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MATTHEW SPACIE

India,

A former national rugby player, Matthew Spacie is bringing recreational sports to children living in poor, urban neighborhoods in India. He is building their confidence and sense of community and teaching them to value teamwork and physical health. To support his work, he attracts volunteers and business sponsors and inspires reform in municipal funding for community sports.

This profile below was prepared when Matthew Spacie was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.

INTRODUCTION

A former national rugby player, Matthew Spacie is bringing recreational sports to children living in poor, urban neighborhoods in India. He is building their confidence and sense of community and teaching them to value teamwork and physical health. To support his work, he attracts volunteers and business sponsors and inspires reform in municipal funding for community sports.




THE NEW IDEA

Matthew sees that recreational sports can teach children teamwork, values, and an appreciation for physical health and for achievement through hard work. He is bringing sports to children who live in urban neighborhoods and slums, children who would otherwise have few opportunities for outdoor play and for interacting with peers and adults from outside their closed, often oppressive, sphere. Matthew is introducing his programs–sports training camps, leagues, field trips–through existing citizen-led organizations, including 15 Mumbai-based children's organizations. He is also fostering partnerships that both allow coordinated volunteer involvement in the programs and build long-term support from corporate and individual donors. Matthew is encouraging municipalities to adopt policy that improves urban parks and unused playgrounds. Through all his work Matthew is enabling a shift from thinking about recreational sports as a waste of time to understanding its significance in allowing children to develop skills, confidence, and a sense of community. His close work with corporate partners has resulted in the construction of recreation centers and camps near larger cities. While his work to date has been in Mumbai, Matthew expects to introduce his programs in other Indian cities soon.




THE PROBLEM

Organized recreational sport activities are, for the most part, unavailable to India's poor urban children. Municipal corporations have no funds for organized sports and outdoor activities, though they do own and maintain large sports grounds. These municipal corporations are territorial about their property for fear that if they relinquish land to an organization, it may be difficult to recover. Also, the corporations themselves have no resources to run programs for so many children.

Responding to the needs of poor children, a large number of citizen-led organizations have emerged to address issues ranging from children's rights to health and education. These organizations have their hands full identifying children in need and helping them survive; as a result, they have limited resources to meet the children's overwhelming demand for play. Recreational activities are often organized on an individual, informal basis–which does not offer the economies of scale that could extend these opportunities to more children.

In the slums and shantytowns of Mumbai and other large cities in India, growing numbers of children and adolescents risk falling into lives of crime, drug addiction, and violence. For many such children, organized sports and recreational activities can provide an outlet to express themselves, release pent-up energy, build confidence, and develop a strong sense of teamwork.




THE STRATEGY

Matthew is engaging a range of people and partners–teachers, athletic trainers, actors, professional athletes, environmentalists, and child psychologists–in an organized effort to bring recreational opportunities to children and young people from poor urban homes. The activities offered through Matthew's program, Magic Bus, allow participants to build individual and team skills through challenge, physical effort, and teamwork.

With the help of volunteers and corporate and government sponsors, Matthew runs a range of programs tailored to children of different ages and needs: camps and day trips for children ages 6 to 16, rugby for those 16-22, and a program for mentally challenged children. The curriculum supplements programs offered by the citizen organizations that form Matthew's client base. At present, Matthew's program works in collaboration with 15 well-established nonprofit partners in Mumbai that use Magic Bus programs to supplement their own programs. These partnerships allow Magic Bus an easy opportunity to monitor their programs. Ashoka Fellow Shaheen Mistri's organization Akanksha has registered a 40 percent growth in attendance over the last year at its centers that use Magic Bus activities as a reward. Each of the participating organizations are currently presenting selection criteria for children that involve monitoring each individual's performance quantitatively according to school attendance, academic achievement, and improved literacy, as well as qualitatively evaluating behavior, confidence, and communication. Magic Bus staff monitor the achievements of each incentive scheme.

