However even from a distance I can feel how vibrant and close the community at A Lab is. It’s like I’ve entered a family. Together, our members are on their own and sometimes even on shared journeys in creating and making a social impact. They all have stories to tell and I believe that in these times, stories is what connects people. Stories elicit emotions that allow us to understand and empathize with others, they provide us with the tool to form opinions, to challenge our perceptions and ultimately to learn from each other. I believe this is what brings people together at A Lab, it’s a creative hub for those that are trying to make a difference.
One of those stories is that of our new member, a storytelling agency named Makmende Media. ‘Makmende’ is Swahili for ‘doing what is impossible’ – which is exactly what Ivan and the team are doing. Even in times of lockdowns, quarantines and social isolation Makmende creates stories and acquires content coming from all over the world. I meet up in the virtual with Makmende's managing director, graduated filmmaker from the Film academy, former journalist and always-storyteller: Ivan Mikulić. We talk about A Lab, stories and about bridging gaps on an intercultural scale. Curious? Read our conversation below.
Hi Ivan, could you tell me a little bit more about MAKMENDE Media?
Together with a team of 7 creatives, a producer and an editor we run a concept and storytelling agency in A Lab aimed at amplifying social impact. We work mostly project-based with both NGO’s (Non-governmental organizations) and the soft side of brands like H&M foundation, Cartier Foundation and Internet.org (Run by Facebook). Usually they are strong brands that are making a social or environmental impact around the globe. We do research and integrate storytelling concepts into their communication strategy to create meaningful campaigns. We produce 40 campaigns each year and to pull this off as a small team we’re collaborating with our global network of local filmmakers, producers, photographers and researchers throughout Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. Why fly in crews, when there's talent everywhere.
An example is our most recent campaign with IKEA Foundation and AgriProficus, a Dutch NGO. The campaign focuses on promoting jobs in agriculture to youth in East Africa. For this campaign we work with influencers in Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Tanzania to promote the importance of agriculture in the region.
How did MAKMENDE acquire all of that local expertise?
Back in 2006 we started out as a journalistic network of over 2000 journalists publishing articles from the African continent. Unfortunately this was not a good business model. As a last resort the previous CEO bought 100 blackberries with our last money. The phones were handed out to journalists in countries like Kenya, Ghana and Uganda and they were asked to visit partner NGO’s to film their projects. We then sold these simple videos as visual reports. At this time, the company went from journalism to visual storytelling and that was what saved us. In a heartbeat you could get visual content from the ‘Lutjebroek’ of Ghana.
So how did you end up at MAKMENDE Media?
After graduating from the film academy, I ended up working on really cool projects in advertising. But after three years it made me question what I was doing, I wanted to create campaigns that made an impact, not just sell bullshit to people.
That’s how I ended up at this company. What really appealed to me was how we use our local network to create stories about things that matter. Later the team and I revamped the company to what it is today. We focus on campaigns for organizations, small NGO’s to brands that are starting to act responsibly. Our strength as an agency still is this network of filmmakers in developing countries across the globe that help us to create meaningful and authentic content. They know the trends, what’s relevant, who the local influencers are and have a different view than we as Western people have of their culture.
Have you always been inspired by stories, ever since you were a little kid?
Definitely. I grew up in times of communism in ex-Yugoslavia. I had a Disney book you couldn’t get anywhere and a pile of books about Greek myths and tales. I would read them hundreds of times and it would totally consume me.
Could you tell me more about why you chose for A Lab?
We are a small team of 8 people and by only spending time together in one office we sometimes feel isolated from the rest of the world. In many office spaces there’s a lack of connection with others. I missed the crossover and the excitement of meeting new people. I came here because A Lab is an eco-system. It allows you to meet others, to connect, to work together, to have inspiring talks and to create together.
In what way do you think A Lab and MAKMENDE are similar?
What we do as a company is connecting people. We create the right matches between projects, brands and storytellers. A Lab is the same in that way. You’re connecting people with each other. It’s amazing how that works. In the beginning Lucas already came to me and started connecting me to some people in the building.
What’s the most beautiful project you’ve worked on?
One that sticks with me is our recently finished project for Cartier. Its foundation hands out annual awards to women in over 7 regions in the world owning a social business that gives back to communities. Out of the nominees, Cartier picks a couple of winners who then receive a large sum of money and coaching to go scale-up. Without ever leaving our office, MAKMENDE created portrets of those women with local crews in 21 countries. The campaign is to be seen on all socials right now. This project speaks to me personally as it combines two things I’m very passionate about: business and making a positive impact.