The Power of Stories to Transform Lives
Zooming in on a groundbreaking photographer
Annie Griffiths is something of an inspiration. In 1978, she became one of the first female photographers at National Geographic. Her award-winning work has been featured in iconic publications such as LIFE, Geo, Smithsonian, and Time. She has traveled to every continent capturing stories with the power to change lives.
But her story starts much earlier, with the first woman who inspired her. “My mother was the most capable person I knew,” Annie says. “She always wanted to fly. After she was rejected as a flight attendant, she didn’t give up. She became a pilot instead.”
That determination was a powerful example of what a woman could achieve. Yet Annie saw a contrast between her mother’s potential and the reality of her circumstances.
Annie Griffiths in South Africa. Photo by: Linda Makarov
“I was five years old when I realized that my mother always had to ask my father for permission to buy anything. She couldn’t even get a credit card with her name on it,” she says. “It was my first glimpse of how women are trapped without economic empowerment — and it’s such a profound component of self-confidence and dignity.”
Annie carried that insight with her as she traveled the world — a kind of lens for understanding the people she met along the way. As she came to specialize in women’s stories at National Geographic, this empathetic lens helped turn her into the storyteller and women’s advocate she is today.
“When you empower women, they help each other and ignite a flame of hope in their families, their communities, and the world.”
Founder, Executive Producer, and Photographer, Ripple Effect Images
Smoke from fires is the #1 killer of women and children under age 5 in the developing world. Ripple covers programs that offer alternative clean energy. Photo by: Joanna Pinneo, Ripple Effect Images.
Solar Sister is helping women entrepreneurs create a "business in a bag", selling clean energy solutions to their communities. Photo by: Joanna Pinneo, Ripple Effect Images.
“The best investment we can make in our shared future”
By 2008, Annie had spent more than three decades building a successful career and a family. She had met hundreds of women, listening to their stories and earning their trust. She sat around their fires and drank their tea, inspired by their strength and warmth. But she started to wonder if her work could really make a difference in their lives.
While visiting a refugee camp in Kenya, she took a photo of a Somali woman, Marwah, and her daughter, who was sick. While the picture was beautiful, it felt bittersweet to Annie. What could a photo do to help Marwah and other women she loved and admired? Years later, she got her answer — one she didn’t expect.
“I was visiting a refugee coordinator’s office in Richmond, Virginia, when I saw the photo of Marwah had been torn out of a calendar and pinned to the wall,” Annie says. “I was surprised to find out that the refugee coordinator knew Marwah. He said she made it to the U.S. and was doing great.”
Newly inspired, Annie started Ripple Effect Images. Dedicated to raising awareness of women and girls in the developing world — and the aid groups working to empower them — Ripple Effect Images is Griffith’s way of paying it forward.
“Women and girls in developing countries are the best investment we can make in our shared future,” she says. “When you empower women, they help each other and ignite a flame of hope in their families, their communities, and the world.”
This is the ripple effect — a cascade of positive change resulting from small successes. And it can start anywhere. Giving families access to clean cooking fuel to prevent smoke inhalation deaths. Helping women dig wells so their families have access to clean water and basic hygiene. Teaching them to build solar lanterns that allow girls to attend night school.
The stories Ripple promotes help to flip the script, showing women as the heroes in their own lives. “Most media coverage is focused on breaking news, often portraying women as victims,” says Annie. “We’re interested in telling underreported, in-depth stories that show the strength and potential of women and how essential they are to their communities.”
A team built on talent, character, and commitment to women
The mission at Ripple is clear. It focuses on seven areas of pressing need: water, food, healthcare, education, energy, economic empowerment, and climate change. It humanizes the work of nonprofit organizations with films and photographs to help programs better tell their own stories and significantly boost fundraising. And Ripple is committed to doing things the right way, starting with a team of creative storytellers who are dedicated to amplifying the voices of women.
“It’s not just about talent,” says Annie. “We choose every team member based on strength of character, depth of experience telling women’s stories, and commitment to honoring the people they photograph.”
