Mentoring India’s Next Generation to Move Out of Poverty

April 30th, 2014 by TOMS

Pratik Kumar is the CEO of Magic Bus, a TOMS Giving Partner distributing new, locally produced shoes to children in need in India. At TOMS, we’re proud to support partners like Magic Bus and their incredible programming, where shoes are just a small part of a much larger development program. We’ve invited Pratik to share some stories from the field in honor of One Day Without Shoes. Take it away, Pratik…

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In just over a decade, 250 million youth will enter the Indian workforce. That’s the equivalent of the entire working population of the United States , all adding to India’s current labor pool by 2030 and all looking for employment. When we started Magic Bus in 1999 in Mumbai, we started with one question: are these young people job-ready? Only 20 percent of Indian youth finish high school , with many dropping out because the basics are out of reach: food, supplies and clothes, including shoes. We all know that without education, it’s very tough for the poor to move out of poverty.

A very large number are extremely poor: 33 percent of Indians earn just $1.25 per day. Our solution to make them job-ready was simple, to work from within and change their behavior, arming them with an attitude that is set for success. Behavior change does not happen overnight, though, so we invest early and for the long-term. To make this happen, we employ the Magic Bus “Childhood to Livelihood” model, bringing in partners whose core competencies fill a dire need in the lives of these marginalized children and youth on their 10-year journey with Magic Bus.

Consider shoes. In India, shoes are a clear marker of where you are on the economic ladder. At the bottom of the pyramid, chances are you are only able to afford second-hand flip-flops. Walking to school, walking to explore, walking to playgrounds — all of these basic activities become a challenge for children without shoes.

This is where the TOMS and Magic Bus story begins. We work with 250,000 children, and our strategic partnership with TOMS enables these children to have the one basic article of clothing that literally takes them places. The TOMS Shoes fill a crucial programmatic gap, giving children the safety, dignity and confidence to step out of the home and participate in the Magic Bus engagement model. This holistic approach works to empowering individuals and entire communities to make better decisions in the areas of education, health and hygiene practices, gender equity, leadership and livelihoods. A shining example of that empowerment is Gulafsha Ansari who went from being a school dropout to joining Magic Bus and returning to school and being a youth leader in her community. In 2012, she told her story as a  Huffington Post blogger.

Others, like Shanti from Hyderabad Old City, are taking their first steps. Shanti wears her TOMS Shoes to school and whenever she steps out of her modest home in one of India’s largest slums. Her Magic Bus journey began when she was just 10 years old and already a school dropout. We created local role models who encouraged her to join the program. She was attracted to our dynamic activity-based curriculum, which utilizes sport and play as the engagement catalyst. These sessions are designed to recreate real-life situations and challenges that Shanti can relate to.

Off the field, Magic Bus worked directly with Shanti’s parents and community to support them in building a child-friendly ecosystem that takes care of every basic need, from health and hygiene to leadership and livelihood. TOMS will continue to give Shanti a pair of shoes every year, supporting her as she continues to battle the next challenges in her life, primarily fending off child marriage and completing her education. The best part is that all of the shoes that Magic Bus receives from TOMS are locally manufactured in India, continuing the cycle of community-centered development.

Over the last 15 years, Magic Bus’ unique ability to localize programming and help every child reach his or her full potential has garnered the support of many strategic partners just like TOMS. Just last month, Magic Bus was proud to win the Laureus Sport for Good Award, bringing the award to India for the first time in history.

The task ahead remains difficult. The impact of a youth bulge in the population can be either beneficial or harmful, depending on how prepared they are and how we as a society respond. If we succeed, a larger number of educated, healthy young people will enter the workforce and will deliver major economic benefits to themselves and society as a whole. Strategic partners like TOMS help us break down our goal into achievable targets, which in Shanti’s case, means helping her go to school and reach her Magic Bus sessions every day.

This year, we’ll be joining TOMS on One Day Without Shoes – the company’s annual day to raise global awareness for children’s health and education. Like TOMS, we believe that with the complex issues surrounding poverty, there is not one solution, but many working together. We hope you’ll take off your shoes and join us.

For more information, visit www.toms.com/onedaywithoutshoes.

Pratik Kumar is the CEO of Magic Bus, Asia’s largest mentoring charity, working with 250,000 children and 8,000 youth mentors every week. Magic Bus USA (www.magicbususa.org) is a 501(c)3 charity and focuses on building and developing partnerships in the USA for global program growth.

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