In 2013, 22-year-old Bonnie Chiu photographed a group of four teenage girls in Istanbul and was inspired to find a way to empower disadvantaged women around the world through the art of photography. Chiu launched a social enterprise, Lensational, on International Women’s Day in 2013, aimed at putting cameras into the hands of women in developing countries and teach them how to use it so that they could share their world and tell their stories.
With no capital or funding, Chiu used a picture she took of the four Turkish girls, began a Facebook page, and shared a few stories and articles. Through this, Chiu and co-founder Peggy Tse secured a backer and taught their first workshop for a group of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong.
The mission of Lensational is two-fold; the first is to empower the women around the world. The organization teaches them how to use a camera to not only document the world around them but as a therapeutic device to help them gain confidence and express their voice through photographs. The second part is to help them create a source of income.
“We hope to be able to provide a permanent revenue stream to our women photographers, to promote their storytelling and help change the image of poor urban spaces,” Lucile Stengel Mazolleni, Lensational’s social media strategist, tells Mashable. “And most of all, to help reduce gender bias as much as possible.”
Seeking new and used digital camera donations, the organization then resells these cameras (at a steep discount) to underprivileged women, who also get access to an online network to upload, print, and sell their images. Partnering with local NGOs and photographers, the organization trains the women and then helps them exhibit and sell the photographs to marketing and international development firms – with a majority of the revenue going back to the women.
One former factory worker, now a wedding photographer in Indonesia, took a Lensational workshop held in Hong Kong. She said that she’d didn’t know anything about photography prior to the workshop and didn’t know that she could get paid doing photography. She has since gained the confidence to move back to her hometown to work toward getting a college degree while doing freelance photography.
This Fall, Lensational will be hosting programs in various countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tunisia, with the hopes of “fostering an international network of women who are passionate about photography.” Read more about Lensational on their website here.
Co-founder and CEO Bonnie Chiu recently gave a TEDTalk talking about Lensational and how the organization is empowering women. You can see that talk in the video below.