Leadership Profile: Diana Sierra

What is your role at your organization?  

I am the Co-Founder of CEO of BeGirl. I am also the designer behind the brand, though I’m not doing so much of the designing right now; I’m more in the management position.   

Tell me more about the work of BeGirl. What are your visions/goals for this project? 

BeGirl was born basically out of . . . chance, I will say. I’m an industrial designer, and I come from a rural area of Colombia. I was fortunate and blessed enough to get a scholarship to study in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. From there, I got an internship in New York; all my career was done in New York. BeGirl was kind of like a heap of luck, I will say. When I was doing my Masters at Columbia University, I got the opportunity to jump in a class—it was completely random—called Energy Access. It was taught by a really fabulous and brilliant professor, Jeffrey Sachs, who is very eminent in development. He was talking about the fact that so many people die from pneumonia just because they don’t happen to have proper stoves, or the kids who get burns because of kerosene lamps; and it really hit me, as an industrial designer, that so many people were having such a hard time just because they didn’t have access to products—access to design.  

That was the thing that really motivated me to go to Uganda, and that’s where everything started—because when I traveled to Uganda to learn about how design can actually better the lives of other people who really need more services and products, that’s how I became aware of the issue of the lack of access to sanitary protection for girls. And it was shocking; I come from a rural area of a developing country, but nevertheless, it never occurred to me that girls were having such a hard time. And that’s where everything started: you know, as an industrial designer, we make products, and I created my first prototype out of an umbrella and a mosquito net. I created a product that really helped girls to use their current materials in a way that it was safer and more dignified.  

That’s basically the whole premise of BeGirl. We started from a prototype made from an umbrella and a mosquito net—and now, we are a brand! The products are a vehicle for us to bring a message: “Let’s reframe periods. Let’s change the rhetoric and conversation around periods. Instead of it being something stigmatizing or dirty or full of shame, let’s change it to something beautiful, that people are happy to talk about—that people feel empowered about and celebrated for.” It started with a prototype, and then it became a product, and now it’s a brand. 

Our vision is to live in a world where we actually have access to opportunities because of our merits, and NOT our gender. We need to make sure that for girls and women, their biology—the nature of their bodies—is not the thing that gets in the way of them accessing opportunities. That’s why we work so hard, and we do it with the tools of design—by creating products, services, and communication companions that allow us to take this message further.  

Has Covid changed the way the organization works or views its role in society? If so, how? 

It has impacted us in several ways, and we also have adapted to respond. At the work level, we work a lot in schools, and we work mainly in developing/emerging countries, where you have very fragile social/economic systems. Many of the kids were pulled out of schools, and schools were closed; so much of our work is in educating the population, and the population is now completely scattered. We had to evolve a lot in the way that we were reaching youth.   

One thing that I think is really important is that this pandemic showed me, as a leader, how important it is to keep the morale up in a team. Everybody was going through all this really hard time—seeing people being fired left and right, losing their healthcare, losing their livelihoods. It really struck me. We did everything we could to keep everyone on payroll—and we DID—but I had to constantly talk to people and reassure them: “We are in this together.” It never hit me so strong as in this pandemic, how important it is as a leader to show your team that you care about them—not only as an employee, but as a human being: that you will do anything to make sure that they are safe—that they are loved—that they are cared for. That is one of the biggest lessons I will take out of this pandemic—as a CEO and as a human being. 

How can people get involved in the work of BeGirl? 

It’s all about making sure we can be ambassadors for equality. You can be an investor, a donor, a cheerleader . . . it’s about EVERYBODY being educated and understanding that menstruation shouldn’t be the issue getting in girls’ way to access opportunities and achieve their God-given potential. That’s all you need to do. The more people become aware of this, the more THEY become ambassadors and educate others, the fewer hurdles we will have in the long-term. 

There are so many ways we can level the playing field for girls. This is ours; find yours! We are all doing small things to make sure that everybody has access to opportunities. In the bigger picture, that’s how people can really help—more than BeGirl, but helping us carry on this mission.  

I love the BeGirl mantra: “Equality by Design”. How can the art of design be a tool for social change? 

Design is a TOOL—but the tools don’t exist if they’re not accessible. It’s so important to democratize the access to design. We’re talking about not only products, but “design thinking”, the way design presents itself as a thinking tool—it’s a way of seeing problems in a more holistic way and making sure people really do understand critical thinking. It’s really important for people to have the spaces where they can flex that muscle and train their minds to create connections among all these types of buckets and ecosystems.  

As products—physical things—it is critical that everybody who needs some sort of product (lighting, vehicles) has access to it. It’s just not fair that just because a segment of the population is not considered “a viable market”, those people don’t have access to products that will help them take their quality of life to the next level. It’s not fair that people still die from diarrhea because they don’t have access to a water filter. It’s not fair that kids are being burned by kerosene because they don’t have access to solar lamps. It’s not fair that girls don’t go to school because they don’t have access to something as simple as a reusable sanitary product. Access to design is critical. 

What do you do in your spare time to balance your life? What replenishes/refuels/reenergizes you? 

For me, it’s really important to live with purpose—to understand and to feel that I honestly deserve every single breath of air that I take. It can be a very lonely road—I spend a lot of time by myself—but when you have those times and you think to yourself, “you know what, you are doing things with purpose”, it really matters. Also, being kind to yourself is very important. Be very mindful that you are not just meeting everyone else’s expectations and leaving yourself for last. Be rooting for yourself: “What you’re doing matters.” 

What is your mantra? 

“I have what it takes.” 

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