STONEHAM, Mass. — Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, founder of Cascade Communications Co. and co-founder of Sycamore Networks Inc., is known for making lots of money. He’s also known for giving a lot of it away. Now, Deshpande will give away something possibly just as valuable, his time and insight, to an Indian charity. Deshpande was named board chairman last week of the Akshaya Patra Foundation’s U.S. branch.
The Bangalore-based organization provides over 800,000 lunches a day to poor school children in India.
“I'm very excited about Akshaya Patra because you can really see the impact. You're not talking about feeding one or two or a hundred kids. You're talking about feeding a million kids every day,” said Deshpande, who made headlines when he sold Cascade in 1997 for $3.7 billion and for later giving MIT’s School of Engineering $20 million to establish a center in his name.
He said the large-scale impact of the charity attracted him to join the organization’s board. “It's nice when you can build programs to such a scale and have such a big impact. I can see how [in] 15 or 20 years, you could actually change a whole generation of young people,” he said.
Akshaya Patra began feeding 1,500 children in Bangalore in 2000 and has since increased its school lunch program to serve upward of 830,000 children every day, according to its promotional literature. The cost to provide the free lunches is about $28 per child per year. To help feed the students, the organization runs 14 high technology kitchens, most of which have the capacity to provide more than 100,000 meals a day.
Akshaya Patra’s U.S. operations, run by an independent nonprofit organization, began in 2006 to raise money and awareness for the organization in India that is funded by private donations and by government subsidies. The foundation’s U.S. offices are housed at the Deshpande Foundation in Stoneham, Mass.
Madhu Sridhar, president of the U.S. branch of Akshaya Patra, said she is excited about
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Gururaj ‘Desh’ Deshpande has become chairman of the board of the U.S. branch of the Akshaya Patra Foundationa.
The foundation, which is based in Bangalore, provides over 800,000 lunches a day to poor school children in India.
Deshpande made his name as founder of Cascade Communications, which was sold for $3.7 billion in 1997. He also co-founded Sycamore Networks.
Akshaya Patra is hoping Deshpande will help the organization reach its 2008 fundraising goal of $4 million.
Quote: “I’m very excited about Akshaya Patra because you can really see the impact. You’re not talking about feeding one or two or a hundred kids. You’re talking about feeding a million kids every day,” Deshpande said.
Deshpande’s new leadership role, and said he will be able to help the organization meet its 2008 fundraising goal of $4 million.
"I'm confident that with Desh's leadership, and with community support, we can do it," said Sridhar, noting Deshpande’s “passion” and “character.”
Deshpande said he envisions this kind of large-distribution nonprofit service in India’s future. “This is part of a bigger effort that I see happening in India,” he said. “It's exciting that in the nonprofit sector, India is able to solve some of these problems at a price point that nobody has ever seen, and really scale them in a very massive way and very quickly and become a real role model for the rest of the world. “
He named the Tata Nano car as an example of India’s ability to provide a quality product at a significantly cheaper price and on a large production scale. “I think that in the next five to 10 years, the best export from India will be a lot of these programs. There's no reason why these programs can't export to Africa or South America or anywhere else.”
Deshpande said the same passion that has led to his success as an entrepreneur attracted him to Akshaya Patra’s board.
“When you're an entrepreneur, you're really trying to figure out ways that you can have an impact. That's what you do when you start a business and hire hundreds of people and so on,” he said. “The philosophy is all about getting the biggest bang for you buck, for both the time and the money that you put into the effort – and I'm very excited about Akshaya Patra because you can really see the impact.”
“The team here is more entrepreneurial than any of my for-profit entrepreneurial companies. Entrepreneurship is all about having the strong conviction, working with very limited resources and taking them to a job that most people think is not do-able,” he added. “If somebody says, ‘Hey, I'm going to feed a million kids, everyday,’ people will laugh you out of the room and never believe you.”