“Discovering Young Dream,” or “Descobrindo o Sonho Jovem” (DSJ), encourages youth in Capão Redondo, Brazil, to pursue their passions, offering eight distinctive workshops to boost participants’ confidences and help them achieve personal and professional success.

For João Araújo, DSJ is more than a business. Much like many of the teenagers who take part in the workshops, the 18-year-old grew up in Capão Redondo, a neighborhood that the United Nations considered one of the most dangerous places to live in the 1990s—the decade in which João was born.

“People who live here generally don’t have a specific life purpose, and they don’t believe in their dreams. But I have always been a positive person,” João says. “Gustavo and I had the same perception about people who lived there, mainly young people who were pessimistic about their future. This bothered us, so we decided to do something about it.”

Working with his high school friend Gustavo da Silva, 18, João established eight different workshops for youth. A typical DSJ program runs over eight weeks, offering one workshop each week. The four key pillars of the two month-long program include self-awareness, dreaming big, planning and putting ideas into action.

Starting with self-awareness of the participant’s capabilities, the program provides an interactive methodology and a safe environment to inspire youth to share their aspirations and ultimately, create a plan to put their ideas into motion. Asking participants to complete one evaluation at the beginning of the program and one at the end, DSJ attempts to track the overall success rate of the workshops.

For João, the most rewarding part is the positive feedback from participants after the program, as many of them realize that they do in fact have the power to take action in pursuing their goals.

According to João, many young people in Capão Redondo have a negative outlook on their futures.

In Capão Redondo, dreaming has become a privilege. Resistant to accept this reality and convinced about the potential of his peers, Joao decided to do something about it.

“The most difficult part of leading is sometimes convincing young people that dreaming and seeing life goals are important things,” João says. “They don’t usually see these things as important.”

With an executive team of six members, DSJ prides itself on how its leaders can effectively connect with participants. Most of DSJ’s leadership team is around the same age as its targeted demographic (youth between the ages of 14 and 18), and many team members are also from Capão Redondo. Former participants have been so affected by DSJ that they have now joined the executive team, hoping to pass along the encouragement and confidence they gained from their experiences in the program.

“Each time we finish an edition, we analyze the feedback and reshape the methodology,” João says. “But it’s the team members of DSJ who have been born and raised in the same background as the participants, so we feel that we are talking the same language. This is what sets us apart.”

Despite many obstacles, João was awarded scholarships to Colégio Santo Américo, a private high school, and now currently studies at Mackenzie Presbyterian University. Grateful for the opportunities that have changed his path and encouraged him to dream big, João strives to give back to Brazil, and especially to his neighborhood.

“When I see all the difficulties of my childhood and compare it to my life now, I feel really grateful. I have had great opportunities in life that have changed my path,” João says. “My biggest dream in life is to contribute to society and to Brazil, so all these opportunities have helped me to not be just another poor guy in Capão Redondo.”

Having already begun the sixth DSJ program, João says the team is now working to promote the organization to more private schools in Brazil, striving to spread DSJ’s message across the country and encourage youth to plan for bright futures.

“I really feel Gustavo, Ale and I are sources of inspiration for attendees because they were born in a very pessimistic background. It makes these youth change their mindsets about the future and helps them feel more confident,” João says. “They see what Gustavo has accomplished and what Ale has accomplished, and they think, ‘Wow, if they can do this, why can’t I?’”