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'Childhood to Livelihood'

Wednesday, October 31, 2018
By Tanishka Sodhi

Founder of Magic Bus, Matthew Spacie, talks about his program that aims to bring children out of poverty by educating them, and what inspired him to start this initiative

Matthew Spacie, founder and Global Chairman of Magic Bus, works with more than 375,000 children and the young people in 77 districts of India, with the aim of providing them education, developing their skills and ultimately leading to eradicating poverty from their lives. He talks about his successful venture, Magic Bus, through which 79% of the young people trained under the program have got jobs with an average income of Rs. 8564.

What inspired you to start this venture?
I was at the Bombay Gymkhana playing rugby when I saw a group of youth standing at the periphery, watching the game in progress. These youths lived on Fashion Street, a popular destination in the heart of the city of Mumbai, and worked at the Gymkhana, parking cars and doing odd jobs. I invited them over for a game of rugby. As the young children crossed the threshold of the ground and participated in the game over several weeks, I noticed something different in them – the ability to come together and work as a team. I decided to help them to come up in life.

Soon, it was this power of sports that played out in front of me. The experience left me with the idea of harnessing this power to enable these young people to get jobs and move out of poverty. So I placed them in jobs with the help of my friends and network. Imagine my disappointment when almost all the young people dropped out of their new jobs within a few weeks!

It is this that prompted me to think more about what is needed to prepare young people for employment. Through conversations with more young people and experts from the development sector, I committed myself to developing a longer term programme that builds core life skills from a younger age, that are honed later into employability, basic skills like communication, teamwork and problem solving. Coincidentally, all these skills are imminently amenable to an approach that uses sport as its basis.

Magic Bus was founded in 1999. In time it went from working with 30 children in a Mumbai slum to working with 3000 across Mumbai and by 2018 nearly one million children and adolescents had built their life skills with the organization. By 2015, a separate Livelihood vertical was formed and since then 15,000 young people have received training in Employability skilling, been taken on Exposure Visits to various work places and been enabled to transition into stable and salaried employment. The starting wage on average across the country is Rs 8500 per month. All this was premised on a single A-ha moment – that play and Sport can bring out the best in young people and make them confident and resilient citizens. It is this that enables the Childhood to Livelihood journey.

How do you enable the kids to get educated?
Magic Bus aims to motivate the children living in poverty towards regular school attendance, skill development, Adolescent Education Programme and Youth Livelihoods Programme. We believe that encouraging regular school attendance is one of the most powerful ways we can prepare a child for success—both in school and in life. The goal of the Magic Bus’ Education programme is to enable the first generation adolescent learners from underprivileged households to complete their formal education with a high level of life skills. This ensures that these young people have a high probability of completing graduation or vocational skilling and thereon moving into sustainable employment, thus moving themselves and their family out of poverty. Magic Bus provides an activity-based curriculum to impact individual behavior around education, gender equity, and life skills, along with a learning enhancement programme module for adolescents from the fifth grade to the eighth.

Is the quality of the education granted to these kids what it should be?
Yes, we provide quality education that provides:

  • Work readiness module for adolescents in grades ninth and tenth
  • Community Connect – involving and mobilizing parents in School Management Committees (SMCs)
  • Activity-based learning input during youth’s journey into work or education to engage, challenge and inspire individuals through experiential learning

In Mumbai, 166 young people have received employability skill training in the livelihood programme in FY17-18, in the two Livelihood Centers: Dharavi and Juinagar. Young people that have graduated from the Livelihood programme in Mumbai have been placed with top employers like Marks & Spencer, HGS, ICICI Prudential, Decathlon, Burger King, D Mart, Café Coffee Day and SBI Cards.

In Maharashtra, we have partnered with the Government through its Village Social Transformation Foundation (VSTF) to work with 1000 underdeveloped villages in rural Maharashtra. The initiative will focus on enabling secondary education for 1 lakh adolescents in the age group of 12-18 years from undeserved backgrounds and placement in work for 15000 youth by June 2019. The initiative will see School and Community based interventions on core life skills, learning enhancement and work readiness for grades VI to X.  The project will also focus on mobilizing community stakeholders to take ownership for the quality of schooling in the area through activating and strengthening of School Management Committees. Youth on the programme will undergo employability skills training and by 2019, 15000 youth will be placed in work in Maharashtra.

What , according to you, is the biggest problem faced in our education system? How can we work towards solving it?
Activity based learning and skill development education should be given more importance.

Briefly explain the skill training and sports activity sessions conducted in Mumbai
Adolescent Education Programme: The goal of the Magic Bus’ Education programme is to enable the first generation adolescent learners from underprivileged households to complete their formal education with a high level of life skills. This will ensure that these young people have a high probability of completing graduation or vocational skilling and thereon moving into sustainable employment, thus moving themselves and their family out of poverty.

Outcome: Improved Life skills, Improved perceived self-efficacy, improved resilience, improved aspirations (education, livelihood), improved parental support for adolescent aspirations (particularly for education and livelihood), improved school enrollment, improved retention and grade progression (preventing drop-outs between grades) and improved regularity in school (attendance)

Youth Livelihood Programme: Magic Bus’ youth-centered Livelihoods Programme connects the aspirations and potential of young people to available market opportunities. We build their employability skills and map job potential based on individual strengths and mobility. Magic Bus Livelihoods programme meets youth’s diverse leadership, employment and training needs and fills critical gaps in the current value chain. We attempt to ensure young people from marginalized communities have the employability skills and knowledge that prepares them for the world of work.

What future plans do you have for the company?
To reach out to maximum children living in poverty and to educate them so that they can get a respectable job. We have received tremendous support from celebrities and top brands in this year’s Benefit Dinner on October 26 that will help 20000 poor children.

Blurb:  "I committed myself to developing a longer term programme that builds core life skills from a younger age, that are honed later into employability."

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