In May’s Date with Diane, guest columnist Diane von Furstenberg sits down with model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova.

Natalia Vodianova, Diane von Furstenberg
Credit: Courtesy Diane von Furstenberg

This spring I will host my eighth annual DVF Awards, which recognizes extraordinary women who transform the lives of others. In 2013, Natalia Vodianova received the Inspiration Award for her charity, the Naked Heart Foundation, which helps families with special-needs children and builds playgrounds in her native Russia.

An iconic beauty, a mother of five, and a determined philanthropist, Natalia is my friend and the strongest woman I’ve ever met. I have watched her grow, and I know that there’s nothing she cannot do.

RELATED: Meet the Nominees for Diane von Furstenberg’s People’s Voice Award

DIANE von Furstenberg: You started taking care of your family at an early age. Did you ever just get to be a little girl?

NATALIA Vodianova: I saw and experienced things that a child shouldn’t, including a lot of injustice that I couldn’t do anything about. Today when I see injustice, that little girl is in a position to act. She’s my driving force.

DVF: Where do you find your strength?

NV: I find strength everywhere—a smile, good news, my team, my family, my friends, and the people we are helping at Naked Heart and Elbi [a philanthropic app Vodianova co-created that supports various charities].

DVF: What do you think of the fashion world today?

NV: I still very much enjoy it. Modeling was never a goal for me, but it gave me an opportunity to find my life’s true purpose. The fashion industry is behind the fund-raising for all the organizations I am involved in. For that, I’m so grateful.

DVF: What has been your biggest personal achievement?

NV: The Naked Heart Foundation’s education program. It’s for children with severe autism, like my younger sister Oksana. Now we have almost 300 children enrolled. Most of them were nonverbal, and now, four years later, they’re showing incredible results. Some of them are writing and doing math, and all of them have learned new techniques for communication. When I see the fruits of this work pay off, it makes it all worth it.

DVF: Naked Heart is the name of your foundation. When would you say compassion entered your own heart?

NV: I remember so clearly being a little girl, skipping along next to my grandma and ripping a leaf off of a tree. My grandma then pulled a couple of hairs off of my head and said, “Now you know what it felt like for that tree. If it can’t talk, it doesn’t mean it can’t feel the pain.”

DVF: How do you want to be remembered?

NV: As someone who never gave up.

For more stories like this, pick up InStyle's May issue, on newsstands and available for digital download Apr. 14.