How does one think of turning a London City Bus into a Mobile Digital Classroom? We ask Simon Shaw MBE, the brains behind the DigiBus, exactly where his idea came from.

Q. Tell us about yourself  

A. "My name is Simon Shaw, I was born and raised in Kenya before moving to Spain briefly and then moving on to the UK. It was upon my arrival in the UK, aged 15, that I discovered rugby and subsequently spent the next 23 years playing it.

My rugby career came to an end at the ripe old age of 40 in the Southern French City of Toulon, which is where I now reside."

Q. What are your hobbies? What you get up to in your spare time?

A. "I love films, particularly real life stories, documentaries and brit coms, although I can barely stay awake through one, these days! I adore eating out but equally love a white loaf, cheese and branston pickle sandwich... Since the start of lockdown, I have become slightly obsessive in tending to my geese and chickens!"

Q. What is your role within the DigiBus?

A. "I would never claim to be the brains behind the DigiBus, but I would certainly claim to be the instigator."

Q. Where did the idea of the Digibus come from?

A. "The idea, like all great things, was born out of a couple of bottles of wine and a deep-sea catch off the coast of Mombasa. I was on a recent trip with the CEO, Sally Pettipher discussing some of the Atlas projects we had visited. The one thing all the projects lacked, was a means of transportation. Whether that be a means to safely transport kids from the Kibera to playing fields, educational resources to the slums or equipment and kids to tournaments in the northern territories of Kenya."

Q. Why a recycled London City bus and not just build a community centre or a classroom?

A. "The idea with any resource that we provide a project, is that it cannot be a wasted or underutilised resource. I can't stand waste! When you grow up in a country like Kenya, you learn the true value of something. You only have to walk its streets of Nairobi to see what local craftsmen can do with some old tin cans and some nuts and bolts.

The idea of sweating an asset and or recycling has been prevalent in these societies way before the so-called developed world woke up to the notion."

Q. How have you been a part of the idea coming to life?

A. "To be totally honest, I am gutted that I have been less involved than I would have liked. That said, I probably would have been more of a hindrance! Fahad, Calum and Humphrey have done an amazing job in project managing the Digibus and I’m not sure what value I could have added."

Q. How have you enjoyed seeing it all come together?

A. "The updates, videos and photos that we receive from the guys on the ground have been so inspiring, I keep wanting to jump on a plane to see the outcomes for real."

Q. How important do you think Digibus is in improving the accessibility of quality of education in developing areas? 

A. "This is as important, if not a more important, resource than the access to Rugby. Whilst a crucial balance is needed, the values we promote through rugby will lead to negligible outcomes without the education piece. Education is a key element for better employment opportunities, and Kenya has made progress in recent years with enrollment numbers for primary education .

In contrast, however, with only 3.3 per cent of women and 4.7 percent of men enrolled in tertiary education, Kenya is falling behind many other African nations and the education provided/obtained often lacks the necessary skill sets the job market actually requires. Digibus provides a one stop shop for not only the education element but also the now crucial IT skills. Furthermore, my vision is to add even greater resources to Digibuses of the future by way of literature, pharmaceuticals and even food?"

Q. How great an impact do you see coding and IT skills having on children’s development in Kenya?

A. "Among the top 20 skills in demand in the Kenyan Labour market, accounting ranked first, while computer science and engineering area saw an increase in skills demand for data, networks, developers and maintenance between 2015 and 2019. Within the software and ICT industry, 30 percent of the skills demanded are business and soft skills, such as experience, service, and communication, while a further 47 percent of the skills demanded are technical skills such as data, excel, and computers. An introduction to IT is literally like offering a lifeline to kids from the Kibera."

Q. What's your favourite part of the Digibus?

A. "What's not to love about the Digibus?!"

Q. What do you see for the Digibus in the future?

A. "As I said before, the Digibus is fantastic and a hugely valuable asset. My hope is that it will be cherished, yet worked hard as a resource, by communities, not solely on the African continent but wherever in the World we see opportunity and demand. The plan at this point is to manufacture 2 more in the coming months, to take to needy communities in Southern Africa."

Q. Has the Digibus surpassed your expectations?

A. "I am a slightly wild thinker when I get going, so to say it has surpassed my expectations would not be telling the whole truth. I really wanted them to be red double deckers, driven from London to Nairobi...I did say there was wine involved, didn't I? That said, what Fahad, Calum and the team have achieved, in the time they have had, in unprecedented times, is truly miraculous and surpassed my expectations in so many other ways!"

Q. The idea has been so popular and well received, that there have been plans for more Digibus’s to be made in South Africa and even in Asia. As the brains behind this idea, how does this make you feel?

"As I say, “out of small Acorns, mighty Oaks grow” and credit to all those who have been involved to a far greater degree than myself. Their hard work and persistence has paid off and will hopefully create a legacy that we can all be very proud of for many years to come, it is quite extraordinary."

You can show your support to the Digibus Appeal here.