It’s as if it were just yesterday. I was sitting in my hotel room in Patna, the state capital of Bihar, a state in East India, bordering Nepal. I had been visiting for a week while on assignment as a documentary photographer for a girl’s literacy nonprofit based in Delhi. I had just settled in after my last day of documenting at an impoverished all-girls school just on the outskirts of the city. I imported the photos from the week onto my laptop and started to browse through my shots.
Over the course of the days spent in Bihar I was told countless stories of girls dropping out of school because they were forced into marriage, sometimes even at the tender age of 8. I had learned that the state of Bihar had the highest rates of child marriage in the world; up to 69%. I was in the child marriage capital of the world. These girls were at the mercy of their environment, where they were seen as economic burdens and instead were treated as a ticket for collecting a marriage dowry. Despite their oppression, all I saw were smiling faces staring back through my laptop. I had never seen children so eager to learn, so hopeful. It was then, tears streaming down my face, that I had my social entrepreneurial “aha” moment.
Today, I am the proud owner of a philanthropic wedding photography business, Love Conquers Photography, in which 10% of all of commissions are donated to two nonprofits fighting to end child marriage in some of the most patriarchally saturated societies in the world. More than just donating, I will also soon be working alongside National Geographic photographers to teach photography workshops in Kenya and India to girls who have escaped forced marriage as a means of art therapy.
So what does it mean to be a social entrepreneur? Although it may seem like a daunting task, it’s actually easier said than done. To be a social entrepreneur is to engage in the realm of humanity; to open your heart to the essence of connecting with the world around you, in a philanthropic way. It’s a fact that I have a humanitarian heart, a craving for giving and a thirst for positive impact. For this reason, I fell rather gracefully into the philanthropic world. So many of us carry this fire, this passion—we simply just don’t know how to act on it. As someone who’s no stranger to the humanitarian sector, I want to provide you with guidance for traversing your humanitarian passion into an ongoing commitment.
My first piece of advice: Understand that you’re not going to save the world.
Yes, I said you’re not going to save the world. I met a number of people who came into philanthropic causes with the highest of expectations, only to be met with disappointment, ultimately leading to their desertion. Those of us working in the social sector know to be realistic, we are not going to change the world, but we do aim to make a difference, no matter the extent.
Perhaps quite the opposite, you feel there’s no way you can make a difference. I once thought this myself. The simple truth is, you can. Whether you impact one person or a whole group of people, the point is that you had an impact. In a time when people are truly suffering, a little gesture to you may mean the world to them.
My second piece of advice: Find a cause that you’re truly passionate about and commit to it.
The trajectory of my career as a humanitarian has followed an organic path of supporting women in any capacity. By being truly passionate about my commitment to the cause, I was able to direct my business plan with ease. Simply put, I wanted to support one grassroots organization that I felt most connected to, and I wanted to support an organization that valued the art of documentary photography. I knew that even when I wasn’t traversing the globe and lending a hand on the front lines, I could still be of use from afar.
It really can be that easy. The hardest part is often taking that first step, crossing over the threshold between appeasing your conscience and becoming involved in addressing the problems that are afflicting your community.
Be prepared to be moved—to be physically and emotionally moved. Those of us who’ve ended up in this profession can attest that we were compelled to do this work. I truly believe that empathy and compassion are instilled in each one of us; the trick is to tap into that space in your heart.
Credit // Author: Brittany Piper
As a survivor of an off-campus sexual assault, Brittany decided she was not satisfied with being just a survivor or another statistic. She wanted to use her story of trauma to inform, educate, and inspire. Through intense reflection and the perspective gained from such an experience, Brittany is now educating college students on how they can transform their pain into progress.
Learn more about Brittany and he story at campuspeak.com/brittany.