The Dream Factory: working for the common good

A not-for-profit initiative working in India empowers participants to create and lead their own social projects through issue-centred training in subjects ranging from leadership, organization building, project management, financial planning and fund raising. The institute offers a one-year program that uses a hands-on fieldwork approach, with a heavy emphasis on real world case studies. The curriculum is designed to support the “dream factory”, where participants learn how to convert their dreams of social change into reality.

Braille Without Borders (BWB) established The International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE) in Kerala, southern India. The IISE focuses on relevant, hands-on training programs in order to create real social change. All participants have overcome significant life challenges, such as vision impairment, disability,  poverty, war, discrimination and exploitation. All share a passion to make the world a better place and are determined to work for the common good rather than languish as victims of circumstance.

Throughout the 11-month programme, participants develop all the necessary skills to succeed as social innovators and entrepreneurs, mainly based on the experiences of the founders of Braille Without Borders and supported by professors of universities throughout Kerala, voluntary McKinsey consultants and other experts in the fields of social entrepreneurship, development work,  business and arts.

Workshops and hands-on practice in the areas of management, public speaking, communication, leadership, fund raising, budgeting, bookkeeping, project proposal writing, marketing, public relations, computing with open software technology and skills give IISE’s participants all the necessary tools to start their own social projects. Upon completing the course, participants possess the knowledge to initiate or manage a social and / or environmental project, lead and delegate within a team, create awareness by working with media and finding means to finance the projects.

The curriculum is divided into a prologue, a journey in five Acts and an alumni program. The prologue does not only serve as an introduction to the program but also as a phase in which participants and catalysts (facilitators) have a chance to get to know each other. The aim of the first three weeks is to prevent any conflicts which might arise due to differences in cultural and religious backgrounds.

The journey in five Acts is designed to provide participants with all the relevant skills and knowledge needed to start their dream social project. Training is conceptualized around practical, hands-on activities. Case studies and the actual projects become more and more ‘real’ as participants work through the five Acts:

  1. In the first Act participants are confronted with the problems and circumstances of an imaginary country before being divided into teams that work on a 10-week case study. Teams are taught to solve problems and develop theoretical projects, based on real-life examples.
  2. The second Act focuses more on soft skills such as communication, leadership skills and awareness.
  3. In the third Act participants have a chance to implement all acquired methods and soft skills into the formation and management of real projects in the district of Thiruvananthapuram. These projects are run under the umbrella of Braille Without Borders but are co-designed and conceptualized by the different IISE generations. Findings, concepts and action plans are evaluated by an external jury of business managers.
  4. The fourth Act is reserved for an internship in which participants put their acquired methods and leadership skills into practice in an NGO or corporate setting. The hosting party is asked to define a project that the intern can implement within two months. Projects vary from awareness campaigns, development of programs and curricula, conducting needs studies, or fundraisers.
  5. By the time of the fifth Act (‘Back to the Dream’) participants have implemented all the acquired skills into the design of their own projects, at which time they finalize their portfolios and (where applicable) register their organizations. Supporters who are willing to commit to assist financially or through legal and organizational advice are also determined during this period. During graduation, all portfolios are assessed by an external international jury, with two grants awarded to the most promising projects.

The IISE campus is located in Vellayani, a village about 12 km from Trivandrum in the state of Kerala.

Braille Without Borders

Braille Without Borders (BWB) aims to empower blind and visually impaired children,  adolescents and adults by training them in the techniques, skills, and knowledge they need in order to integrate themselves into regular schools and society at large. The main focus is confidence training and Braille training, but emphasis is also directed towards confidence training: helping participants accept their visual impairment, which is a major step towards empowerment. The organization sees itself as a “dream factory” in which blind and partially sighted people are encouraged to create their own future dreams and visions, using tools, knowledge and opportunities provided by the organization.

Filed in: Issue-centered learning, Reflective practice and fieldwork, Transformative Learning
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