Photocircle gives tourists a new way to help the needy

Exotic vacation destinations provide rich source material for photographers, and yet they are also often places where people are in real need. That’s a situation new Berlin startup Photocircle is trying to help improve — by providing a deeper link between the two worlds.
It’s a very simple idea: If a photographer has taken a fine-art-quality snap somewhere around the world, they can upload it to Photocircle for consideration, choose the markup they’d like put on it and the percentage of that markup they’d like to see donated to charity.
Photocircle then sells the prints, and customers are given a list of three projects close to where the shot was taken. Once they’ve bought, the company hands over the donation — and gives an additional six percent of the base price to the project as well.
“There are other websites for photography, but there’s none with our concept,” founder Thomas Heinrich told me on Tuesday, the day of the launch. “You’d think someone would be doing it already, but we’re the first ones.”
Not all the projects are in the so-called developing world — one, for example, aims to give the less-well-off in Berlin a chance to take in culture they might otherwise miss. But the bulk are in places like North Africa, India and Latin America.
What kind of projects are we talking? Relief supplies for Sudanese refugees. Deprived children in Haiti. Health education in Cambodia.
The photographers need to give at least 30 percent of their revenues to the projects, but according to Heinrich, many of those who signed up during the closed beta have chosen to give as much as 70 percent.
Photocircle is quite keen on transparency, and some of those it’s partnered with are pretty high-profile, notably the UNHCR refugee agency and Plan International, the children’s development organization.
Early funding for the scheme comes from the European Social Fund, the Berlin Senate and the Beuth Technical University. According to Heinrich, Photocircle does want to be profitable at some point, but that’s not the main consideration. “We consider ourselves a social business,” he said.
It’s nice to hear the term used in that context for a change.