September 25, 2012

An Unexpected Source of Innovation

Over the past six years I have collected thousands of drawings from children around the world. Each child drew a picture of their dream – several thousand dreams that came in more colors and shapes than I could ever imagine.

Last year, I was supervising a workshop at an orphanage in Tokyo. All the kids started drawing pictures of their dreams, except one 10-year-old boy who didn’t know what his dream was. When most kids finished drawing their dreams, the boy decided that it would be “really cool” to be the owner of a dog-grooming salon. On a large sheet of paper he drew a tiny picture of his salon right in the middle, leaving a lot of blank space around it. “I’m done,” he said. One of the supervisors asked the boy: “Where should this shop be? What’s around it?”

After thinking silently for a while, the boy picked up his marker and started drawing again. A few minutes later, the picture was complete: a dog-grooming salon with a Formula One racing track around it.

The boy’s dream probably wouldn’t come true in the way he pictured it. A dog-grooming salon surrounded by a Formula One racing track would find few customers. But new ideas often come from people with unrealistic dreams.

The workshop at the Tokyo orphanage is one of many We Have A Dream workshops that I have organized. We Have A Dream is a nonprofit organization that I founded in 2006, after spending three months in South Africa.

In South Africa, I worked at Nkosi’s Haven, a care center for HIV-positive mothers and their children in Johannesburg. Nkosi’s Haven was started by Gail Johnson, the adoptive mother of the late Nkosi Johnson, an extraordinary child who gave voice to a generation of HIV-positive orphans. Nkosi’s dream was to create a home for HIV-positive mothers and their children. His dream became reality because it inspired others who had the energy and resources to make it come true. By sharing his dream, he gave other kids opportunities he never had himself. Working at Nkosi’s Haven, I felt Nkosi’s presence, his legacy, everywhere. It made me wonder what the children who lived there were dreaming about, and how we could help them take the first step to make their dreams come true. In close collaboration with two social workers and a psychologist, we organized a workshop in which children drew pictures of their dreams and talked about them. At the end of the workshop I collected the drawings, which were later exhibited in Norway, my home country, alongside other drawings of dreams by Norwegian kids.

From the kids at Nkosi’s haven to the boy at the Tokyo orphanage, all the children that I met were dreamers who knew few boundaries in their imagination. Their ability to dream is a potential source of innovation that moves all of us forward. I listen to children’s voices not just because they could be the voices of tomorrow’s leaders. I believe that children’s voices and dreams can actually change the world we live in today.


  • angie khanyisela, November 6, 2012 Reply

    Am touched...some can dream big despite their status.

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