Matthew sees that establishing partnerships with government, universities, and businesses is critical to gaining access to resources to support and staff Magic Bus. With the support of the Department of Sports, Maharashtra Government, and Topiwala Medical Grounds, Magic Bus now uses six sports grounds at premier locations around Mumbai. Matthew helped the government department draw up a sports policy document in which he offered his programs in exchange for use of the grounds. The Magic Bus team also has university physical education instructors guiding them on the curriculum. Matthew intends to reach out to 400 children each week over the next year.

Matthew engages volunteers from the corporate sector both to coach the children and to sponsor and run the recreational activities. Each Magic Bus trip is sponsored by a corporate donor. He asks the sponsors to send a minimum of four staff to be team leaders for weekend trips and two staff for other activities. Each of the team leaders is responsible for approximately 15 children for three days. The team leaders are expected to motivate the children through a range of activities. Through this corporate volunteering program, Magic Bus aims to map its database of corporate volunteers to respective nonprofits in each city for sustained volunteering and lasting relationships between different citizen sectors.

Exert–a Magic Bus corporate partners–selects especially gifted athletes from the group of participants to enter a more focused sports environment. After an initial two-year period, up to five children will be selected to enter partner sports academies where they will have access to intensive coaching. These children will be encouraged to participate in their sports at regional and national levels. The sponsorship will include coaching fees, living, and education expenses.

Magic Bus has also been successfully coaching a rugby team of 40 adolescents 16-22, three times a week, for the past two years. The program has been recognized by the International Rugby Board and the players have competed in national and statewide tournaments. Matthew expects the rugby program to have 300 adolescent boys from seven organizations in the next year. Some of the young men who have been involved in rugby over the past two years will be responsible both for coaching the children and for being camp counselors to help run the residential programs. This cycle of reemployment will continue throughout the program.

To create a sustainable model for the future, Matthew is planning to build a center with funds ($220,000) raised over the past six months. The center will allow the organization to double the number of children currently participating in its camping trips each year from 2,000 to 4,500 children at no additional cost. With the help of the center, the organization hopes over time to sustain itself without external financial help.

Matthew estimates that annual figures for Magic Bus in Mumbai will soon reach 7,000 children. With the new center coming up fast, Matthew will be able to invite more nonprofits to send their children on Magic Bus trips, taking the total outreach number much higher. Looking to take the program's success beyond Mumbai, Matthew began to line up capital investment to start operations in Bangalore. Delhi and Calcutta will follow soon.




THE PERSON

Matthew was born to British parents who provided him with a serene and balanced upbringing, instilling in him a love for sports and the outdoors. Influenced by his Jesuit education, Matthew grew up wanting to do something for those not so privileged. When he was just 17, he took a year off from academics to work in the Howrah leprosy center near Calcutta and with the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Theresa. While finishing college in the U.K., graduating with a degree in tourism and geography, his love for India endured.

Matthew began work in the travel industry in the U.K., but he returned to India in 1986 to head his company's Indian operations. In Bombay Matthew played rugby at the Bombay Gymkhana Club. While playing, he observed young boys living in the streets and in the nearby slums. Matthew suggested to his teammates that they invite these boys to play with them. Though the club accepted his proposal, it denied the boys the privileges that other members received like food and the use of the dressing room. This affront deeply offended Matthew and he fought to make the policies more inclusive. Despite his efforts, in late 1998, the club threw the boys out.

Matthew took his first Magic Bus trip with the rugby boys in December 1998. The first trip was a disaster, and Matthew begun to understand the larger issues he needed to address in these children's lives. Around January 1999, he went to a local children's organization with the idea of Magic Bus and, with its support, began taking groups of children away to a camp over the weekends. To fund the first program he combined his own money with donations from friends to buy tents, mattresses, and other equipment. Over a two-year period Matthew organized 24 trips taking over 1,400 children to the hills of Matheran, to the beaches of Ali Baug, and to local water parks. Matthew left his job in February 2002 to work full-time on the Magic Bus program.




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