ARJUN SAWHNEY

I’m a 18 year old studying at the University of California, San Diego. I’m passionate about Computer Science, design, sketching, and building FeedOn, my social venture

Building a Grassroots Movement: FeedOn

        India is a country with enormous social and economic disparity. For some of us, an integral part of our childhood was eating delicious Indian food, sinful sugary desserts, and savoury snacks with family and friends. However, the same is not true for the countless children who live in slums and by traffic lights. India is home to the largest undernourished population in the world: 200 million go hungry everyday, 2.5 million die annually, and 1/4th of all children suffer from malnutrition. Regular meals should be a constant for everyone, but we feel at a loss when it comes to making this a reality.

        Shortly after 10th grade, my classmate and I launched FeedOn to fight hunger in India. FeedOn distributes fresh food it collects from its restaurant partners to the underprivileged. Our first service of a 150 meals was at the Earth Saviour’s Foundation in Gurgaon, where we handed out meals sponsored by InnerChef, a foodtech company I interned with. I would like to say the service went smoothly, but honestly, the experience was overwhelming. Though we had enough meals, people surrounded us as we struggled to distribute sandwiches and cutlery. Many took meals from cartons behind our back, while others came back for seconds claiming they had not received a meal. Despite the chaos, our spirits were lifted as we watched people enjoy theirs meals. Several thanked us for our effort.

        FeedOn is a grassroots movement. Since our first service, we have served over 13,000 meals through our network of 26 restaurant partners, 8 NGOs, and 100 student volunteers in 6 cities. Services are now more organized and we are even getting better at maintaining orderly queues! FeedOn has taught me that everyone in the community wants to help, but they need accessible avenues to get involved. FeedOn's volunteers are its driving force, most of whom learned about the organisation through our own network of school friends. Volunteers onboard restaurants, identify local slums in need of assistance, and manage social media. We also organise events to involve the local community - 600 runners participated in FeedOn and TEDxGurugram’s charity marathon. We recently piloted the “Daily Meal, Daily Impact” program to fill the void left by the government’s withdrawal of the mid-day meal scheme from NGO schools. These efforts have received coverage in The Times of India and have allowed us to partner with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to take our campaign to the national scale.

        In addition to involving the community, technology has played a big part in making FeedOn's growth manageable. Ever since I first hacked together a simple website for FeedOn that pretty much just displayed the number of meals we had served and photographs from services, our tech stack has evolved to include databases for current volunteers and the services they have attended, restaurants and the meals they have sponsored on a month-to-month basis, as well as sign up forms for new volunteers, restaurants and NGOs. We have recently been working on a FeedOn widget that enables customers to donate denominations of Rs. 5, 10, 50, and 100 for every order they place on various e-commerce platforms. We plan to run a pilot on InnerChef’s website and mobile apps in the coming months.

        As the co-founder of FeedOn, I have learned that the ability to adapt and innovate on projects over time is crucial. Therefore, I guide the FeedOn team to build new distribution channels and technology to achieve bigger milestones. Persistence and resourceful thinking allow us to now serve communities in their hour of need. For instance, when a fire burned down a Gurgaon slum earlier this year, FeedOn organized 500 meals in under an hour through its restaurant network. Hunger is limitless, but I believe so are the avenues to tackle it.

        Being a part of FeedOn has been eye opening. My favorite part has been getting to know the people, especially the children, we serve meals to. Whether it is 12 year old Vinay in sector 56, 10 year old Priya and Neha at Sanshil Foundation, or 8 year old Rahul at Mera Parivar, I now have countless little friends who eagerly narrate their adventures to me, show me new Bollywood dance steps they’ve learned, and give me high-fives. Every now and then, they also let me know (albeit shyly) that they would prefer burgers, pizzas and coke over daal, roti, sabzi, and chawal. They are spirited despite the impoverished conditions they live in.