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Meet Pezana Rexha and her use of design to aid marginalized groups in Albania

Pezana Rexha graduated in architecture in 2010. Before starting to work as an architecture, she started her journey taking care of domestic animals, orphan children and other humanistic issues. After some time she decided to found her own company that mixed two goals: being an interior architecture and at the same time, being social. In 2013, she founded “Design by Pana”, an ecological Social Business company that designs and produces furniture with reclaimed wood.

SIE recently interviewed Pezana for our Women in Social Innovation series - a series of interviews of interesting women working on great social innovation projects across Europe. 

Tell us a bit about your project and what inspired you to do this work.

Design by Pana was created in April 2013 after taking part in a "Competition for Social Business and Green Ideas" organized by Partners Albania. Design by Pana is a social business employing people from marginalized groups by creating a platform of teaching and learning between elderly people (retired) and mostly orphans and young people from marginalized groups. Design by Pana is providing furniture from reclaimed wood and accessories from waste.

This is the project of my life. Finally I have found a way to do what I love to do and help the ones that I think are the most vulnerable part of our life. Design by Pana is like a child to me and I am putting in all of my energy and my knowledge to make it succeed and work so I can help more and more every single day. This is even the way to show that women can do this. The work that I am doing is considered as a man's work in Albania: I will succeed in the name of all other women.

Can you tell us about a defining moment where you could see the impact of your project?

The impact is quite difficult to be measured properly. We like to measure it from the number of people that are engaged and are working with us. Two years ago when we began, we had only two people and now we are 12 full time and 4 part time. For me, it is essential to see the number of people we are employed and how we are trying to change their lives. Is that enough?For me, it's not. I will be happy for the day that I will see that the number of the employees is greater than the number I have in my dreams. There are different stories to be told, not each of them has been a happy one but I am sure that in each story, each of us has learned and shared something towards the other. 

One story comes from one of our employees, a man that we call Uncle (everyone has a nickname). He turned back after 23 years of emigration and his family was destroyed. He came with no idea on how Albania would be, was in a deep depression and with no reason to continue a trip that it looked to him that he didn't belong anymore. Now he has been with us for more than 1 year and a half. Of course it has not been like a dream. There have been difficult moments we have gone through but for sure he has found some friends, a place where to work, a new family that is stimulating him to wake up every single day. We are working hard to see a smile on his face every single day and to give him purpose. For us, this is one of the examples that we have never talked about but when I see him getting better every single day, I think that we may have not given to him the world but we have given him something that is more important, a life with purpose .

What kind of organizations or people would you like to connect with that could further benefit your work? 

My plans for Design by Pana is to replicate the structure that I was implementing already in Albania, and that time has shown that it is working properly. I am interested in an organization operating in the EU that are paying attention to marginalized groups so we can discuss further how we can proceed with the replication. Volunteers are another very important part of a structure like Design by Pana because they are an added value when it comes to the environment and social change. Networking is another great opportunity for us by knowing that we would like to go Global because we need help, we need partners and collaborators.