The Image of Social Change
21 May 2014 at 10:44 am
A fledgling social enterprise in Redfern in NSW is harnessing the power of the photographic image to empower young people and drive social change, writes Nadia Boyce in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
Photography agency and training academy Flashpoint Labs is the product of many things – including a globetrotting experiment with social innovation in Hungary, and a passion for producing perceptive, socially conscious creative professionals.
The organisation provides a full range of corporate, event and advertising photography services, pairing young apprentices from diverse backgrounds with professional photographers, enabling youth to gain on-the-job industry experience.
All profits from the photography services go directly into supporting apprenticeships and changemaking photography programs.
Founder Mickey Kovari developed the model in tandem with now Chair of Flashpoint, Leanne Townsend, who he met during his tenure at the NSW Reconciliation Council.
“We were both passionate about social enterprise and youth empowerment, and had similar ideas on the way to go about it,” Kovari says. “I’d been involved in social change since university, especially in indigenous enterprise development.”
“I thought social enterprise was one of the most powerful ways to create change in society.”
After their meeting meeting, Kovari lived in Hungary for six months, working for a social innovation agency, before returning to Australia older and wiser and with a drive to develop Flashpoint Labs.
“It’s definitely very different there,” Kovari says. “Hungary is very behind, both in terms of maturity and the willingness of the business sector to engage in social innovation. There’s not much appetite even in terms of CSR.
“However, there were some great ideas to push, ideas I knew would work in Australia.”
Flashpoint’s training academy runs changemaking photography programs, where the focus is on storytelling and improving society through conscious image making.
Kovari passionately describes his vision of a form of photography where each shot captured with purpose and conscientiousness.
“There’s a great quote…that the camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without the camera.
“It’s the idea of putting the camera in the hands of people to tell their own stories,” he says. “It’s about encouraging communities to see things through their own eyes.
“There are things like art therapy, but they’re more personal – this is more about community change, social change with elements of systems thinking. The idea that you’re always very conscious of what you do in the photography process – like what the impact on the person you’re taking the image of will be.”
Kovari is in little doubt that photography has proven a highly-effective tool to keep his young charges interested.
“We work with all young people between the ages of 16 and 24,” he says. “Young people can pick up a camera and will engage immediately – whether it’s a phone, a point and shoot or a digital SLR.
“You can pick up camera skills very quickly. It’s not like drawing where you need technical skills to produce something of worth or something you feel confident showing to somebody else.
“Many of our young apprentices are part of longer programs of up to ten weeks. They get to know the facilitators, photographer and suppliers. They get a pretty good idea of what it’s [a professional environment is like.”
Despite the wealth of opportunities Flashpoint offers, photography remains an exceptionally competitive field. Succeeding as a professional requires investment in expensive equipment and the talent to stand above others.
Kovari is keen to provide his best and brightest prospects with the nurturing and extension they require, but says that the emphasis of his program is about producing socially-conscious professionals across all creative fields.
“It's about inspiring young people to be creative professionals and not creative professional photographers,” he says. “We’re in the thick of it just trying to make money and keep the doors open.
“Young people can move into multi-year apprenticeships, and they pick up skills for life.”
Developing the Offering
The program’s social impact is proving a boon for Flashpoint Labs, providing opportunities with corporates and NGOs looking to become involved with for-purpose contractors.
The agency’s major clients include two big banks – one of which is ING Direct, who have taken on Flashpoint Labs via the company’s sustainability channels.
“With ING, [social purpose] was definitely the premise,” Kovari says. “We’re working with them, wanting to be their preferred photography supplier.”
It is hoped that ultimately Flashpoint will rise within the organisation to compete with other major photography providers.
“We’re working with the sustainability team and hope to get closer to the marketing team,” Kovari say.
Kovari says greater corporate involvement could help companies see how they can make a difference. A new product will see fees paid for workshop services, geared at corporates and others who may want to participate in a team building experience.
Social Impact to Date:
“Photography is the vessel, photography is the vehicle for changemaking. We’re keen to do that for corporates as well,” he adds.
Putting a dollar figure on the social impact achieved remains elusive, however, the organisation is persistent in tracking the social impact it achieves.
It is a timely step in order to demonstrate value to prospective investors and corporate partners as the organisation seeks a $100,000 investment to scale its operations.
“We measure everything that can be quantified,” Kovari says. “We’re still worried about trying to express that social impact as a dollar figure. I do think we have a very large impact ratio for what’s invested.”
A Future Snapshot
Kovari’s passion for social enterprise is unwavering despite the many hours tirelessly investe to get Flashpoint Labs off the ground.
“Flashpoint Labs could only start because both Leeanne and I had full time job outside Flashpoint. Before we left late last year, we would work at night,” Kovari says.
“Most lean towards a grants and donations model whereas we’re trying to do both and push a real social enterprise model. Moving forward our challenge is how to scale our opportunities to make revenue.
“We’re at the beginning of moving towards an economy full of social enterprises. I hope they slowly take over every sector and industry.
“Social enterprise is the future business model for all enterprise.”
Read more about Flashpoint Labs here.