and transport workers, to name some. “Neither of us had any experience of the social sector but with the kind of experience we had, we decided to run this campaign like a startup,” he says. “So we thought, how can we create a minimum viable product and replicate it?”

The cofounders devised strategies for four pillars critical to their model. Foremost among these was the cooking of over 100,000 hygienic and nutritious meals a day while ensuring social distancing. Second, these had to be distributed, no mean task in the lockdown. Third, their distribution points in each city had to find ways to maintain social distancing while food was distributed. And last, at Rs 30 per meal and with a target of over 100,000 meals a day, they needed funds. And fast.

The first task had an easy solution. Pre-Covid-19, Ganesh had promoted the startup Hunger Box, which has ISO-certified institutional kitchens that provide B2B catering in 16 cities. “These kitchens became our hubs,” he says. “For distribution, we tied up with local NGOs with an established field presence. Also, prominent personalities helped us by mobilising a substantial number of volunteers.”

Their food distribution efforts have been greatly aided by the government, especially the police and district administration. As for funds, the three intrepid co-founders managed to rope in companies like Parle Agro and Paytm to name some; agencies like Muthoot and HCL Foundation among others; high net worth individuals as well as individual donors. “Parle gave us Frooti packs to distribute to children, McDonalds contributed veggie burgers, while BigBasket has been raising funds for us through its app,” he says.

The minimal viable product, as Ganesh calls it, was ready. With this in place, KVN Foundation launched four more campaigns – FeedMyHyderabad, FeedMyMumbai, FeedMyNoida and FeedMyChennai. It was hard work. “For the first time, I found myself working on WhatsApp with 30 people I’d never met before,” laughs Ganesh. “Managing our corporate kitchens in five cities, maintaining social distancing while distribution and managing our growing army of ‘Food Soldiers’ (volunteers) has been quite challenging.”

Many of their distribution centres, especially in Mumbai and Noida, were later declared containment zones. “In such cases, our volunteers would take the food supplies to the police pickets from where people inside the containment zones could collect them,” says he. Also, the food served is prepared at dawn in the HungerBox kitchens and needs to stay fresh till late afternoon. The menus also need to appeal to diverse ethnic tastes. “HungerBox’s nutritionists have been working on these aspects,” he says. 

KVN Foundation plans to continue serving free meals for at least a fortnight after the end of the lockdown. For these entrepreneurs-turned-relief workers, Covid-19 has proved transformational. “This once-in-a-century crisis has been so tragic for so many,” says Ganesh. “But it has made me have faith in humanity, faith in the fact that ordinary people will do what they can to ensure people in their communities don’t go hungry.”

To learn more or contribute,visit kvnfoundation.com

 


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