Here are some frequently asked questions about Magic Bus.

In a nutshell: At Magic Bus we move children out of poverty by nurturing them on a journey from childhood to livelihood. We use mentors and a sports-based curriculum to engage children and ensure that they make the right choices from childhood all the way through to better livelihoods as adults.

Going deeper: We train and guide local, community-based mentors to deliver a long term program that focuses on education, health and gender equity. The program enables young people to have more choice and control in their lives and increases their chances of moving out of poverty. We do this by using a comprehensive curriculum that uses activities and sport and is delivered using a child-friendly mentoring approach. Our approach has proven to be successful for two main reasons: the child’s long-term engagement and the mentor’s familiarity with the child’s context. The mentor provides constant feedback and monitors the child’s behavior over a long period of time. This brings about proven behavior change.

Every Magic Bus participant is offered our livelihood program, CONNECT. It offers youth a chance to enroll in college and helps with securing a job placement. As a result of our work, more than 250,000 children and youth are today accessing better education, improving their health situation, displaying more gender-equal behavior and working towards stronger livelihood options as adults.

Today, Magic Bus supports the advancement of 300,000 children and 8,000 youth, helping them to learn, grow, and work their way out of generations of poverty. The approach we have pioneered in India – sport for development – has demonstrated impact and is quickly becoming a widely accepted mainstream children and youth development program. Today, we are considered a thought leader in the sector and our work has been recognized globally. Just a few examples are:

  • In 2014, the UN Office for Sports, Development and Peace (UNOSDP) nominated Magic Bus to host the Next Step 2014 Conference – Asia’s first-ever Sport for Development Summit that brought together 450 stakeholders across multiple sectors from 25 countries.
  • In 2014, Magic Bus won the Laureus Sport for Good Award, a global award given to the world’s highest-impact sport for development program that has proven to change the lives of children.
  • In 2013, Magic Bus was awarded the Rising Star Award by the Resource Alliance, a joint venture by the EdelGive Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation.
  • In 2013, Magic Bus was invited to speak at the International Olympic Committee‘s international summit in Lima, Peru as a best practice for a sport for development program.

Magic Bus runs two parallel programs:

  • A mentoring program focused on childhood development
  • A livelihood development program, Connect, focused on youth development

We work by using sport and activity-based methods and tools, developed internally over a 15-year incubation period from 1999-2014. Our program is versatile in that it can be both community-based and school-based.

Magic Bus is also experienced in training and accreditation of the sport for development methodology and has conducted organizational development training workshops and programs for private and public sector organizations across the world.

  • We only work in marginalized communities with dire poverty. This area can be an urban slum or a marginalized rural village. These communities are commonly comprised of migrant workers and day laborers. We talk to existing schools, government officials, and NGOs to get a sense of what the needs are in the community. We ask this community focus group to identify the major issues in the community and we ask them to identify high-potential young people that need a positive opportunity.
  • We train these young people to become community mentors who bring credibility and we build mentor-child interactions based on mutual respect. These community mentors are volunteers, trained by Magic Bus in a variety of life skills to make them good role models. We then leverage this dynamic by engaging withe the community using a series of games designed to be metaphors for real-life issues.
  • Our mentors and development experts work with the larger community to build an enabling environment by engaging parents and other stakeholders. We then leverage existing institutional structures such as schools, local government, and the private sector to, over time, aggregate the community’s resources and mindset to make any progress sustainable.
  • The sessions are delivered weekly in any community and are designed to empower children to access higher education, better health, hygiene, personal and social skills. We also connect youth to vocational training and employment opportunities.
  • The accrued impact of our work ultimately leads to breaking out of the poverty cycle.

A typical Magic Bus session lasts for 2 hours and is divided into the following parts:

  • ICE BREAKER – rapport-building song or an activity
  • SPORTING GAME – actual sporting skill or technique
  • ANTICIPATORY HOOK – main objective which is introduced through a theme song or a minor game
  • MAIN GAME – achievement of the objective with the help of a metaphor for each session, comparison with a real-life relationship
  • SIT-BREATHE-THINK – reflecting on the session, listening to others, expressing one’s opinion and discussion
  • TAKEAWAY – summarize the specific key messages emerging from that session that children can directly apply to their lives
  • OFF THE TRAINING FIELD – supplementing our activities by working with the communities our children come from. Besides regular meetings with children and parents, we hold rallies, cleanliness drives and community-wide sporting events aimed at empowering and strengthening these communities.

