National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths on breaking the glass ceiling and why visual storytelling is a powerful return on investment

In episode 4 of Women Giving A Bleep, Tanyella Evans interviews Annie Griffiths, one of the first women photographers to work for National Geographic, and a woman that is changing the way we look at social impact. When you first start your social impact venture there are so many areas to invest in it’s hard to know where to start. We think Annie makes a great case for investing in visual storytelling as a way to quickly attract eyes (and donations) to your cause.  


Annie is an award-winning photographer who has photographed in nearly 150 countries during her illustrious career. In the podcast episode, she shares her motivation for becoming a photographer, how she broke into the industry, how she balanced having a family with her creative career, and how she used her gender to gain insider access to unique spaces and stories that were not accessible to her male colleagues.


Headshot 1
Annie Griffiths
SEWA, the Self Employed Women's Association, helps women learn to build and repair solar lanterns in areas where no electricity exists. Salt workers can use solar lanterns after daylight hours to study by night.
Annie Griffiths | Ripple Effect Images | India

As well as her story of adapting to her environment, a key takeaway for listeners building their own world-changing enterprises is the importance of investing in visual storytelling. “With a lot of aid organizations, it doesn’t occur to them to have a marketing budget. They are going after million dollar grants with really weak presentation materials,” Annie shares. “The reason I started Ripple [Effect Images] is that I realized that aid organizations were usually not very good at telling their own story…it’s a learning curve.”

The real cost of producing a professional film or photographs can be expensive, putting it out of reach for many smaller nonprofits, and so Annie founded her nonprofit Ripple Effect Images in 2010 to solve this challenge. She works with up-and-coming photographers who provide more flexible licensing options to nonprofits, in exchange for working on incredible assignments around the world and knowing that they are “helping the helpers” attract more funds.


“I felt from the start that I had a tremendous advantage being a woman because for starters I had half the human population whose stories weren’t being told. Most photographers were men and there was very little diversity”


Battambang Province (Last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge,
near Thai border)
A group of families, very poor, who received food assitance during the terrible flooding of fall, 2011.  Most had fled to nearby Thailand during the war, returning in 1993.  This vulnerable group is landless and work as laborers in the nearby fields.  Their homes are protected by a tenuous dam, which was shored up during the floods by local monks and police.  Still, the flooding was so bad that, for two
months,  most of the families fled to a local Pagoda to sleep. If the
dam had broken, it would have destroyed their homes, so they were afraid to sleep there in the dark. The floods also destroyed the
nearby rice fields which provided work for these families.  So most of
the able-bodied returned to Thailand to work, leaving only the old and the very young  behind.  CWS partner RDA provided enough rice to see the families through for a month. Woman in foreground is Nuon Non (75) and behind her is Prum Ut (90)
Annie Griffiths | Ripple Effect Images | Cambodia
Young women say morning prayers at the Government Senior Secondary School in Piplantri, India. A decade ago, their village in Rajasthan was barren, cut of all its trees due to deforestation and marble mining. The barren topography of Piplantri village is now flourishing with over 3million various varieties of trees. 111 trees are planted for every new born girl. Photography by John Stanmeyer
John Stanmeyer | Ripple Effect Images | India

To date, Ripple Effect has produced over 50 films and 45,000 images, raising over $10M for aid organizations through the power of visual media. Annie warns that not having a marketing budget is a mistake and creates a false economy where low investment yields low results. Whilst it’s understandable that many nonprofits cut corners using smartphones and creating mediocre films, she posits that using the right photographers can help you move your donors and audience to action. 


Our work at NABU has exemplified firsthand how important visual storytelling is for fundraising efforts. Back in 2013, our Kickstarter campaign video was shot by professional photographer Nathan Johnson who traveled to Haiti with us to capture the mission, and that one piece of media helped us raise our first $100,000 through crowdfunding – all for the cost of a plane ticket.

*Little Barikissou, 6 mos, is clearly struggling with low weight but her mom, Sebo Gado Adamou, is putting a specific plant in her food as a supplement and it is working. Without the garden Sebo worries she might have lost her daughter.
Lynn Johnson | Ripple Effect Images | Benin
Hindou Oumari Ibrahim, a Mbororo pastoralist collects water with the women in the village of Gouwa, about a hundred miles North of the capital of  N’Djamena, Chad, November 22, 2019. For indigenous peoples around the world, climate change is the greatest threat to their livelihoods and very lives.  In 1999, at the age of 15, Hindou founded the Association of Indigenous Peul Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), a community-based organization focused on rights and environmental protection. Since then, she’s taken her advocacy work for indigenous peoples, women and the environment to the highest levels: after being involved in the three Rio Conventions on biodiversity, climate change and desertification, she was selected as the speaker representing civil society at the signing of the Paris climate agreement in 2016. She’s former co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, and a member of the executive committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee. (Photo by Ami Vitale)
Ami Vitale | Ripple Effect Images | Chad

Nowadays at NABU we are fortunate enough to have access to a network of incredible photographers in the communities where we work. We love supporting local artists to tell their own stories, in their own words. Perhaps that is how Ripple Effect Media could evolve, by identifying and mentoring local photographers to help them capture social impact work in the field? How do you capture the work of your organization? 


To support Ripple Effect Images click here. Make sure to subscribe to our Women Giving a Bleep podcast to tune into our next episode, follow our Instagram @nabuorg to be kept in the loop on all things social impact, culture, creativity and community. Share your thoughts in the comment section below, letting us know what inspired you most about Annies journey and her social impact work. And make sure to tune into our next episode, found on any podcast player.