Reed Harwood (in back) with Dragons’ director of student programming, Aaron Slosberg. (photo by Erin King)

Reed Harwood is making what was once mythical exploration a possibility for all kids

By Matthew Wilburn King

When Malia Obama set out to explore the Andes in 2016, she chose a Boulder-based company, Where There Be Dragons, to guide her 83-day gap year expedition through Bolivia and Peru. Providing unique programs for students, educators and adults, Dragons offers cross-cultural, experiential education programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Reed Harwood in front of the Where There Be Dragons Pearl Street office. (photo by Erin King)

Established in 1993 to provide foundational learning experiences that shift students’ understanding of themselves and their place in the world, Dragons exists “because we believe that creating a certain kind of global community will lead to a better world,” says owner and executive director Reed Harwood.

Harwood began working for Dragons over a decade ago as a program instructor in Tibet and India and recently bought the company in 2017. His passion for experiential education formed two decades ago in Ontario, where he spent his college summers working as a canoe guide. Since then, he has worked in a variety of teaching and leadership positions at the college level, as a teacher of world history and global studies at the high school level, and as a wilderness guide in California and Alaska.

“Our most profound learning doesn’t happen in the classroom. It comes from meandering up a creek bed, peeking under stones, digging through the muck,” Harwood says. “It comes from getting into environments that surprise, challenge and divert us from our everyday context.”

Since its creation, Dragons has sought to “break down barriers and enhance understanding between people and communities around the world.” As in the case of Malia Obama, Dragons’ programs were initially targeted to upper-middle-class and wealthy families, but the company has since expanded its efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion so young adults from Chicago’s southside, inner-city Los Angeles and rural pockets of America also have the opportunity to discover themselves and their place in the wider world. The organization has met this goal by providing financial aid to those with a demonstrated need over.

Dragons recently became a certified B-Corporation, a certification reserved for “businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability.”

One of the elements considered for the certification was Dragons’ extensive grants program. It invests in the communities where Dragons works, and provides up to $150,000 in annual financial aid to match a new needs-based scholarship program focused on minority and underserved communities. The Dragons Fund, a program established in partnership with the Common Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, manages the program.

“The work of international education carries inherent imbalances with regard to issues of race, class, gender, privilege and power,” Harwood says. “The aim now is to nurture a community of critical self-reflection and awareness of these themes and the way they impact our work.”

Going forward, it’s clear Dragons will continue to serve families like the Obamas, while also expanding program accessibility to students from lower socio-economic groups so that they too can explore, dream and discover.