When our Founder Matthew Spacie was coaching the street boys in rugby, their giveback was to mentor younger children to “pay it forward.”

On Sundays, Matthew would rent a bus and take these boys and younger children from the slums of Mumbai to the outskirts of town to enjoy a day of play and fun in the outdoors, far from the dense, packed urban life. These trips always made the children feel like they were on taking a “Magic Bus” to a dreamland far, far away. The children themselves came up with the name and, later, the logo.

Today, an actual Magic Bus continues to ferry children in some densely populated slum areas in urban centers like Mumbai, Delhi, and Hyderabad to the nearest safe, supervised space to play.

We believe in leveraging existing systems and infrastructure rather than setting up new ones. We seek partnerships with governmental and non-governmental organizations in health, education and livelihood for our participants to access. With corporations, we seek general program funding, as well as specific programs as per the corporations individual CSR agenda. With governments, we work on major systemic interventions through large government programs in partnership at the state and national level. Magic Bus believes that scaling and government integration are essential to bringing about lasting change and development. With other NGOs, we seek to dovetail into their existing programs in such a way that our work complements what they do and amplifies its impact.

Some of our associations with the Indian Central and State Governments are:

  • We are knowledge and technical partners of the Government of India’s rural sports initiative, the PYKKA, under an MoU.
  • Magic Bus and the LNUPE (India’s premier sports training university) are knowledge consultants to the Government and are currently train thousands of rural sports coaches across India.
  • We have also trained more than 500 Physical Education teachers across Maharashtra: in Medak, Chandrapur and Mumbai. These PE teachers now use the Magic Bus curriculum to teach sports in their schools.
  • We are technical partners of the Government of India’s National Playfields Association.
  • We have an association with the Tribal Affairs Department and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for all) programme of the Government of Andhra Pradesh.
  • We are also the Trainer of Trainers for the Government of Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi.

With this increasing focus on working directly with schools, Magic Bus is playing an active role in advocating for the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Three significant ways in which we work to make this Right a reality for children are:

  • Promoting re-enrollment of school dropouts
  • Enrolling children who have never been to school and encouraging retention all the way through high school
  • Activating the School Management Committees as mandated in this Act

Magic Bus spent nearly a decade strengthening our content and delivery in our Mumbai program and then in 2007, UNICEF partnered with Magic Bus in the International Inspiration Program, enabling us to pilot our work in other parts of the country. By 2008, outreach had grown to a phenomenal 100,000 children. Growth continued, due to our Training of Trainer model, the flexibility and low cost of the approach, and the relative ease with which it dovetails into existing programs.

What we learned is that change has to come from within the community. In keeping with this learning, our work creates and engages local volunteers to take ownership of that change for their own communities. These volunteers enable us to scale our program without adding significant operational costs. This, in addition to the fact that our program is among the most cost-efficient structures in the sector, enables us to scale faster. Our specialization has been an ability to customize our curriculum to make it relevant to different geographies and contexts.

Magic Bus works almost exclusively with children and young adults from ages 7 to age 18 across India who come from the most disadvantaged situations. These children come from one of the following backgrounds:

  • Living in extreme poverty in an urban slum
  • Living in a rural area in extreme poverty
  • Going to a school or part of a children’s institution

Once we identify the community in which to work, we select young adults from within that community to work with us as volunteer mentors. The criteria to select them include leadership potential, physical preparedness, interest in working with children and in community development. We look for one girl and one boy mentor per group of 40-50 children. Each of the selected volunteers receives intensive training for up to a year of guidance by Magic Bus staff. It includes a seven-day induction, monthly refresher courses, and inputs as per need from the team.

There is a very detailed selection process to select the highest-potential youth. Magic Bus then offers volunteers never-before seen opportunities to learn and grow and be seen as leaders in their communities. We make sure the interest of both parties align. Magic Bus volunteers (Community Youth Leaders) are typically young people with a strong inclination towards teaching and mentoring. We then hone this interest with a rigorous, 120 hours training workshop that sharpens their mentoring skills and teaches them how to deliver our sport for development curriculum.

The training and the guidance that comes with this opportunity enables our volunteers to quickly become role models to the children they mentor. After 6 months as a volunteer, Magic Bus acknowledges their work with a certificate and a channel to livelihood options through our Connect program. As of July 2014, Magic Bus has 8,000 volunteers across India with an attrition rate of less than 2% per month.

