Mutual Trust and Respect in a Small Non-Profit

For my Jepson summer internship, I am working with a non-profit organization called Ripple Effect Images. This organization was started by the National Geographic photographer, Annie Griffiths, who had the idea of using her talents for photography to make a difference in the lives of women and children around the world. She pitched her idea to a group of her friends, also highly successful photographers, and together they began Ripple Effect.

Because the organization was built by a group of friends on a genuine shared passion and vision, the leader/follower dynamic within the organization is very natural. There are several executive members of the organization, including Annie Griffiths (Executive Producer), Liz Bloomfield (Executive Director) and Nacho Corbella (Creative Director), but the rest of the organization functions like the photojournalism industry at-large, based on contracted projects. Ripple Effect has a team of photojournalists and filmmakers who are assigned to various projects throughout the year. The main decision-making power is in the hands of the executive team, but the creators also have a certain amount of freedom and autonomy in their work once they are on the ground. Additionally, there is a Board of Directors that is responsible for the fiscal health of the organization.

In the current state of our world, Ripple cannot send photographers and filmmakers to other countries to cover stories, so it has a slightly different focus. Instead of focusing on creating more content, Ripple Effect is currently using this down time during the pandemic to develop several new initiatives and programs, meaning the work is mostly in the hands of the executive team as the photographers and filmmakers work on other projects not related to Ripple Effect.

Beyond this collective mindset within the organization, another element that makes the leader-follower relationship so natural is the fact that many of the members are close friends or even relatives. According to Executive Producer Annie Griffiths, this intimate dynamic is “essential” to the functioning of the organization. The authentic relationships between individuals creates a space of high trust and genuine respect between leaders and followers because the people who work together truly know and love each other.

Although I can imagine that this has probably led to conflict or drama at times, my firsthand experience has shown me that it more often leads to open and honest communication. For example, Annie was recently telling me about a change that needed to be made on our social media accounts, an area of communications that falls under the responsibility of her son, the Production Manager. Although her feedback on his recent posts was critical, the professional conversation that occurred between Annie and her son seemed to be one of genuine respect, accountability, and shared vision. Because her son knows and respects her as both a creator and a person, her advice seemed to come through in a way that was critical, but also productive. I think this element of familial and intimate respect between creators at Ripple Effect Images adds a strong and unique component to the way the organization is led.

In my own personal work, I have felt this authentic connection with my leaders as well, as Annie clearly works hard to create an atmosphere of mutual learning, honest communication, and fun with me as her intern. I feel that, although I do not know her on as close of a level as the other employees do, she is present and willing to talk about any concerns or questions I have because she makes it clear that she sees me not only as a worker, but as a human, too.