Lensational are empowering women through photography

Since the launch of the crowdfunding platform, our Beta campaign by Lensational has raised 117% of its crowdfunding goal within just a few days! Now that they are halfway through their campaign, we decided to catch up with the Co-Founder of Lensational, Bonnie Chiu to get her thoughts on her crowdfunding experience.


Tell us about Lensational and what inspired you to set it up

When I was In Istanbul, Turkey, two years ago, a girl came up to me and asked if she could take a look at my camera. She’d never used a camera before. The sheer joy on her face inspired me, and my classmate, Peggy Tse who is based in Hong Kong, to use photography as an agent of social change. Photography is a universal language that transcends boundaries and connects cultures. In the developing world however, photography is inaccessible to the majority. And women – specifically – are often reduced to an over-simplistic, if not inexistent story. I studied in an all-girls school for 12 years and I was never told not to do something ‘just because I am a girl’. But I know this is not the case for most women and girls in the world so I feel obliged to dedicate myself to the cause of women empowerment. Lensational is a social enterprise aiming to empower women in the developing countries by equipping them with cameras and photography training. But more than that, it is a global movement for the women’s stories to be told – not by another person but by themselves, through their lenses.


Who are the beneficiaries of this campaign?

The beneficiaries are 60 low-income women and girls in Lahore, Pakistan. I worked with 3 NGOs when I was in Pakistan in September 2013. One works with the teachers and students of non-formal schools, one with the urban slum populations, and one with the children of sex workers in the Red Light District. They joined Lensational’s programmes in Pakistan but at that time we only used disposable cameras – this campaign allows us to give them permanent access to cameras and photography training, so that they can continue with their empowerment journey.


So you’ve incredibly raised 117% of your crowdfunding goal, how did you do it?

The 3 F’s of raising startup capital is true: Friends, Families, Fools. Some of my family members are not the most tech-savvy in the world – especially my grandparents – but they still managed to donate on the first day. Then my team and I frantically sent personal messages to our friends – even though not every one can donate, they can still spread the word. I also nagged everyone at my office.

Another rule of thumb in the fundraising world is that it takes around 18 months to cultivate donor relationships. Lensational was established around 18 months ago – and a lot of the keenest supporters of the campaign we actually met from the very beginning. Always communicate with your supporters.

Finally I think it is to have faith in your idea, your beneficiaries and above all, your team. And by team I don’t just mean Lensational’s team, but also the HelpingB team, which has been incredible in answering our troubleshooting questions in split-seconds!


What are the next steps for the campaign given that you still have 15 days to go? 

We hope that we can hit our stretch goals and sell some more Christmas postcards. We will also get some media coverage hopefully!


Tell us more about the social impact this project intends to create and why you’re encouraging the public to be involved in your mission.

Our women realise that they have a voice. They also make decisions for themselves. I’ll give you an example. During one of our workshops in Pakistan, we were taking pictures near a motorbike. Some boys rushed to pose on it, but not one girl dared to move forward. One of the girls eventually raised her hand with courage. She eventually jumped on the motorbike, probably the first time in her life. Her eyes were sparkling.

The press of shutter has challenged the social definition of women and girls in this society. And we are challenging it for the better. We wish all women and girls can be as brave as this girl, and be free to pursue their dreams.

Have you got any cool rewards on offer?

We have a limited Christmas offer until 15th December – a pack of 5 postcards that make very meaningful Christmas cards for your loved ones. Other rewards are cool – the exciting thing is you don’t really know what you will get until we start our photography workshops in April 2015 because all the rewards are made based on the photographs taken!


Have you enjoyed your crowdfunding experience so far? Have you gained a lot of traction?

The crowdfunding experience has been a rollercoaster ride. For the first 10 days I felt like a stock market trader because I refreshed my browser every few minutes to see if there were any changes in the amount raised. Now that we have hit our goal, it is easier for me to say that I enjoyed it! To be fair, it is an amazing learning experience to understand fundraising and marketing. I also learnt about managing expectations and patience. It is also a great way for me to meet new people who can have invaluable contribution to Lensational, and to reconnect with our friends and supporters.

We have also gained a lot of traction – I believe HelpingB has better statistics to verify that. Twitter is the best medium for any crowdfunding campaign. I have actually become a bit addicted to Twitter starting from the 2nd week of the campaign because we have made so many new friends! Before the crowdfunding campaign, our Twitter account only had less than 10 followers but now we have almost 150!


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