The children are selected and enrolled onto the Magic Bus program based on the economic condition of their families. We identify neighborhoods to work in based on the degree of poverty and development indicators in the area. An area for us is ideal for a Magic Bus intervention if it displays any or all of the following characteristics:

  • The majority of people in the area live below the poverty line
  • The area lacks basic facilities including schools, access roads, and medical facilities
  • The area has an unhygienic environment with little or no access to sanitation and clean drinking water

We measure quality and impact against empowerment. At Magic Bus, empowerment is understood as enabling a child, young person, or community with the awareness, knowledge and self-belief to make effective choices and take the responsibility of translating them into actions. An empowered person or community is more likely to seek their rights as promised by the State, and demand an equitable distribution of state resources among its citizens. An empowered community is also more likely to have a greater sense of responsibility towards itself and others.

We use a measurement tool we call the Degrees of Empowerment, which measures and tags how a child or young person moves in terms of her personal situation with the help of Magic Bus. This tool encompasses essential development indicators that are measured either by internal teams or by third-party evaluations. Most projects have baseline, end-line, and mid-line evaluations, conducted internally or by third party sources.

The internal audit team of Magic Bus is a separate entity from the operations team, which independently evaluates the program using qualitative and quantitative techniques. Finally, we have a state of the art, web-based MIS system that helps us input and process information seamlessly. There is emphasis on building staff capacity on utilizing the MIS and supplementary survey tools.

When a child turns 18, he or she has the following options ahead of them:


  • Enroll in the Magic Bus Connect Program, the Magic Bus employability program and be placed with a local company
  • Young adults have the choice of pursuing higher education. Many youth we work with are empowered enough to join local governance structures such as becoming members of their village councils
  • Join Magic Bus as a Community Youth Leader or staff member


Magic Bus is a program that relies greatly on young men and women to volunteer 2-6 hours per week of their time mentoring children from their own community. We also employ a very lean management structure that trains and supervises these volunteers. The combination of these two factors results in a program that can reach hundreds of thousands of children at a very low cost. A snapshot of annual costs for a group of 50 children meeting 40 times a year is:

  • 120 hours of training from a mentor + guidance from trained Magic Bus staff members
  • 40 sessions or 80 hours of input to a child per year
  • Sports equipment for a group of 50 children
  • Uniforms for volunteers – we call them community youth leaders
  • Program monitoring
  • Program evaluations

Total annual cost for 50 children: US$ 1250

Total annual cost for 1 child: US$ 25

Magic Bus actively promotes indigenous funding strategies so that within a set period of time, typically 3 years, each of our local operations can support themselves. Broadly, we fundraise in four ways; through events, corporate partnerships, institutional funding, and individual donations.

We are funded through a number of different grants from foundations and corporations. We have the following strategic donor partners and numerous other corporate and individual donors. Our global strategic partners are:

  • Australian Sports Outreach Programme (ASOP), Australian Government
  • Barclay’s Spaces for Sports
  • Bernard Lewis Charitable Trust
  • Bloomberg
  • BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt
  • Comic Relief
  • Football for Hope
  • HSBC
  • Laureus Sport for Good Foundation
  • Lakshmibai National University of Physical Education (LNUPE)
  • Marchesa
  • Nike
  • Premier League
  • Reliance Foundation
  • Rio Tinto Iron Ore
  • Studiosus Foundation
  • TOMS
  • UK Sport

Citing the April 2012 Magic Bus Board Report, 80% of every dollar goes to programs, leaving only 20% for overhead costs.

Magic Bus plans to extend the benefits of its programs to 1 million children by 2016. We are adding an indirect reach target to our overall targets, which will maximize strategies like Training of Trainers in a major way to make sure people other than the Magic Bus team are reaching out to children and youth with the Magic bus curriculum. Our upcoming programmatic strategy will also be focusing on youth and livelihoods in a big way. We will also be offering training and consultancies and aiming for international expansion of the Magic Bus model.

In 2014, Magic Bus launched program in Singapore and is conducting a feasibility study for programs in London.

There are a number of ways of helping out and feeling connected to what you are doing. The best way is to champion the cause and learn as much as you can about Magic Bus. Chances are someone from your network will be inspired by the passion with which you tell the story.

Sponsoring a child or community is another way to get involved. You can adopt a school, village, or urban slum community for $1,250/year where you’ll get annual updates on the community and the people involved with its program.

To learn more, please email info@magicbususa.org

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