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A Trip on Mumbai’s Magic Bus

After spending almost six months in India now, I felt until last week that I experienced all the culture shock one could have when moving to a new country. As my fellow Clinton Fellow, Ryan, and I arrived to our stop on the city trains, I saw people jumping onto the train before it came to a proper stop. Shoving and pushing each other and hanging outside the doors of the railway cars, I thought I had seen it all at that point. That is, until people avoided the overpasses, jumped down from the platforms, and crossed the tracks. I turned to Ryan and asked, “Are those people crazy? Wait, where did you go?” At that point, he was already half way across the tracks making his daily routine in the hustle and bustle of India’s largest city. I was no longer experiencing the slow pace of Ahmedabad life. I was about to experience a life in the day in the glorious, chaotic, and fascinating city ofMumbai.

When I first heard of Ryan’s work with Magic Bus, I was intrigued with the philosophy of the organization: teaching life lessons through sports. I wanted to see the work of this organization more closely, despite the fact that his work is focused on youth development while my work is primarily concerned with social enterprise. However, the energy, creativity, and success of the organization I feel can easily be applied to the field of vocational training, where the goal is to build skills and launch careers. One of the first people I was introduced to in the office, Myron, explained to me some of Magic Bus’s methods for developing leadership amongst youth in different parts of the city. For instance, Magic Bus brings youth on field trips to police stations to remove the perceived intimidating person of the police officers in the city. A client of Empower’s once told me that one of the most frustrating aspects of his job was the fact that he cannot approach his own employees because they find him so intimidating. If simply meeting someone and finding out that they are, well, human can develop leaders, then there is great potential for organizations in a variety of different fields to develop strong leadership.

Ryan and a fellow other Clinton Fellow, Sukanya, were nice enough to spend much of their time teaching me about the organization and why it has been so successful. For instance, Sukanya explained to me that one of the reasons Magic Bus has been able to impact so many children in the tens of thousands is because of the fact that children are encouraged to become community leaders in Magic Bus itself. Many of the Clinton Fellows working in social enterprise work with community “mobilization,” going out and recruiting in the various target communities. I can’t think of better people to hire than graduated students in a vocational training organization who will be familiar with the target communities and will help themselves grow in the company and their community through recruitment.

Coming into the exposure visit, I expected to be introduced to the model of the organization and learn from a visit to the field. However, the NGO environment of Magic Bus is far different from the corporate atmosphere at Empower. The office reminded me of the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, employees working in jeans and t-shirts, friendly socialization, and constant brainstorming sessions all while enjoying the day. Ryan told me that one great aspect of Magic Bus is the fact that the hierarchy is in place, but any member of the staff is approachable at any time. Is it any wonder why Magic Bus has such a unique vision while impacting so many?

The exposure visit was concluded with a visit to the field and was personally my favorite part of my time there. Children from a largely Tamil neighborhood in Mumbai came to a large field to play football. Ryan and I sat with the different teams, cheering them on while they were having a great time. Suddenly, a group came up to me and said “bhaiya, bhaiya! Sing us a song!” I looked over and saw Ryan snickering, realizing this was his work. After thinking about which songs had zero profanity and would be appropriate, I taught the children a local favorite in my hometown, “North toAlaska!” I have to say, I haven’t seen something so adorable in a long time.

I would like to thank AIF, Empower Pragati, and especially Magic Bus for such a wonderful experience. Although the visit was brief, I learned a great that I can apply to a completely different field for the rest of my fellowship.

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