Recently, I asked Photographers Without Borders (PWB) Founder and CEO Danielle Da Silva about her work to date. PWB is using new media and the Internet of Things to capture grassroots social justice actions in multiple domains--health care, deforestation, and animal trafficking--through visual communications, thereby inspiring more people to become social innovators. Her organization operates in both Canada and the US. With over 500 members, PWB has worked in over 18 countries and have completed over 40 projects to date. Danielle gave a great TEDx talk and her work has been featured in National Geographic, Economist, CBC, and supported by companies like Google.
Marquis Cabrera: Where did you get the idea from?
Danielle Da Silva: Beyond my love for travelling, interest in photography, and I was incredibly inspired by people I had met who were working to solve problems in places with much less privilege than Canada or North America. In my studies [at London School of Economics] and experience abroad I found that top-down, [the best] development projects--such UN, World Bank--have a high tendency (close to 80%) to fail often due to poor management practices. The most impactful projects are smaller grassroots projects that work with the community.
One of my LSE professors once said that if all the money that went to these large-scale projects went into the hands of grassroots projects, problems would be solved. However most people would rather donate to these large-scale organizations because they occupy so much space in public. I knew that these stories had to be and deserved to be heard and seen and I know the power of images and stories. With the growing power of the internet in that mix and it just seemed like a great idea. PWB was born.
Marquis Cabrera: What is PWB? What painpoint are you solving?
Danielle Da Silva: Photographers Without Borders® (PWB) envisions a world where we all put ourselves in each others' shoes and work together to make the world a better place. Our mission is to inform and inspire positive change by visually communicating the ways that grassroots initiatives are addressing problems in their communities. To address the problems we face as outlined in the UN Millennium Development Goals, we need inspiration to create change; to be inspired we need examples and accessible information.
Marquis Cabrera: Why do you do what you do?
Danielle Da Silva: What we don't realize often is that atrocities are happening all around us both abroad and in our home countries--rape, abuse, environmental degradation, corruption in government, supporting countries that are committing human rights violations, etc. If we can not face the music at home given so much privilege, how can we help our friends and ourselves in hard times? How can we give others who do not have the right to vote or speak without fear, hope?
What helps me stay aware and encouraged is to remind myself that while these atrocities exist, they do not exist without beauty of the human spirit embodied by courageous and brave individuals who combat peacefully and without violence. By focusing on examples that provide hope and inspiration, I become inspired everyday to be a better person and am encouraged to keep taking action. That is why I started PWB and treasure what it is growing into."
Marquis Cabrera: How are you leveraging technology? Is this the wow factor?
Danielle Da Silva: Since we deal in photography and video, hardware in terms of cameras and equipment are a big factor in our work. However what we do would not be possible without the internet, crowdfunding platforms, and other software developments that make running a not-for-profit organization easier and more cost-efficient. Since our mission involves sharing our positive, inspiring content, social media is also integral to our cause and getting the word out.
Marquis Cabrera: Can you give me a use case? Or, tell me about a client, or shoot?
Danielle Da Silva: Maggie applied to our program in 2014 and was selected against many other shortlisted candidates for this particular project. PWB coordinated the trip with Seeds of Peace (SOP) and by February 2015 we were on our way to Jordan. The trip began in Jordan by the Dead Sea at a conference organized by SOP called "Gather." The purpose of the conference/gathering was to bring together young professionals and burgeoning leaders from regions of conflict so that we could discuss and exchange ideas, engage in dialogue, and have the chance to win fellowships that would support new ideas that will contribute to real change once enacted.
During the conference, Maggie took portraits of as many participants as possible, many of whom were SOP staff and seeds from previous years. She also interviewed them and recorded memorable quotes. She continued with this process while we moved into Israel and Palestine/the West Bank to visit with diplomats, leaders, and individuals who work with SOP in this particular region.
To be able to interact with, learn from, and exchange ideas with inspiring individuals who are working so hard to humanize conflict and foster dialogue under very challenging circumstances was an experience I don't think either Maggie or I will ever forget. One of my most memorable experiences was meeting Micah Hendler who founded a group called the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, which is a choir of young Israelis and Palestinians who come together regularly to engage in dialogue and create acapella magic. I cried when I heard their rendition of "Home." They were recently featured on the Late Show with Colbert.
Marquis Cabrera: How is your work going to change the world 5 years from now?
Danielle Da Silva: PWB photographers and videographers donate thousands of dollars of their time and talent to small, grassroots organizations with big impact all around the world. By giving grassroots causes the tools to better communicate their stories, we are giving them the tools to carve public space for themselves and compete with 5-star development projects. We are also inspiring others and creating space for new narratives that may not have been previously considered. We hope that the causes we work with will be able to focus less on fundraising and more on the work ahead of them, and we hope to move, educate and inspire the public to think and behave differently in their day-to-day so we can all breathe a little easier together.
In 5 years I hope that through inspiration, we will all collectively be a little more empathetic, a little more knowledgeable, a little braver, and more courageous. We need to be braver and more inspired to face the challenges that lie ahead...global problems are all of our problems and that only gets more apparent with each passing day. I hope one day we can all learn to use our privilege to create space for others who don't have privileges. I also hope we start to change our behaviour and habits so that our ideal self and our real selves align.
Marquis Cabrera: How can someone get involved?
Danielle Da Silva: There are many ways:
- Our images are also published beyond our blog and magazine (we encourage you to support us by purchasing a copy) in places such as United Nations Handbooks and National Geographic. So you can go check out and buy our November issue of the magazine.
- Photographers or videographers interested in volunteering for our projects can apply, here.
Marquis Cabrera: What advice would you give to a student who wants to use photography to change the world?
Danielle Da Silva: Take our workshop! Your photography will change the world--so it's your responsibility to choose how it impacts the world. That responsibility gives the photographer power so I urge caution and always encourage learning about ethics and consent first. Often our own biases come out in our images, and therefore becomes important to learn as much as possible, notice what perspectives we focus on, how we frame a subject. Are we cognizant of what narratives, stereotypes, and discourses we are reinforcing, perpetuating, or breaking? Are we telling the story we want to tell or the story the subject wants to tell?