Leaders with dreams

Somewhere, sometime, we stopped dreaming.

Sagar, the hostel warden, left his post last week to join a government school in his home district, Dausa. He was a solid hostel warden. He was in control; he knew the children, their parents, the staff; and they all listened to him. He had solutions because he cared. With him around the hostel was in safe hands.

Sagar struck me as an intelligent, organised, and popular man, seemingly full of ambition and eager to learn. So when he and I became friends, I asked him what his dreams were. He didn’t need to think about it; he had his answer scripted. He wanted to start an organisation in Dausa that would work with children with special needs. Sagar explained that Dausa has no facilities for children with special needs, not even a school. He wanted to start his own hostel, his own school, and he wanted me to teach him about inclusion.

Sagar is a distinct minority, a man with a dream. He paints a picture of how things might be different, and he’s willing to work to bring his canvas to life; Sagar has ambition and drive. He’s just nineteen, but he’s tireless and fearless.

We’re short on people like Sagar, people with dreams; people who have the foresight to imagine better.

Ishawar is an inclusive teacher at my school. He invites me to his home regularly for chai, where he lives with his wife Manju, also an inclusive teacher. I enjoy their company, but I would decline invitations; Ishawar would spend hours showing me certificates and commendations that he had been awarded for an array of social work.

You see, Ishawar was a proactive child; and he still is. This year in Chachiyawas, he’s started an education network for children in the village; teaching children the values of cleanliness, the perils of alcoholism, and using their labour to build a better sanitation network. He’s trying to raise awareness of water conservation and he’s recently started a youth council.

Ishawar has a lot of dreams, so much that he’s registered his own non-governmental organisation to make them a reality. He too wants to return to his home district, this time to launch a multi-pronged social campaign; women’s empowerment, health, and education. He believes he can make this happen, and I agree; he’s a very competent, ambitious, and bright young man with some very original ideas. He shows me his plans; he’s thought this through.

The programs Ishawar wants to run should probably be part of a government scheme, or be provided by the local gram panchayat – the village council. Ishawar explains that money rarely reaches the villages it is intended for. I ask if he has considered running for office to ensure funds are properly distributed, programs properly enacted; but he doesn’t see that as an option. The family of the local panchayat is above the law.

Ishawar isn’t fazed. Instead, he’s looking for private funding from a foundation or donations from his community.

Like Sagar, Ishawar has dreams to make things better. Not for himself, but for his community. Like Sagar, Ishawar has passion, creativity, and ambition. He’s intelligent and he wants to learn. Like Sagar, he wants things to be different and is willing to work to make that happen. And like Sagar, he faces obstacles that he’s selflessly fighting to overcome.

I have tremendous respect for both these men. My career so far has been nothing more than an opportunity to make money and break even with my conscience; have I ever really dreamed? How many people do I know with real dreams – dreams that are worth more than fame and fortune, power and glory?

Somewhere, sometime, the dreams I held in abundance as a child were stripped of perspective and returned without humanity. When I dream now, it’s materialistic and void.

But these two men have used their dreams to become leaders and visionaries. They’ve shown me how important it is that leaders have dreams.

When leaders lack dreams, they end up like Ishawar’s panchayat. They lead because of circumstance. They have no vision, so they maintain the status quo – for all it’s worth. Unfortunately, it’s endemic beyond the panchayat. Across governments and organisations there are countless managers and bureaucrats who are not leaders. They lack foresight, determination, initiative and responsibility, all inherent with dreams. Without regret, they occupy positions meant for leaders.

Dreams can inspire creativity, innovation, and an unyielding perseverance; dreams can draw ingenuity from the greatest challenges, and force honesty in the face of defeat. Dreams will fight down ignorance; and they will make us tireless and fearless. They are the most conscionable part of who we are; and it’s when we follow our dreams that we can become our best selves. Dreams make us leaders.

But what happened to our dreams?

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