YEDaily: JB Reed

After taking numerous photographs of those in need in third world countries, JB Reed and his partners of Nuru Project felt a responsibility to help. Now selling their photos online and donating the proceeds to non-profit organizations to lend help to those in need, JB talks about his experiences in both photography and starting his own business in today’s YEDaily…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I am Co-Founder and CEO of Nuru Project. Nuru Project sells photojournalism prints to support compelling non-profits and storytellers.

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
The concept behind Nuru Project – to give back to the communities where we photojournalists work – came following a Fulbright fellowship in Kenya. Like a lot of photographers, I felt a responsibility to help the people who I’d photographed, since they’d given me so much in terms of time, access, and friendship. So when I finished my project in Nairobi, I created a gallery show in Boston and the proceeds of my print sales went to a nonprofit working in the community I’d photographed. That became the model for future Nuru Project fundraisers.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
At Nuru Project, I search for images that were created as part of a news story and are now sitting idle on photojournalists’ websites. The biggest rush I get is that moment of discovery when I come a particularly special image.

The most challenging part of running Nuru Project right now is scaling up. It’s difficult at the outset when resources are tight to decide where to invest. Should we spend on strategy consulting, on PR and marketing, on design services?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I would love to continue to grow Nuru Project. My broader interest in social enterprise has really grown through this experience though, so even if it’s not with Nuru Project, I see myself involved in some sort of arts social enterprise.

What does success look like to you?
Success used to look to me like blindly following my passion. That led to lots of volunteer work. At the point that I was spending more time volunteering with Nuru Project than shooting for my own full-time photography career, it was time to make a change. Now success looks to me like something that both has social value and that can sustain me as I work on it.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Launching Nuru Project’s e-commerce website – – with the help of our awesome developer Chris McAleenan, was a major milestone for me. Whereas we’d been a volunteer organization that gave away 100% of funds we raised, with the launch of the website, we began sharing revenue for the first time. Whenever someone buys a Nuru Project print now, we share revenue 50/25/25 between our non-profit partner of the customer’s choosing/photographer/Nuru Project. This marked the transformation of Nuru Project from passion project to full-time gig.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Like a lot of people turning 30, I definitely don’t have everything figured out. I’ve found it challenging to identify compelling work that pays well enough and that allows time for family and friends. If there’s one thing I’ve stuck to this far, it’s been a willingness to take risks in pursuing things that matter to me. Two goods examples of this are making the leap to work on Nuru Project full-time and moving to Boston to be with my now-wife, Roya. The latter clearly paid off. As for the former, fingers crossed!

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
We partner with highly-effective non-profits as part of our mission at Nuru Project because we believe that such organizations can have a transformative impact on important social issues. And we believe that photojournalism prints that depict the issues our non-profit partners address are a natural means to create support for this work.

At present we support a range of non-profits including Acumen Fund, Architecture for Humanity, Kiva, Malaria No More, Millennium Promise, Pencils of Promise, and Partners In Health.

Acumen Fund, which invests in developing world entrepreneurs who are building businesses focused on the poor, is our biggest partner to date. In partnership with their volunteer chapters, including TORONTO+acumen and VANCOUVER+acumen, we’ve raised nearly $150,000 for Acumen. Both TORONTO+acumen and VANCOUVER+acumen are great volunteer opportunities for young professionals in those cities.

What to you is notable?
I’m drawn to storytelling about social challenges that is creative, in-depth, and sincere. Things that come to mind include music like roots reggae, dramas like The Wire, radio like NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook, and books like Dave Eggers’ What Is The What.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
I would love to quip about the Apple craze, but I own an iPhone, am on my second MacBook Pro, and regularly use my wife’s iPad.