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This is how Makmende Media builds bridges between different worlds


Verhalen van:

David Wouters

Interview door:

May 13, 2022

A month ago, I started my adventure as a community manager at A Lab. With COVID-19 at play, the community at A Lab has become very dispersed. Some A Labbers work from home, while others are slowly but surely returning to their lab. In these times, it is certainly a challenge to start as a community manager without really having the chance to meet the majority of the community.

Even from a distance, I can feel the vibrancy and connection of the community at A Lab. It's like being part of a family. Our members are together on their own, and sometimes joint, journey to create and make a social impact. They all have their own story to tell, and I believe that stories connect people in these times. Stories evoke emotions that enable us to understand and empathize with others. They give us the tools to form our opinions, challenge our perceptions, and ultimately learn from each other. I think that's what brings people together at A Lab; it's a creative hub for people who want to make a difference.

One of those stories is that of our new member, a storytelling agency called Makmende Media. 'Makmende' is Swahili for “doing what is impossible” - and that is exactly what Ivan and his team do. Even during lockdowns, quarantines, and social isolation, Makmende continues to create stories and collect content from around the world. I had a virtual meeting with Makmende's director, Ivan Mikulić, a film maker graduate at the Film Academy, former journalist and always a storyteller. We talked about A Lab, stories and bridging cultural gaps on an intercultural scale. Curious? Read our conversation below.

Ivan M.CEO & Agency Lead at MAKMENDE Media

Hey Ivan, can you tell us more about MAKMENDE Media?

Together with a team of 7 creatives, a producer and an editor, we run a concept and storytelling agency here in A Lab, with a focus on enhancing social impact. We work primarily on a project basis, both with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and with the socially engaged side of brands such as H&M Foundation, Cartier Foundation and (a Facebook initiative). These are usually powerful brands that have a social or environmental impact worldwide. We research and integrate storytelling concepts into their communication strategy to create meaningful campaigns. Every year, we produce around 40 campaigns, and to achieve this with a compact team, we work closely with our global network of local filmmakers, producers, photographers and researchers in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Why fly in teams when there is talent everywhere?

One such example is our latest campaign with the IKEA Foundation and AgriProficus, a Dutch NGO. The campaign focuses on promoting agricultural jobs among young people in East Africa. For this campaign, we are collaborating with influencers in Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Tanzania to promote the importance of agriculture in the region.

How did MAKMENDE get all that local expertise?

In 2006, we started as a journalistic network of more than 2000 journalists who published articles from the African continent. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be a viable business model. As a last resort, the then CEO decided to use our last money to purchase 100 BlackBerrys. These phones were distributed to journalists in countries such as Kenya, Ghana and Uganda, asking them to visit partner NGOs and film their projects. We then sold these simple videos as visual reports. At that point, the company changed from journalism to visual storytelling, and that was what saved us. In no time, we were able to get visual content from Ghana's “Lutjebroek”.

How did you end up at MAKMENDE Media?

After graduating from film school, I worked on fantastic projects in the advertising business. But after three years, I started to wonder what I was actually doing. I wanted to focus on campaigns that actually had an impact, instead of just selling products to people.

That's what brought me to this company. What really appealed to me was how we used our local network to tell stories about things that really matter. Later, the team and I transformed the company into what it is today. We focus on campaigns for organizations ranging from small NGOs to brands that want to take responsibility. Our strength as an agency remains our network of filmmakers in developing countries around the world who help us create meaningful and authentic content. They are aware of the trends, know the local influencers and have a deep understanding of their culture, which offers us a unique perspective as Western creatives.

Did you also have this interest in storytelling as a child?

Definitely. I grew up in the time of communism in the former Yugoslavia. I had a Disney book that couldn't be found anywhere else and a stack of books about Greek myths and stories. I've read them hundreds of times and they've completely swallowed me up.

What inspired you to choose A Lab?

As a compact team of eight people, we sometimes feel a bit isolated when we just come together in one office. In many office environments, there is no real connection with others. I missed the dynamic of meeting new people and sharing ideas. That's why A Lab appealed to me; it's more than just a workplace, it's a vibrant ecosystem. Here you can meet others, collaborate, have inspiring conversations and create collaboratively

What similarities do you see between A Lab and MAKMENDE?

What we do as a company is to connect people. We make the right matches between projects, brands and storytellers. In the same way, A Lab acts as a connection point between people. It's fascinating how that works. In the beginning, Lucas came to me and introduced me directly to a number of people in the building.

What's the most memorable project you've worked on?