The creative team includes still photographers, videographers, and animators, headed by Creative Director Nacho Corbella. Each person brings a unique perspective.
“In storytelling, diversity is so valuable,” says Liz Bloomfield, Executive Director of Ripple Effect Images. “While we want the highest caliber of professional talent to join our team, we also want to provide opportunities for people with different experiences and backgrounds.”
Having the right people and the right mindset matters. As Ripple teams go into the field, they strive to do so with openness and humility. As Annie says, “When these women tell their own stories, you see empowerment and hope in their eyes and gestures.”
The stories are incredible.
Salumarada Thimmakka. Photo by: John Stanmeyer, Ripple Effect Images.
Salumarada Thimmakka inspires a movement in India
At 110 years old, Salumarada Thimmakka has planted thousands of trees over her lifetime — some of them now nearly as old as she is. Born into indentured servitude in the Indian state of Karnataka, she spent her early life paying off the debt she inherited from her father. Finally free to get married and start a life of her own, Salumarada was devasted to find out she couldn’t have children. That’s when she started planting banyan trees along a stretch of road near her village, pouring her time and limited resources over the next several years into raising 385 saplings.
Several decades later, Salumarada has inspired a whole movement of tree planting and environmentalism across India. She has planted nearly 8,000 trees herself and inspired many others to plant millions. In one rural village, people built on her legacy by vowing to plant 111 trees for every newborn girl. Not only did their commitment help reforest a region stripped bare by mining, it celebrates girls’ lives in a culture where female infanticide was once acceptable.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim sharing 3D maps of water locations in regions of Chad. Photo by: Ami Vitale, Ripple Effect Images.
With an education, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim has the power to give back
Before Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim became a geographer, environmental activist, and advocate for women’s rights, she was a girl growing up with the Mbororo people, a semi-nomadic tribe in Chad. It’s rare for girls to get an education in Mbororo culture, but Hindou’s parents allowed her and her sisters to attend school in the capital of N’Djamena. Now, she’s a remarkable example of how an education can empower a woman to help her community and the world.
At 15, Hindou founded the Association of Indigenous Peul Women and Peoples of Chad, focusing on women’s rights and environmental conservation. That’s when she returned to her community with a laptop and a plan to help. Ripple Effect has photos of her sitting in the desert, meeting first with the men, then with the women — feeding their knowledge into 3D maps.
“Most of them had never seen a computer,” says Annie. “Hindou had an amazing way of honoring their traditional knowledge while using technology to give them new insights into where to find water and how to share resources with surrounding communities.”
Hindou spoke at the United Nations and was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2020. She’s now sharing her mapping strategy with other nomadic people and inspiring other women to follow in her footsteps.
A young mother in Uganda escaped a brutal forced marriage and found safety in a center for young women fleeing abusive situations. Photo by: Lynn Johnson, Ripple Effect Images.
A creative new approach to visual storytelling reaches people in a pandemic
In recent years, Ripple Effect Images has gone beyond photos and videos, into animation. The approach has allowed the organization to tell new kinds of stories and reach people that are hard to reach — especially in a time when travel is out of the question.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t send our photographers into the field,” says Annie. “But our foray into animation has allowed us to keep helping people, especially when it comes to health-related issues. It’s a different kind of visual storytelling and, in certain situations, it works much better than documentary storytelling.”
For example, Ripple creates animated films to help women in Uganda and Zambia cope with depression, fear, and isolation. Like women around the world, many are suffering from an increase in domestic abuse and are cut off from support groups during the pandemic. To offer support and resources, the Ugandan Ministry of Health distributes the videos through television, radio, and mobile phones — reaching women in as many channels as possible. There’s even a plan to create posters based on the animations.
Ripple also used animation to help Heifer International celebrate its 75th anniversary in a unique and special way. Working to end hunger and poverty, the organization has an amazing history of providing livestock to communities around the world. And it has stacks of handwritten letters and photos from people thanking Heifer for its support, from as far back as the 1940s. Ripple’s big idea was to bring their stories to life, using old photos and memories of former employees to recreate the histories — as true to life as possible. The result is a moving tribute to both Heifer International and the resilient communities it has supported.
