Spotlight Story - Dream a Dream, Vishal Talreja

Jun 09, 2019

Presenting Dream a Dream & Vishal Talreja.

The Founding Story

In November 1999, 12 young people from diverse backgrounds came together to bring about positive change in their communities (India). What united them was a powerful desire to make a difference and change the world. Together, they formed 'Dream a Dream,' with a mission to help young people rise out of adversity and thrive!

In the first year, the 12 founders and volunteers pitched in with enthusiasm, partnering with 2 NGOs and a negligible budget which they contributed to themselves. Their first project supported a group of 20 cancer-affected and HIV+ children, spending time with them on the weekend. Vishal Talreja, one of the co-founders of Dream a Dream remembers a time he used to make routine visits to a shelter home for children who were HIV+. These visits happened weekly, and through his consistent engagement over 3-4 months, he won the trust of the children there. They eagerly looked forward to his visits every week. One such week, Vishal missed his visit as he got caught up in other commitment. When he returned the following week, the children were cold and distant. Their behavior was a key learning opportunity because this is when it hit Vishal how vital it was to build trust with these children and equally important to retain that trust. Children in shelter homes have either been abandoned by their parents or been orphaned, and they carry with them, a feeling of being unwanted and leaving them feeling rejected and inferior. Vishal's visits were significant to these children; he as an adult/caregiver was slowly and gradually becoming a part of their support system. This insight enabled him to understand how vital the role of responsive caregiver was to children who face adversity.

The problem his project addresses:
India hosts 30% of the world's children living in extreme poverty and the highest number of children (48.2 million) who have stunted growth due to malnutrition. India is also home to the world's largest youth population (28%). These youth can serve as the driving force of economic and social growth in India if supported by appropriate policies and investment in youth. India, however, is facing a challenge- most of its population is of working age, but only 2% of its workforce is skilled. Moreover, school retention rates are low. Mainstream solutions to these issues have thus far been creating skilling programs which have not been successful. These programs fail to address why children are not staying in school, why they aren't earning appropriate skills to make them ready for life, and whether they are getting jobs. Why do children from developing countries like India, not achieve their learning outcomes, drop out of school, and find themselves unemployed? Adversity. 

Dream a Dream works with young people from vulnerable backgrounds, who experience extreme adversity in their daily lives, and helps provide them with the necessary life skills to make healthy life choices and be successful.

Some of the issues young people face today - from

The Vision & Mission:
Vishal has a big vision; to build a supportive community to empower young people from vulnerable backgrounds to overcome adversity and flourish in a fast-changing world, using a creative life skills approach. The mission is to reform education systems to provide young people with the necessary life skills to overcome adversity and to achieve development milestones.

"Collaborative impact is no longer an option. It is a responsibility, and we need to enter this uncomfortable territory"- Vishal Talreja




The Solution Vishal provides:

Dream a Dream's mission is to help young people rise out of adversity and thrive. They believe the answer is life skills, competencies that help people make informed decisions, solve problems, think creatively, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, and manage their lives productively. These skills affect socioeconomic outcomes and can be life-changing for children from vulnerable backgrounds. Dream a Dream develops life skills through 3 main programs:
  • The After School Life Skills program, which uses sports and arts to build life skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving and leadership in 8-15-year-olds
  • The Career Connect programs, which equips 15-23-year-olds with information, skills, and access to opportunities to help navigate adolescence and make a healthy transition to adulthood through workshops on career guidance and communication skills
  • The Teacher Development program, aimed at enabling educators to empower young people with life skills.


Major Learnings & Insights

Though Dream a Dream’s core philosophy aims to transform and empower young people, they also aim to impact the broader ecosystem by re-imagining education- its purpose, delivery, and evaluation and creating mindset shifts. In the past year, they have initiated strategic partnerships with local governments. In 2018, the Delhi Government introduced a policy-level change by launching the ‘Happiness Curriculum.’ It aims to make children from nursery to eighth grade ‘happy’ through mindfulness, self-awareness, critical thinking, reflection, and emotional stability, which enables stress-reduction and development of more in-depth emotional intelligence. Dream a Dream is one of the lead NGOs in the development and rollout of the curriculum in all 1,024 Delhi government schools reaching over 1 million students.


This collaboration points to the beginning of a mindset shift in the purpose of education. This innovative partnership has catalyzed discussions with policymakers and other key stakeholders about the meaning of education. After the launch of their Delhi Government collaboration, other state governments expressed interest in similar endeavors. Dream a Dream is now pursuing projects with Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka.
Bannerghatta Zoo with Dream a Dream


The key to Dream a Dream's success is the 'Arc of Transformation' framework, which is designed around creating robust, sustainable, transformative experiences in young people through the presence of a caring, empathetic adult. The adult facilitators hold space for young people to transform into what they believe they are capable of completing. They use this method to empower young people with life skills, which enable them to develop the agency to overcome adversity, catch up on development logs, and leap into their future with purpose and creativity. Many of their facilitators come from similar communities and have gone through the programs themselves. Facilitation involves creating a relatable connection with young people and seeding hope in their abilities and aspirations. Stable and supportive caregiving, which their facilitators provide, is linked to critical socio-emotional development, which helps break systemic cycles of poverty and inequality.

By deepening insights and impact on the child, through innovation labs namely (the After School Life Skills and the Career Connect Programme) they replicate them through their award-winning creative life skills approach in the Teacher Development Programme. Through this process, they are not only directly intervening with the child but enabling educators to empower young people and today impacting over 1 million children every year.


Current Challenges

Some of their key challenges include:

1) Breaking century old mindsets within education systems- education systems today are redundant and not designed to help prepare children for a fast-changing world.

2) In the last 40 years, all over the world, they have a majority of a student entering the school system who are first generation school-goers. Their parents have either not gone to school, or haven't completed school. Hence, the education systems and educators lack an understanding of the complexities of the children's lives who are first generation learners. Children coming from poverty come from early experiences of childhood adversity and face a slew of cognitive and non-cognitive development challenges. Making it difficult for them to access learning since the foundational skills are missing. Their biggest problem is that teachers don't understand these complexities, and are unable to design learning environments to supports children from adversity.


Current Reach

Working with 10,000 young people a year through the two innovation labs- After School Life Skills program and Career Connect program; they have trained over 8000 teachers and education, impacting over 200,000 children and young people.

They have also partnered with Delhi government to integrate their approach across 1024 government schools impacting 1 million children!

They have also scaled their work to Kenya, in partnership with Aga Khan Foundation.


Is there anything more you'd like to know? Any questions for Vishal? @Vishal- what is your ASK? How can we get involved?


Let's discuss in the comments!


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