Change Makers

Bonnie Chiu’s Lensational empowers woman by using photography

Bonnie Chiu was passionate about photography since her childhood days. Her passion towards photography, along with the urge to empower woman around her, conjoined to form Lensational, a non-profit organisation that empowers women emotionally and economically by equipping them with cameras and photography training.

Chiu, a national of Hong Kong, was in her early 20’s when she gave a humble beginning to the start up. With zero funds and a dream to create a system that connects marginalized women across the globe, Chiu launched Lensational’s Face book page on International Women’s Day in 2013. “I shared a few articles related to International Women’s Day and I uploaded the photos I took of the four Turkish girls, and that’s how the whole thing got started,” she says.

Despite being a small start-up, Lensational currently has secured corporate partnerships with global companies. It contributes images to the world-class photography collections of Getty Images and Wellcome Images and has pro-bono support from staff members of Ogilvy, Credit Suisse etc.

Bonnie has delivered a speech at Mattel’s Hong Kong office and as a result of the speech; Global CSR Director of Mattel has shared the training that Lensational conducts in garment factories, with Mattel’s factory manager in Indonesia, and they plan to replicate the model to empower workers.

Lensational has empowered 400 underprivileged women from 12 developing countries, including Indonesia, The Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan, Russia. The start-up has its headquarters in London and also in Hong Kong. It is entirely run by volunteers spread across 18 countries. “Lensational is led by young people from a wide range of experience from journalism to business. The team of 60 volunteers organises in a holacracy, which empowers individuals, encourages an ownership mentality and promotes intrapreneurship”, asserts Chiu.

Lensation’s activities can be explained in four different steps, which start from collecting second-hand digital cameras from individuals and corporates. It conducts photography training for marginalised women in partnership with local organisations. The 8-hour standard training covers basic camera techniques, emotional expression and storytelling. Once the basic training is complete, participants can choose to receive on-going training and mentoring in advanced photography, entrepreneurship and journalism from experts in the Lensational network.

Chiu adds, “Photos taken by our participants will then be sold through our online platform, exhibitions and corporate sales partners, which include Getty Images, Wellcome Images and PhotoConcierge. 50% of revenue goes back to the participants; 50% goes back to Lensational. The profits are then reinvested into programmes for further expansion.”

Chiu holds a masters degree in International Relations at the London School of Economics (LSE), and has just been awarded Young Achiever of the Asian Women of Achievement Awards. She is also the Managing Director of The Social Investment Consultancy, an international consulting firm that helps charities and businesses maximise their social impact.

As a message to the readers, Chiu concludes, “Help us to create a world where through photography, women from all over the world can express themselves freely, fulfill their aspirations and be represented in a dignified way. And this is a world that we, as interconnected human beings, can build together.”

And watch her TED Talk here