“The level of fundraising our storytelling supports is powerful and compelling, but it’s only the first step of the journey. Our goal is to show how programs change the world over decades, in each of our seven pillars.”
Executive Director, Ripple Effect Images
Women in India receive the solar lanterns that will change their lives, allowing them to safely extend their days and lead more productive lives. Photo by: Annie Griffiths, Ripple Effect Images.
Girls in Bangladesh begin working in the fields from a very young age. Education is their great hope for a future with greater options. Photo by: Ami Vitale, Ripple Effect Images.
Creating ripples of hope around the world
The best part of sharing these stories? It’s working. Ripple Effect Images has produced more than 50 films and 45,000 images — helping 32 aid partners raise over $10 million for women and children around the world.
Liz works hard to capture the long-term impact of Ripple’s efforts. “The level of fundraising our storytelling supports is powerful and compelling, but it’s only the first step of the journey,” she says. “Our goal is to show how programs change the world over decades, in each of our seven pillars.”
Ripple wants to answer big questions, such as What happens when you educate a girl? and What happens when you bring women together? The answers are becoming clear.
For example, Ripple worked with the Harbers Family Foundation to produce a film on the Gashora Girls Academy, part of the Rwanda Girls Initiative. 90% of the academy’s graduates have gone on to a college or university, including every Ivy League institution in the United States.
Ripple also documented a BRAC International program for at-risk girls in northern Uganda, which needed funding to protect and educate girls escaping early marriage and abuse. BRAC is an international development organization that engages in charitable and social welfare activities. The film and images helped convince a major corporate donor to support the program and enabled Brac to reach 7,000 children in Uganda, Bangladesh, and Tanzania.
And in India, Ripple documented a Barefoot College program, which trains women to build solar lanterns. These women literally bring light to their communities with more than 700 of them supporting 470,000 people. Together, they have reduced carbon emissions by 13 metric tons.
For Annie, those results validate something she’s always known. “The data shows that when girls are educated, they marry later, have fewer kids, and are more financially independent,” she says. “And it doesn’t stop there. Women pay it forward, starting with their kids and girlfriends, communities, and countries. That’s the ripple effect.”
“The single most effective thing we can do is to bring women together,” Annie says. “When women are isolated, the pressure can be unbearable. When they’re with other women, it's magic.”
“My work is deeply tied to Adobe applications, especially the incomparable Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. And now an amazing grant from Adobe has allowed us to start Photography for Good — a way to inspire students and other creatives to advocate for causes they believe in.”
Founder, Executive Producer, and Photographer, Ripple Effect Images
Ripple Effect Images aims to turn ripples into waves
From the beginning, Ripple Effect Images has made Adobe part of its journey. From editing photos and managing archives to creating films and animations, to developing presentations, Adobe Creative Cloud apps are indispensable to the mission at Ripple. As Nacho says, “Without Adobe Creative Cloud tools, we wouldn’t be able to do our work.”
“My work is deeply tied to Adobe applications, especially the incomparable Adobe Photoshop Lightroom,” says Annie. “And now an amazing grant from Adobe has allowed us to start Photography for Good — a way to inspire students and other creatives to advocate for causes they believe in.”
The Photography for Good grant allowed Ripple to create over 20 short films and launch a program that teaches amateurs and professionals alike to turn their passions into projects. Annie sees their creative energy as profoundly important in today’s world. “I can’t think of a time in my life when we’ve needed it more,” she says. “Our goal now is to leverage and expand the work we have created through a network of schools, workshops, and media partners.”
Today, as Annie and Liz look toward the future of Ripple Effect Images, it’s still fundamentally about making a difference in the lives of women around the world.
“If you ask me what Ripple Effect Images will look like in 10 years, I’d say it’s not about the size of our team or our budget — it’s about the impact of our storytelling,” says Liz.
For Annie, that’s been a lifetime project — one that continues to inspire her.
“Spending time with women in the developing world has shown me the meaning of generosity and kindness. They invite me in, make me tea, and get a fire burning to feed me,” says Annie. “How could I not give back?”