We recently connected with Paula Villamizar and Angie Cohen and have shared our conversation below.
Paula Villamizar and Angie Cohen, appreciate you joining us today. We’d love to hear about a project that you’ve worked on that’s meant a lot to you.
DLG started in 2017 with its first in person workshop teaching teen girls to sew in Cartagena, Colombia. The purpose was to spark creativity through our sewing projects and assist them in making things they could sell, turning them into entrepreneurs and decision makers of their own life, through financial stability. We continued our work with local organizations (Lotus House & Breakthrough Miami) focusing on women. We were approached by a group of organizations working in Kenya, asking us to assist in a major crisis facing women they worked with. They needed a solution for the lack of feminine pads. We immediately turned our focus to Kenya, and a 10-day workshop in the summer of 2020 was planned. Our volunteer group successfully fundraised several events for the trip and our program was focused on teaching women in a small rural town how to make reusable pads from gently used t-shirts with a sustainable layer of gelatin. Our excitement was quickly crushed, as pandemic hit, borders closed and our much awaited trip was cancelled.
We quickly realized that DLG could zoom and by June we were teaching virtually the women we could not visit. The group of 15 women from Dago, Kenya met weekly with Angie & Paula at 5am Miami time for a 2hour course. It was amazing to see how we were teaching despite the long distance, communication issues, and language limitations. The courses continued way into the fall, we created friendships and began to understand the needs of the group. A fulfilling and heart felt experience that showed us how a skill can improve someone’s life and future outcome. Believing in possibilities, having dreams and showing others how through creativity, anything is possible.
DLG went on to create a virtual platform and today, through free tutorials, DLG is able to reach women anywhere. Our simple and useful courses are available online and we see us as “The Kahn Academy for a girl’s basic human needs”.
Paula Villamizar and Angie Cohen, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
Angie Cohen was born an artist, studying fashion at FIT in NYC and worked in the industry for many years. She opened Designlab, a studio in North Miami more than 10 years ago, focusing on teaching kids the art of sewing, design, technology and sustainability. Her students, as young as 6, have gone to attend prestigious universities, and have taken with them key skills through her mastery. She is a giving person, with patience to teach and she magically passes on her love of innovation and science to all her students. Paula Villamizar met Angie at one of her adult courses. Fell in love with the concept of the studio and together decided to create a nonprofit. Paula, originally from Colombia, saw the importance of teaching creative skills to women living in poor communities and went on to coordinate DLG’s first workshop in her native country. DesignlabGive was born on that first adventure and it continues to GIVE.
Our loyal followers have generously donated to our cause, allowing us to continue teaching. Even facing the pandemic was a challenge, yet we pivoted and grew by creating a virtual platform and allowing us to reach more women. Our impact can continue to grow as we are able to share our knowledge and show that through creativity we can close the circle of poverty.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
The most rewarding idea of being an artist is the idea of being able to create something out of nothing. That creative process is so exciting, because you really do not know what the outcome is. When you are embarking on a project, the process takes you to places that you never thought of, and you truly do not know the results or the final product. It is rewarding, exciting and totally exhilarating. Being an artist takes passion. It is oxygen. You are never tired, you are always ON.
Are there any books, videos or other content that you feel have meaningfully impacted your thinking?
Jacqueline Novogratz’s books, both The Blue Sweater and Manifesto For A Moral Revolution have been our eternal resource and have impacted our work at DLG in every aspect. They are the type of books that you take notes, underline, stop and think and read again. The examples of her own life, as well as the companies that her organization (Acumen) have funded are inspirational and worthy of following. She makes you believe that social impact is possible and that the cycle of poverty can be closed with innovative ideas. It gives us, at DLG, hope that our work is important and much needed in our world today.
In addition to Ms. Novogratz’s books, we have been inspired by Sal Khan’s The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. His book tells you how the concept was started, and this book helped us decide to invest and focus on our virtual platform. It gave clear examples of his mission, the importance of education, and how it can lead to improvement in people’s lives. It is a fascinating story and a fantastic example!
- Website: www.designlabgive.org
- Instagram: @designlabgive
- Facebook: DesignlabGive
- Linkedin: Paula Villamizar & Angie Cohen
Soweto Youth Initiative pictures by Joshua Kphotopgraphy (Nairobi, Kenya) Uganda pictures by Jeffrey Bwambale (Kasese, Uganda) DLG Angie and Paula by Samantha Pelegrino (Miami, Fl)