Season 2     EPISODE 6
May 27, 2022

Having a dream is not enough | Vishal Talreja, Suchetha Bhat

In Part I of this conversation with IDR, Dream a Dream’s co-founder Vishal Talreja and CEO Suchetha Bhat share the story of the organisation’s implosion, Vishal’s burnout, and how owning up to failure was the first step in figuring out the way to build back up.

3 min read

Vishal Talreja co-founded Dream a Dream with 11 other people. He is an Ashoka Fellow, an Eisenhower Fellow, a Kamalnayan Bajaj (Aspen) Fellow, a Salzburg Global Fellow, and a board member at Goonj. Vishal was also the founder-director of UnLtd India and a board member of PYE Global and India Cares Foundation. He has been recognised as an ‘Architect of the Future’ by the Waldzell Institute in Austria and as ‘Innovator of the Year’ in 2019 by HundrED.

Suchetha Bhat is the CEO of Dream a Dream, a nonprofit that empowers children from vulnerable backgrounds to thrive. Since starting her career in 2001, she has worked both in the corporate and social sectors. Under her leadership, Dream a Dream has grown from working with 10,000 young people in Bengaluru to more than one million children across five states. NITI Aayog has listed Suchetha among the 75 Women Entrepreneurs Transforming India in 2021.

This episode is part of a special series in partnership with The Wellbeing Project where we look at the intersection of failure and well-being.


Vishal Talreja

“One thing I would keep telling myself is that I can’t burn out. And I used to feel very proud, telling my friends who worked in the corporate sector that, you know, I look forward to Monday mornings. And I really did. I used to work seven days a week. I completely ignored family time, personal time. There would be days when I’d get up at three in the morning and have this brilliant idea. And I needed to talk about it. So I would shoot out an e-mail to the team. I was really pushing myself.”

“And then, in 2009, I had a breakdown, where I burnt out. And the realisation that I had is that I wouldn’t want to work in an organisation like Dream a Dream any more. It had become highly bureaucratic as an organisation. The culture had become toxic; there were high levels of mistrust.”

Suchetha Bhat

“At the cultural level, I realised that a lot of people, to some extent, even me, we had joined Dream a Dream because we were enamoured by Vishal—by his vision, listening to his TED talks, having met him, having heard what he wants to create in the world. So you join in thinking you’re joining, being part of this big change. But then you realise that you don’t really know what to do on a day-to-day basis. What is your role? What are the expectations? How do you measure yourself? How do you even know you’re making progress? So all the operational things that actually make you function in your role and make you feel satisfied, those were not there. So it led to a lot of frustration. And the way it was set up was that this frustration was then always projected on Vishal. So everybody in the team, including the board, it was always Vishal’s problem, right, something that Vishal was not doing right, something that he needed to change.”

Read more

  1. Read more failure stories on Failure Files.
  2. Dip into Centred Self, a series exploring the important but often-overlooked connection between inner well-being and effective social change.
  3. Check out some ideas and tools from Fail Forward to help your organisation take risks, learn, adapt, and fail intelligently.
  4. Understand why the social sector must recognise and talk about failure.
  5. Learn why talking about failure is crucial for growth.
  6. Explore Alliance Magazine’s issue on learning from failure and how it can contribute to better philanthropy.

Want to share your failure story? Learn more about what we’re looking for here, and share your pitch/story on [email protected]

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