MindLeaps is a USA based 501(c)3 organization working in developing countries to improve school performance and create positive livelihoods for at-risk youth. MindLeaps runs a unique program, based on a standardized dance methodology, that helps out-of-school and vulnerable youth undergo behavioral transformation, catch up on basic cognitive development and learn work-ready skills.
The present international orientation of MindLeaps is the organization’s second iteration. The company, originally named RDDC: Rebecca Davis Dance Company, was created in 2005 with a focus on developing original, full-length contemporary ballets based on celebrated literary works, significant historical events and modern social issues. With its home base in Philadelphia from 2005-2010, RDDC premiered a total of six ballets with its troupe of professional dancers: Antigone (2006), Helen Keller (2007), DARFUR (2008), Greed: The Tale of Enron (2009), Van Gogh (2009), and Braving the New World (2010). At the same time, RDDC ran a pre-professional training program for 12 to 18 year olds that utilized a combination of ballet, jazz and modern classes to develop diversified young dancers.
After creating the 2008 production entitled DARFUR, Rebecca Davis began traveling to post-genocide countries to examine the effects of ethnic conflict and the steps towards reconciliation. During her travels, she recognized that street children had a deep love of dance. Returning to RDDC in Philadelphia, she decided to begin projects abroad that would give street children a safe haven through dance classes. As Rebecca’s knowledge and experience grew in the field of international development, she realized that RDDC could be positioned to help children in post-conflict areas if the dance lessons were combined with an educational model to develop street children’s basic learning skills.
In 2010, the RDDC Board of Directors decided to re-orient the company to focus solely on developing these programs abroad. The headquarters was moved to New York City in 2013, and the company underwent an official name change and re-positioning, unveiling the name “MindLeaps” in 2014.Hear Rebecca speak about her personal professional transition in her TedX Talk.
Today MindLeaps operates permanent centers in Rwanda and Guinea, which also serve as hubs for expansion of the model through partnerships with other organizations in East and West Africa. How did this come about?
The evolution of the MindLeaps model is the result of step by step research and development in the field, collaborating on projects beginning in 2009 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Guinea. These earlier stages of endeavor allowed MindLeaps to test, refine and perfect its methodology – to build a model that worked. After this proof of concept, the organization was ready to establish its own first permanent center in 2014. This incubator phase involved social workers, psychologists, educators and dancers to lay a solid foundation for the model at work today in the permanent centers and partnership programs.
MindLeaps ran two projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina that focused on integrating youth of diverse ethnic backgrounds. The first project, Nas Svijet (“Our World”), started in 2009 in Brcko with summer dance workshops for multi-ethnic youth in coordination with local partner organization Svitac (“Firefly”). The workshops involved dialogue about pertinent social issues, and a public performance as part of the city’s Annual Children’s Day Festival. Top students received additional training to continue the workshops after the MindLeaps instructors departed.
In 2011, MindLeaps began its second program, “Bridging Mostar Youth”, in the divided city of Mostar. This program was created through a consortium of local organizations brought together by MindLeaps: RINGO, Nesto Vise, and B-Dance. Together, these organizations provided a multi-disciplinary dance program for underserved children. Dialogue sessions focused on social inclusion and education about universal human rights. Top students received leadership training to continue the program after MindLeaps instructors completed the first six weeks of workshops.
In August 2017, MindLeaps ran a “Summer Camp of Friendship” in Mostar with a program focused on communication, shared experiences and social-emotional learning for children of all different backgrounds. MindLeaps staff led a series of creative dance activities to engage the youth and build trust among participants. The program partners, Caritas and Spes, delivered educational workshops on communication skills and non-violent conflict resolution.
In 2018, MindLeaps phased out its programming support in Bosnia-Herzegovina, given its new strategic focus on Africa. MindLeaps trainers and staff from Bosnia-Herzegovina now travel within the international programs and lend their experience to building these new partnerships.
Rwanda and Guinea
MindLeaps began work in Rwanda in 2010 under its former name, RDDC, and between 2011-13 partnered with FidesCo Rwanda (now Centre Cyprien et Daphrose Rugamba – CECYDAR) to administer a dance and IT program for street children in Kigali. In 2014, MindLeaps registered as an international NGO in Rwanda and expanded to operate its own permanent year-round facility in Nyamirambo, Kigali. To date, the center has served over 1,500 out-of-school and vulnerable in-school youth.
The center in Kigali has also been a base for reaching beyond the local community, as with the program run through 2017 in Rugerero, a survivor village near the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Once a year a team of MindLeaps teachers traveled to Rugerero to work with 150-175 rural boys and girls. The program provided dance classes followed by health lessons to address community issues.
In Guinea, MindLeaps and Association Benka-Fissa launched a partnership in 2011 to create dance and language/literacy training in Kindia. The program provided a safe learning environment for boys and girls ages 10 to 19 who faced poverty, lack of access to education, and unstable family lives. In 2016, MindLeaps partnered with local NGO Guinea Edugrade to offer a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) summer camp program for vulnerable youth. Students participated in daily IT and English classes, as well as the MindLeaps dance program, and engaged in hands-on science experiments, took educational field trips and were involved in talks with community and industry leaders.
In 2017, MindLeaps went on to open its own center in the capital city of Conakry, providing a permanent safe space to continue its full dance and education programs year round. MindLeaps moved its staff and trainers from Kindia to Conakry to build this larger program serving the most vulnerable Guinean children.
With its solid foundation of research and development, and its permanent centers in Rwanda and Guinea acting as hubs, MindLeaps is working to replicate its model in countries across Africa, where dance has a strong attraction for youth. In 2017-18, MindLeaps launched its Partnership Model to bring its dance-based intervention to Uganda, Kenya and Mauritania.
The future of MindLeaps lies in growing its operations to reach more and more of the most vulnerable youth: those living on the streets, refugees, out-of-school youth and those in school, but at risk of dropping out. MindLeaps looks to build a future where young people across Africa have the opportunity and readiness to take positive charge of their lives.