Four years ago on International Women’s Day, Lensational CEO, Bonnie Chiu launched her vision for a non-profit social enterprise that now equips over 400 marginalised girls and women with digital cameras and sparked the conversation on women’s empowerment worldwide. 

From the high quality photos they produce to their impact on the women behind the lens, we’re sharing the powerful role of youth and photography in addressing gender parity and our environment.

Virgin Unite, sustainability, iwd, lensational

Virgin Unite, sustainability, iwd, lensational

Although it may not appear so, electronic waste or e-waste is estimated to make up almost 90 per cent of electrical products sent overseas for recycling; that’s a $19 billion problem – the bulk of it often ending up illegally in developing countries in Asia and Africa. But extending the lifespan of many of these products, including used digital cameras, is one way to reduce waste while opening up the earning potential and personal expression of women in these regions.

Building on the support of partners collecting second-hand cameras, Lensational hosts photography and training workshops that are adapted to country-specific gender issues in places such as Vietnam, Bhutan, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Some of the images captured by their students go on to tell unique stories of female garment workers in Bangladesh or life in Mathare slums in Kenya – everyday scenes that many of us, halfway around the world, may never be exposed to.

Virgin Unite, sustainability, iwd, lensational

Virgin Unite, sustainability, iwd, lensational

By arranging exhibitions and organising photo sales to commercial stock purchasers like Getty Images, proceeds are then shared with students and reinvested in the organisation to create a self-sustaining model for its future programs and social research. Some of the data being collected today also examines the influence of Lensational’s work in its students’ sense of self-worth and agency while learning more about its transference in the women’s daily decision-making and negotiation processes. Such an approach is both a creative and affirming way to advance both women’s confidence and participation in the communities they live in as highlighted in Sustainable Development Goal 5.

Lensational’s approach through the visual value of photography especially touches on some of the glaring gaps in women’s education worldwide. Recent data collected by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, shows that approximately 63 per cent of adult women (ages 15+) and 59 per cent of female youth (ages 15 to 24) globally are illiterate: astonishing figures that highlight the limited potential of women in contributing to the global economy.

Virgin Unite, sustainability, iwd, lensational

Virgin Unite, sustainability, iwd, lensational

Photographs are irreplaceable reminders of our challenges at any given time, but they can also be remarkable indicators of the progress we make as well. Take a moment to snap a photograph of the women around you and #BeBoldForChange!


This youth solution is one of 50 sustainable development projects featured in the Youth Solutions Report recently launched by the youth initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. You can read more about the report at youthsolutions.report or follow the conversation online using #YouthSolutions.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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