The beautiful fight

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There was a mad scramble for cupcakes as Roxy Navarro, founder of Works of Heart (WOH), a youth-led social design enterprise, set them down on the table. Her sister, Joreen Navarro, gingerly takes each cupcake out of the paper bag, clearly smitten by the visual impact of each piece. Suddenly, a hand shoots out at the mention of “s’mores cupcake” and a box is taken away as quickly as it was laid out—Gabby Layugan, WOH’s Community Programs Officer, is quick to get what he wants.

Launched in April of 2012, WOH started with Roxy making posters for charitable events. Since then, the team has gained a steady following, collaborating with various social entrepreneurs to further their the causes by putting effective design to good use.

The chaos over the cupcakes leaves everyone laughing. This speaks volumes of the successful dynamic behind this organization. In a Third World country that is constantly plagued by issues of corruption and poverty, artistry seems to be the last thing on everyone’s mind. Undaunted, WOH continues to bring art and design to the foreground of Philippine society, proving that even the simplest of strokes can make a tremendous difference.

Starting sketches

WOH started with a simple question. Roxy wanted to serve others, but professions like being a teacher or going into volunteer work didn’t feel like the right fit. “I love arts and design. Can I use this to be of service?”

After a poster she made for a friend’s volunteer project helped him raise funds, Roxy realized the impact that she had the potential to create.

This was what finally pushed her to start WOH in her senior year, along with Joreen, who is now WOH’s Creative Officer. To get the organization off the ground, they also worked with Angelo Sison (BS IS ’13), management information systems junior Jiah Margallo and applied mathematics senior Pam Llaguno. Layugan and Jeki Ona (BFA ID ‘12) joined the team during WOH’s first month.

Roxy explains that the launch of WOH’s website gave them exposure early on, creating a sharp boost in the demand for their services. “That really pushed us to be serious. We were really solving a need,” says Roxy. It’s a need that may not be obvious at first: “In Southeast Asia, we have the most NGOs (non government-organizations), but [our NGO’s] are not the most effective,” notes Roxy.

Soon, WOH began catering to organizations from the Ateneo. For instance, they did the website development and design for Kaya Natin!, an organization started by Harvey Keh (BS PSY '00) that advocates ethical leadership in the Philippines.

Web development and design aren’t the only services that the team offers; the organization also does illustration work, branding and layout design, among others. However, not everyone in WOH is necessarily a designer or an artist. Layugan, for instance, is a self-proclaimed stick-figures-only artist who decided to use his management skills to fill a gap in the team.

“It was in my second year [of college] when social entrepreneurship was introduced to us by Darwin Yu, [acting dean of the John Gokongwei School of Management.] It became my dream. It became my calling,” shares Laguyan in a mix of English and Filipino.

WOH’s three-part goal of serving mission-based orgs, sharing information on advocacies and solving problems through design has benefitted both the team and their clients. “In advertising, it’s more about the end-product, but in social design… the thing that you do grows,” observes Joreen of the organizations they’ve helped.

Despite their humble beginnings, the team has since worked with start-ups in different kinds of fields, from environmental action to woman empowerment. “Our capital was only P500. We didn’t know it was going to be big,” says Roxy.

Today, the WOH team numbers a total 20 people, either graduates or current students from Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde.

Powerful strokes

WOH’s success speaks not only of the enterprise, but also of the power of design. “Design is that creative, problem-solving spirit that straddles the opposing concepts of status quo and social change,” explains Alfred Marasigan, part-time lecturer from the Fine Arts Program.

When asked why there seems to be a greater demand for good design these days, Layugan is quick to explain that the need was always there. What might have been missing, as Marasigan says, was the “fertile field to serve” that design requires for its full potential and impact to be felt.

Marasigan further explains that good design will continue to be a “great luxury” in the Philippines until many others can practice it well. But the practice of quality design is precisely what WOH has set out to attain. “We want to tell people that art isn’t a privilege. It’s not exclusive. It’s for everyone,” asserts Joreen.

WOH’s take on design is described perfectly by their name. Where design is viewed as providing for a need, the self-proclaimed cheesy and dramatic Roxy sees what they do as a labor of love. “We want people to see love and design. Art is expression and design is a solution. So what we offer is both of it… The things we do, they’re for a purpose. Kaya ‘Works of Heart.’”

What they’ve achieved so far with their “works of heart” has garnered notable praise. “For me, it is impressive for [WOH] to have bridged the gap between good design and the masses by working with capable partners who provide platforms for design to effect change,” Marasigan says.

Aside from wanting to bridge this gap, Roxy also has her sights set on bringing together two groups that appear to be on opposite ends of a spectrum: The development sector and the creative community.

Final touches

The initial rush for the ownership of the cupcakes has become a shared feast for the entire table. Generosity seems to be the common thread among the team members of WOH, a quality that they hope will take their vision further.

Today, the organization wants to help more people through co-designing and developing collaborative relationships with their clients. Tugon Secretary-General Kat Boado has already experienced working alongside WOH in the development of the Ateneo org’s website. “They don't push their ideas on the client, but help [them] concretize their ideas to create the best functional design,” Boado observes. Together, they created a dynamic website that tells the story of Tugon’s advocacy for sexually abused women and children.

In spite of their initial success, the team acknowledges that development is a continuous process and that they still have a lot of ground to cover. Today, WOH faces a concern common in the development sector: Are they really making an impact?

“It’s not like we’re selling products [wherein] you can measure how much [it] is being valued,” notes Roxy. The team is still looking for a way to answer this question, along with other ways to take their work a step further.

“We really want to scale up,” declares Roxy. This involves getting investors on board, building a bigger team and looking into human-centered design: The immersion of oneself in the community in need of a solution.

More than just sharing design, WOH seeks to start a movement fueled by the same sense of service that has brought them together. “We want to make a culture,” says Roxy. “I want designers to think they’re… also part of this mission towards a better life for everyone.”

Complementing the team’s sentiments, Marasigan hopes design will become a more studied field so that many others can “push its boundaries” to address social issues. “In our country, the best that design can do is to bring out ideas into common awareness; only when these ideas are picked up will true national progress happen,” he adds.

The change WOH wish to see has already been put in motion, but the change within them is a different experience. Layugan’s eyes have been opened to endless possibilities as he now proudly calls himself a social entrepreneur. Joreen learned to design beyond herself and “to not be focused on the action, but on the effect it will give.”

And Roxy has finally found the answer to her question of identity in a place where her passion for art and desire to serve meet. She notes, “Just tap into your passion. You don’t have to be this kind of person or at this level to be of service. You just have who you are—tap into your passion and have the courage to go for it."

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