Chef Vikas Khanna brings together India Inc., CEOs to cook for a good cause.
One seldom gets a chance to watch top head honchos of India Inc., cook for a good cause. And when you do get a chance to be a part of such an event then you can consider yourself lucky. I was lucky to be a part of one such event on Sunday-May 18, 2014 at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai.
Smile Foundation’s ‘Cook for a Smile’ with chef Vikas Khanna was one of the most interesting charity events I have come across in a long time. Most often the charity events are bollywood and fashion centric with celebrities hogging the limelight more than the people for whom the charity or fund raising event is being done. Here truly, the lesser privileged kids were the stars and some of them got the opportunity to showcase their culinary skills by partnering with the CEOs.
I have always come across this debate of corporate people not doing enough for the lesser privileged or not supporting NGOs working towards good causes. The question is always how much is enough? But, the Sunday afternoon’s event reminded me that busy and well to do people occupying powerful positions in big businesses are also human beings who care as much about society as the rest of us.
Smile Foundation’s ‘Cook for a Smile’ event proved that, for one Sunday morning at least, big business and charity can come together to make some extra ordinary gestures. And who other than Vikas Khanna, the brand ambassador of Smile Foundation and who also runs his own foundation that is working towards the cause of World Hunger could have thought of an interesting idea like this. An extremely down to earth human being who is always smiling, Khanna, follows in the path of John D Rockefeller’s words who said “With every success comes big responsibility”. He says if one has achieved a successful position in life then one should try to make small contributions towards the lesser privileged in any which way they can.
And that’s precisely what the Sunday afternoon even did. It brought together 12 head honchos from India, to prepare their favourite recipe with the sole mission of supporting Smile Foundation’s ‘Nutrition for Better Literacy’. Each of these CEOs was joined by a junior master chef from Smile Foundation who acted as sous-chefs. The CEOs who participated proved that they do have culinary skills apart from their exemplary boardroom skills.
It’s sad that while on one hand Indian cuisine is going global on the other hand malnutrition in India is at its peak. 3 out of 10 children in India have stunted growth. Therefore, Khanna is working towards providing nutrition to 5000 children this year. He says it’s a small beginning for a cause that is so close to his heart.
Off late the Indian economy is going through tough times and being philanthropic at such times is a tough call to take. But, this caricature makes the decision of so many of these leading men and women of large corporations to take time out on a Sunday afternoon and cook food for those lesser privileged and raise funds is awe inspiring.
Among the CEOs who participated in this charity event was Vishal Gondal of GOQii Inc., who cooked ‘Ethyopian Spicy Chicken’ served with steamed rice along with his partner junior chef Shivam. Known to always take risks this time around too cooking Ethyopian Style Chicken was a big risk and secondly, it was something that aligns with Vishal’s idea of Karma or doing good. Vishal through GOQii has been supporting various causes of OXFAM.
Vishal or for that matter none of the CEOs has ever cooked in front of such large audiences. For most it’s an interest which has never been pursued. Both Vishal and his partner Shivam really enjoyed their cooking and won the runner up prize for their efforts. All the head honchos be it the young Arjun Bafna, MD of Seven Islands Harley-Davidson, Archana Kochhar, Founder and CEO of Archana Couture, Mohit Jain, regional director of Kitchen Aid, Arun Chatterje, VP-Depository Receipts BNY Mellon India to name a few, their goals were the same to make a difference in every which way that they can and this event was only a small gesture from their side to do good. They believe that they have achieved and reached the positions that they are in today, its only thanks to the people around them, their employees, society and they feel that if being in responsible positions they are able to help the lesser privileged then there cannot be anything better.
Most CEOs are understood to be associated with some cause either through their own organisations CSR activities or at a personal level. Like for instance Archana Kochhar is associated with Beti Foundation that work towards stopping Girl Child Foeticide, Smile Foundation and Project Crayons. Similarly, Arjun Bafna through the Bafna Group and Tata Motors support girl child education.
For Smile Foundation, this idea of Cook for a Smile was a unique idea. According to Vikram Singh Verma, COO of Smile Foundation, “One in every three malnourished children in the world is from India. The consequences are long term and it prevents children’s overall growth, learning ability, going to school and a chance to come out of the vicious cycle of poverty for yet another generation. This also prevents the country’s growth”. Given this back drop and to bring about some real and permanent change in the lives of the most deserving children across India, this event was conceptualised and brought together like minded individuals like Vikas Khanna long with the Hyatt team and corporate leaders for the ‘Cook for a Smile’ initiative.
Each of the 12 CEOs has contributed a decent sum towards this cause to Smile Foundation. Kitchen Aid also auctioned one of their products-Stand Mixer autographed by Chef Vikas Khanna. The Stand Mixer auction helped Kitchen Aid one of the sponsors of the event raise Rs 46,000 for Smile Foundation.
I think initiatives such as ‘CEO Cook for a Smile’ put the spotlight on the issue of malnutrition in this country whilst also raising money for this cause and providing as many as 5000 children education and nutrition for a year. Perhaps more importantly, though, the sight of wealthy business people and children working together for a good cause as an inspirational reminder of what can be achieved when all members of society contribute to achieve a common good.
Who better than successful business people can be better motivators as they themselves are motivated by compassion as any of us are. But big business – just like the government, charities, and ourselves as individuals – can and should do more to support causes such as this and push to eliminate malnutrition in this country. This kind of an effort will go a long way to help many children lead a decent life .