Founder Feature: Eva Vonk

Eva Vonk

Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?

TALES began with a project at Storming Donkey Productions, a film production company. Back in 2013 I worked closely with Stefanie Plattner, its founder, on a mission to bring attention to the Congo Basin, the world's second-largest rainforest. Together, we aimed to create a series that informed international audiences about the significance of the Congo Basin, the world's second-largest rainforest. And as we delved into this endeavour, it became evident that we needed to be mindful of our role and boundaries in portraying such a region. We took the time to surround ourselves with experts and critically investigate the steps to take to ensure proper representation and inclusion, prioritising a respectful approach to amplify the voices of those most deeply connected and knowledgeable about and with this vital forest ecosystem. Collectively we envisioned a collaborative process which eventually culminated in "Congo Tales" a multimedia series that weaves authentic myths of the basin's diverse communities into an immersive experience, encompassing film, photos, and soundscapes.

The journey behind this project profoundly impacted me, refining my understanding of multimedia storytelling, and galvanising my commitment to this craft. It strengthened my believe that while media can sometimes marginalise and misrepresent, it equally has the power to uplift, enlighten, and unify. The positive reception of "Congo Tales" inspired the establishment of TALES, a non-profit multimedia collective committed to producing impactful projects in the same spirit.

What is the motivation and drive behind running your business?

My upbringing significantly fueled my passion for coming up with inventive content creation strategies. Our home was always bustling with creativity. With a large family, every celebration took a unique turn: milestone events had us banding together to produce films, newspapers, theatre acts, or even full blown musicals. Aunties and uncles would receive a 60-minute lip-sync video as a wedding gift, capturing the couple's favourite songs. New family arrivals were heralded with bespoke self produced newspapers. And when family members moved as far as Kenya, we kept the bond strong by sharing monthly video diaries back and forth.

My dedication to creativity thrives not in isolation, but in the joy of collaboration and shared experiences. Today, a foundational principle of mine that also defines TALES -is the philosophy of 'Bridging the Narratives' This mission, both personally and professionally, revolves around amplifying the rich tapestry of diverse stories from around the world, and normalising a more diverse offering in mainstream media. Rather than being the main narrators, TALES and I act as enablers, bringing the tools and expertise together to provide a platform for a myriad of voices to share their tales. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity but also the capability to follow my passion into the professional settings of TALES but also see it as a big responsibility, I have had the privilege of honing my skills as a storyteller in many shapes and forms, and today I find it incredibly important to put these skills into practice to help tell stories that should be told.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the world, what would it be and why?

Though a utopian dream would be; global equality, a more pragmatic wish is to mitigate the divisive 'isms' that seem omnipresent.

In our fast-paced digital era, genuine listening and understanding are often overshadowed by the rush to take sides and assert opinions. From what I've observed, conflicts among different activist groups can, despite their good intentions, sometimes curb the space for human trial and error. This limits genuine efforts to learn and evolve. People changing their behaviour is a lot more important than people cancelling their behaviour. It’s clear and understandable to me that cancel culture is a symptom of a society that is fed up with systemic silence about abuse and microaggressions, but we need to try to move towards a culture of accountability rather than cancellation.

True growth stems from acknowledging our missteps, absorbing the lessons they teach, and consistently aiming to better ourselves. We must understand that genuine 'safe spaces'; aren't only platforms for expressing views but are also sanctuaries where one can evolve without the fear of precipitate judgement. Such environments are indispensable, serving as a staple for mutual respect, understanding, and healing through open conversations. At TALES, our objective is to cultivate such a diversity of thought, a journey filled with its own challenges.

With my magical touch, I'd wish for a world that champions compassion and inclusivity, a place that acknowledges human potential for growth and promotes an overarching spirit of understanding and solidarity.

What does community mean to you? And what is it about your community that drives your motivation?

In the context of our work, community represents those involved in the innovation process. Our flagship project, WoU, aims to craft an inclusive digital environment for children and their guardians. Our community comprises these stakeholders, from core team members to transient contributors, each vital in shaping better digital futures for our target audiences. This community sense helps us persevere through the challenges of ushering meaningful change and gaining authority in education.

What challenges do you typically face in the day to day of running your business and how do you overcome them?

Managing time zones while leading a global team! The romance of a worldwide team dissipates when coordinating meetings between India and Brazil for example. Still, the key lies in fostering mutual respect, patience, and gratitude for today's connectivity wonders.

We get a lot of questions from the community asking how they win new clients or customers, what do you find works for you?

Being a non-profit, our model relies on donations and funding rather than traditional client acquisition, so I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of input to offer on this one.

Best investment?

Technically? A second monitor. The boost to productivity is undeniable.

On a personal note? A personal trainer. Investing in physical health, especially when ensconced behind a screen - or even 2-, is paramount. Prioritise it as you would food or skincare.

Worst investment?

I committed to an annual subscription for an AI keynote generator, optimistically hoping for a futuristic solution. The tech isn't there yet, reinforcing my belief in the human touch, especially in design.

What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?

When expanding your team, be prepared for an initial surge in workload. New members, despite their expertise, require your time, guidance, and sometimes mentoring during the onboarding phase. I'd stress to budding entrepreneurs the importance of dedicating time and resources during this phase.

About the Author

Eva Vonk

Eva is the  CEO of TALES, an international, non-profit, multimedia initiative sharing stories at the intersection of culture, community and nature to spark positive impact. She is a dedicated storyteller with a deep understanding of the evolving digital narrative landscape and a strong commitment to leveraging the power of media for a more just world.

She studied at the Film Academy in Amsterdam and later honed her skills in design thinking at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany. Her initial career trajectory saw her working on prominent advertising campaigns in Amsterdam, including for esteemed agencies like BBDO & Ogilvy Groups. These formative experiences were instrumental in shaping her vision for content that truly resonates with people at an emotional level.

In 2012 she moved to Berlin, Germany where she became the first employee of Storming Donkey Productions, a film production company run by Stefanie Plattner and Ekrem Erguen. There she worked on the development of the critically acclaimed German-Turkish feature film Hördur - Zwischen den Welten’ and developed the concept for Congo Tales.

From 2013 till 2016 she worked closely together with communities in the Mbomo District of the Congo Basin to help curate and record their mythologies, which laid the foundation for an expansive multimedia initiative that has been showcased, broadcasted, and published all over the world since.

In 2017, alongside Stefanie Plattner from Storming Donkey Productions, she officially launched Tales of Us (now known simply as TALES) as a non-profit.

Eva and her work has appeared in or on major news media such as The New York Times U.S. and The New York Times International Edition, National Public Radio, BBC Radio, Public Radio International, and PBS News Hour, as well as in the U.K.'s It's Nice That, Germany's Ignant, Chile's JOIA, France's Geo magazine, Italy's Focus magazine, and Arianna Huffington's Thrive.

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