Catalysts for Change

We host thought leaders and cause champions from around the world to share and exchange ideas with like-minded individuals in Singapore. Our most recent visitors were Ashoka Fellows and leading social entrepreneurs.

From left: Chris Cusano (Ashoka Singapore Executive Director), Kiran Bir Sethi (Riverside School founder), Euleen Goh (SIF Chairman) Matthew Spacie (Magic Bus founder)

Our Visits Programme invites thought leaders and cause champions from around the world to share and exchange ideas with like-minded individuals in Singapore.

To facilitate the exchange of ideas amongst like-minded communities, Ashoka Fellows and leading social entrepreneurs, Matthew Spacie and Kiran Bir Sethi, visited Singapore for a three-day programme in October.

Bringing their expertise in challenging children to approach problems creatively, Matthew and Kiran met with educators, social entrepreneurs and thought leaders to speak about their respective pedagogical approaches.

Matthew is the founder of Magic Bus, a non-profit organisation (NPO) aimed at educating and mentoring children through sport and recreation. Magic Bus is among one of the fastest-growing NPOs in India, training a quarter of a million children every week via its 8,000 trainers.

Struck by the confidence and motivation children acquire through sport, Matthew, a rugby player, designed a curriculum called Sports For Development which offers free recreational activities and leadership development to children aged between seven to 16. Magic Bus programmes last between five to nine years in each community and are followed by job coaching and employment training. The main goal of the Magic Bus’ efforts is to generate jobs for youths and improve their employability, as a means of overcoming poverty.

Kiran came to a similar revelation when her son came home from school with red marks in his notebook, and looked confused when she asked for an explanation. Deeply concerned with the quality of his education, she founded the Riverside School, which empowers children to feel confident about solving problems. She designed a unique curriculum based on the philosophy that children should be decision-makers from an early age, and encourages her students to solve problems unique to their situations – from something as small as a leaky tap in the school sink.

“We encourage them to identify the opportunity for change and make that pattern a part of their lives,” she said at a Breakfast Dialogue hosted by us.

Moderated by SIF Chairman, Euleen Goh, the Breakfast Dialogue hosted 10 other participants spanning various aspects of the education spectrum. Among others, Rebecca Chew, School of the Arts, Shamsul Kamar, Ministry of Education (MOE), and Goh Meng Song, Institute of Technical Education (ITE), represented various academic institutions in Singapore. Madhu Verma, Social Change in Action, and Willie Cheng, apVentures, were also present to share their perspectives.

While Matthew and Kiran’s main target groups are children from impoverished communities, it became clear in the course of the discussion that Singaporean children and youths face similar challenges, even if they are to a lesser degree.

While Matthew spoke passionately about rugby as a means of bridging social hierarchies in India, MOE representative Shamsul brought up the idea of making interactions with potential employers available early in youth development, citing the example of soccer clubs as a means of getting children from varying backgrounds to connect and exposing them to talent scouts.

“It makes a big difference to children when they are told early on by potential employers that they are talented. It gets them more motivated to pursue their passions,” he explained.

To further the bonding over common goals with like-minded individuals, Matthew and Kiran were also invited to HUB Singapore to get a taste of the local startup scene, as well as The Little Arts Academy, where they learned more about our Arts Connection programme, Little by Little. This programme brings international volunteers together in a cross-cultural community arts project to enrich the lives of youths.

Matthew and Kiran returned to India on 21 October 2012. We wish them every happiness in their endeavours and continued efforts to mould young minds in their communities.

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