Shipra Chanchal

Dreaming Without Borders

How Media for Change is bringing together an alliance of changemakers to help people dream

By Isabella Vaccaro

What is the power of dreaming? And how can it be harnessed to change the world? In 2019, Media for Change began talking to other like-minded organizations across the globe to answer these questions. They wanted to empower people to visualize a dream and be able to chase it. But, how?

In 2020, Media for Change launched Dreaming without Borders: a space where people could express the way they hoped to see the world after the Covid-19 pandemic ended. A symbiotic partnership with two organizations that aid in digital storytelling, Gather Voices and Dotsub, made this initiative possible. But, the dreaming did not stop there.

Media for Change’s Post-Covid Dreams initiative (2020)

In the project’s latest iteration, Jeffrey Harlan, founder of Philadelphia-based organization Dreamline, launched a pilot workshop for a handful women in villages in Rajasthan, India to articulate their dreams. Harlan started Dreamline with an idea that school children should write or draw their dreams on cloth flags to be attached to a line, showing that in order to achieve our dreams, we must be connected. At this point, he is working to spread his work beyond school children.

Harlan partnered with Jaipur Rugs, a company that teaches economically disadvantaged women in small Indian villages to weave rugs, giving them an opportunity to make a living as well as change their perspective on the world. Before the pilot’s launch, Harlan wondered how they would be able to pull off the project in a rural space with no online connectivity and whose artisans were, for the most part, non-literate. It turned out that Harlan had nothing to worry about. The potential reach of the project is impressive is 40,000 women currently work for Jaipur Rugs.

Frame from Jaipur Rugs Foundation website.

“What we saw, during the pilot, was that it worked fantastically,” said Harlan. “Dreamline is about helping people believe in their dreams, because that changes everything. So, it’s a program about change from the inside out. And for us to work with Jaipur Rugs is such a privilege because they already care about creating change from the inside out.”

Yash Ranga, sustainability lead at Jaipur Rugs, left a job at a Silicon Valley tech company when he realized his calling was to work with people, not machines. Throughout his work with Jaipur Rugs, which includes acquiring partnerships to create a larger impact in these villages, Ranga had always wondered how he could help these women, now financially independent, start dreaming big.  

“This dream project is the first step in a large ecosystem of like-minded leaders around the world who believe, and have seen the potential of dreams,” said Ranga. “It all starts with a dream. But, few people are fortunate enough to have resources, mentors and everything to help them craft their dreams into reality.”

Among Media for Change’s dream maker’s alliance is Michael Smolens, the founder of Dotsub, a global video translation service, who has always dreamed of a world beyond language barriers. Had it not been for Smolens, who connected Harlan and Ranga after realizing their shared sentiments, the dream project may never have materialized.

Smolens credits himself as a ‘collector of puzzle pieces,’ and has dedicated his life to connecting ideas like these to create a bigger picture of social change in the world. “Because I’m a dreamer, and I have had so much satisfaction in learning, I wanted to create something to make it easy to encourage other people to dream, and to help them move in the directions of their dreams,” Smolens said.

He points out, too, that many of these women have dreams that align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and by helping them articulate these ideas – for instance, 12% dream about health and 20% about clean drinking water – real change can take form.

Poster of the UNs Sustainable Development Goals

In order for the dreams of these women to be articulated and shared, however, there has to be a unifying message – something people around the world can relate to. That is where Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician, best-selling author of The Toddler Brain and self-proclaimed ‘connector of dots,’ comes in. With a rich background in early childhood development and communication, Jana understands human connection at its core and recognizes the importance of the way in which these women are encouraged to share their dreams.

“People need literacy, people need food, support, whatever it might be, but instead of coming in and telling people that, you say ‘share with me what your dreams are,’ and that’s where you start to see all of this stuff pop up,” said Jana. “It’s really stunning – gender equality, clean water, peace.”

Shipra Chanchal speaks about her experience with the Dreams project.

Shipra Chanchal, the Dreamline trained Jaipur Rugs employee responsible for helping the women express their dreams, handles this aspect of the project beautifully. Chanchai allowed herself to attach to the artisans, realizing that by acting as a model, being vulnerable and sharing her dreams, it was much easier for the women to follow suit and open their own hearts. Jana believes this sense of empathy can be universal and, since these flags are available digitally, she envisions a reality where school children in America, for example, can look at some of the dreams of people from across the world and realize that they share many of the same ideas, after all.

Harlan emphasizes the importance of unity and shared a heartwarming story from the pilot about two children who, through Dreamline, helped their non-literate mother create a flag with her aspirations to share with the world. “I am a person who has been an educator in English and writing for 30 years, and there can be no more powerful example to a child about the importance of literacy and the model of thinking about what really matters than to help your parent write down their dream,” Harlan said.

Isabella Vaccaro