One project that I will always remember is our recently completed project for Cartier. Every year, the foundation awards awards to women in more than 7 regions around the world who run a social business that gives back to communities. Cartier selects a few winners from among the nominees, who will then receive a significant financial contribution and coaching to increase their impact. Without leaving our office, MAKMENDE took portraits of these women with local teams in 21 countries. The campaign is now available on all social media. This project appeals to me personally because it combines two things that I am very passionate about: doing business and having a positive impact.

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What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your work?

As a journalist, I was often disappointed with the writing style and perspective that people in Western cultures have compared to developing countries. The tendency to separate “us, the rich” and “they, the poor” or “we, the privileged” and “they, the needy” has always occupied me. This is something I had a hard time with. The entire MAKMENDE team shares the view that stereotypes can be harmful, and we aim to change this. That's why we want to bridge the gap between people on different sides of the world by bringing their reality closer to home.

Is that what you aim for with MAKMENDE? Building bridges?

We try stories, of course. cannot be made more beautiful than they are, but in creating them, we strive to tell meaningful stories that establish a deeper human connection. A good example is our gender equality campaign with the Care Foundation. The goal of this campaign was to appeal to Dutch women in their thirties at the start of their careers. We wanted to show culturally entrepreneurial women in their thirties, and initially the client presented stereotypical images of female farmers. How could we get the message across and appeal to women in this way? So, together with our local network of researchers, we searched for stories of modern, successful women in developing countries who went against stereotypes. Women who have become extremely successful against all odds, such as “farmer Sandra” who never went to school but is now the leader of a women's cooperative of 400 farmers. Together, we created a campaign called “Unlikely Entrepreneur”. The campaign revolved around our own ideas about stereotypes and was a huge success.

MAKMENDE challenges people to change their perception. How have you been personally challenged since joining the company?

It has challenged my view as a maker. At the Film Academy, you'll learn that filmmaking is about control. You need to keep a close eye on all aspects you can control in order for the project to succeed. At MAKMENDE, however, it is impossible to control people on the other side of the world. We can only work by letting go of that control. That means that the best thing I can do is provide examples that fit a particular scenario. I'm not there when our local producers are at work, so I have to fully rely on them. At first, I found this difficult. I doubted that they would make it without us, but I had to accept that we didn't have to be physically present to make the movie. Once I learned to let go and accept that we were creating something together, I realized that this is where the magic happens.

It taught you to let go of control: that is very valuable. Your agency focuses on making a social impact. If you could work on one project, tackle a problem or social challenge, what would it be?

Although we use our talent to empower our clients' work and make it resonate, it often remains a commissioned campaign. I feel the urge to show the world more of ourselves as the MAKMENDE team. In our team, we have talented and creative people, each with a unique voice. That's why we're now at the point where we're ready to go out and tell our own stories. We have the idea to launch a new journalistic website for consumers, focused on highlighting positive impact, with a focus on gender equality, entrepreneurship, global health and climate change.

What do you think we should pay more attention to in life?

My goal is to inspire and connect people with positive and uplifting stories from developing countries, and to show that we are all connected in one way or another. I believe that we should strive more to make real contact with each other.

You've traveled extensively as a journalist. Which trips inspired you?

I worked for a development aid television program and flew to Nairobi. There, I made reports in rural Kenya. The stories were often stereotyped: poor children, people drumming, malnutrition, and so on. After filming, I dove into the city's nightlife with the local producers. I saw people who were better dressed than people in Amsterdam, hip clubs and DJs like I had never seen before. The contrast surprised me. I realized that by making these stories for television, I was perpetuating the stereotypical image that people around the world have of Africa - an image that is incomplete and sometimes even false. These trips opened my eyes to the need for more positive, more human and more balanced stories. We have to look beyond what we think we know.

MAKMENDE means: doing the impossible. What feels like doing the impossible to you?

To run an agency during COVID-19, with countless customers panicking and cancelling jobs.

How do you experience that?

The fact is that many of the projects we are currently working on have been postponed or even canceled. Fortunately, we still have a number of assignments in the concept and research phases and post-production can still continue.

We really had to redefine the way we work to attract new jobs. One of the ways we've done that is by working more with user-generated content. All the local filmmakers we work with around the world are now stuck at home out of work and contact us if we have assignments for them. We came up with the idea to ask them to contact everyone they know who has a cell phone and start recording for us. In this way, we were able to collect video material from around the world via WhatsApp. Our customers are very interested in this way of working because we were one of the few who were able to collect stories in this way during the lockdown.

What do you hope to achieve with MAKMENDE in the future?

We would like to organize a film festival that is about social impact. That is something we are working on. Maybe there is someone in the building who would like to organize with us? Here in A Lab!

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