Domenick Propati, Designer, Educator & Entrepreneur


Domenick Propati, Designer, Educator & Entrepreneur

City: New York City

Passion: Providing tools, education and training to young people in underserved communities


Performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland was Domenick Propati’s childhood ambition, the reason he practiced his drums for up to five hours every day, yet when it became a reality in his early twenties, he left the stage feeling unfilled and even selfish.

Encouraged by his family to strive for great things, the professional musician decided to get a Terminal Masters Degree in Design and Technology from Parsons The New School for Design, where he learned "to see the world through design eyes."

In December, Domenick and his friend Alex Koplin launched their unique for-profit social enterprise, Koplin & Propati Partners, offering young people in underserved communities the tools, education and training to provide design and technology consulting services for clients with a pre-existing strong social responsibility strategy, in addition to a Startup Incubator for young adults who show passion, vision and focus.

A member of the U.N.’s Partnership for Sustainable Development, Domenick, who is the lead user experience instructor at General Assembly by day, and Alex are preparing to expand internationally to developing countries this year.

Written By: Aoife Anderson

Photo Credit: Ruby Yeh

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Nyla Rodgers, Founding Director of Mama Hope


Nyla Rodgers, Founding Director of Mama Hope

City: San Francisco

Passion: Helping people help themselves


In her late teens, Nyla Rodgers wrote a college essay about an imaginary day in her life as a middle-aged founder of an innovative non-profit organization.

Almost 10 years later, her mother Stephanie Moore's death from cancer inspired her to stop being a researcher for other charities and start doing what she “was built to do.”

Stephanie had sponsored a Kenyan orphan's education for many years and they formed a close bond through letters and photographs. Two weeks after her death, Nyla decided to fulfill her mother's dream of meeting the young boy in Kisumu, and was met by hundreds of villagers that Stephanie had also helped by funding local enterprises.

Overwhelmed by her mother’s impact, Nyla decided to start partnering with local organizations to pinpoint the specific resource needs of communities and finding investors to help them help themselves by building everything from schools to vegetable patches.

To date, Mama Hope - whose motto is Stop The Pity. Unlock the Potential - has funded 34 projects in 4 countries and impacted more than 150,000 lives in Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda.


When I got to Africa, what I saw was very different than I think was being broadcast back in the US; capable people that were able to help themselves if they had the resources. I realized that the way development was being done wasn’t allowing people to have the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty and they had to do whatever was offered to them. It was more about making Western countries feel good about themselves.
I saw the need to create an organization that was really focused on helping communities build locally. It became really clear to me that the best way to do that was to go around and ask communities what they needed and provide those sustainable projects.


The community that I met in Kenya told me they needed a health clinic. I worked with them to create a proposal for what it would look like, how much it would cost, the materials etc. and after that I came back to the US and started fundraising for it. I had to raise about $50,000 and instead of asking people to donate, I made a declaration: I am going to build this health clinic, I will be returning to Africa in 3 months, here is your opportunity to do something big and I guarantee you it is going to change lives.
At the time people told me I wasn’t going to be a success because the concept was too vague and wasn’t specific enough to a cause. I really focused on the fact that what we’re trying to do is community development and that means men, women and children are involved, we’re going to try to give people education, healthcare, water, food and security. My attitude was, I don’t really care if it’s not an easy marketing message because this is what’s needed.


The biggest challenge was really setting up a structure for how we work with communities and since then things have been pretty smooth.
One of the biggest things that comes up is ego and thinking that you know things. I’ve had to learn the hard way that I had no idea what I was doing and that when I didn’t get the community involved, it actually ended up being a project they didn’t want. Communities are programed to be grateful for whatever is given to them, they wouldn’t necessarily tell you that what you built isn’t what they needed.
Now the communities I work with are involved in every single step; they are writing the business plan, doing the monitoring and evaluation because that’s the way to create ownership and minimize waste.


We were working with a project and had strict restrictions about where the money could go. Unfortunately it ended up being used for something that wasn’t specific to the project; it was still helping people, but it wasn’t what we were trying to build. During that time we created a new process for how we allocate our funding. Now people have to show us how they’re going to spend the money by creating a budget of up to $5,000 at a time. Once we give them funding, they have to show us exactly how the money was spent with pictures and receipts. That allows us to track everything and also allows the community not have a ton of money dropped on them, which is much more likely to be used in the wrong way.
I think one of the main challenges in our sector is that the marketing doesn’t allow us to show any progress. It’s a constant story of poverty and war instead of showing people what’s possible and inspiring them to give. People are able to help themselves. They don’t have access to resources in the same way that we do, but once they do things change because they’re totally capable and if anything more innovative and creative about how they can solve their problems.


I don’t really have fears about what we’re doing, but I think Africa is a volatile place, where a lot of things are out of our control and we do work in places that are very unpredictable.
I really just focus on the fact that slowly we’re building infrastructure that wasn’t there before and we’re allowing leaders access to basic resources that will change the lives of everyone in their communities. That allows me not be fearful because I know what we’re doing matters.
The thing that drives me is that I believe in the power of partnership. I know my work matters and I’m making a difference.


There have been plenty of times when we’ve had less than $500 in the bank and I’ve sat down and asked the universe, if you really want me to do this work, I need you to give me a really big sign, and I’m not just talking a $5,000 check. Every time I’ve had that conversation something miraculous has happened, like the first time we got a check for $150,000 the very next day. I’ve told people that Mama Hope has been built out of magic.
I live my own life with a lot of gratitude. I’m a very fortunate, lucky person. I have a beautiful little apartment that I have made my own. I don’t consider myself to be a greedy person and really take care of the things I have. I would feel a lot more guilt coming back to San Francisco after living in some of the communities that we work in had I not had that appreciation and been able to realize how lucky I am.


I have a lot of trust that I will be taken care of and be safe, so when I arrive in these unpredictable environments, I’m not in a place of fear. I’m really in a place where I can be present and connected.
Even when I’m in Africa, I meditate every single day. I try to do some yoga moves to center and ground myself.


I’m inspired every day by the community members we support in Africa. Against all odds they’re figuring out how to transform their communities. I get to have updates all the time, so that is what keeps me focused on the work.
I’m just a catalyst for communities to get their work done and I realize there is a lot of honor in that. My goal is to take our model out of Africa and make it global because I know it really works.
I watched my mom lose her life way too young, she was 54, and I wanted my life to matter immediately. Even if I lost my life today, I would know that it mattered and that’s really important to me. I really believe that we are all here to leave the world in a better place than the way we found it, and that every one of us needs to find our special gift or talent and bring it to the world.


I work with various spiritual healers, but I really get my support from my staff. They’re incredible and they really allow me to build and create, and follow the vision that I’m putting out there. They also call me out when I’m not being the person they know I am and I feel that is really important.
I don’t want this organization to be all about me or my mom’s story, if anything I want that to be something that fades into the background because this organization is about something so much bigger, it’s really about partnership.


Really follow your heart and put the cart before the horse. If you believe you’re doing what you’re supposed to do it will come together. I think one of the best things I’ve heard is, you don’t question the how. Putting a dream into action has a boldness to it that will help you manifest your next step.
I didn’t become a big success at fundraising or getting people to support us until I really believed in it myself, so I think if you’re going to put everything on the line you have to really believe in it. There can’t be any wavering, you have to be ready to give up everything.

Nyla Recommends

There is a book called Infinite Possibilities by Mike Dooley that is really about manifesting the life you want.

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Written By: Aoife Anderson

Photo Credit: Nina Menconi