Dr. Monk

Dr. Monk is Dead. Long Live Dr. Monk!

First things first: Dr. Monk is ending by design. When we founded our company a decade ago, we made a promise to conclude it exactly 10 years later. Here is why.

When exactly did it start? Was it that dark wintery night when we bumped into each other, decided to hang out, and made an elephant out of clay? Was it a few years before, when Lynn walked up to Ama and spoke the prescient words: “You look like you could be my family”? Or did it happen generations before that?

“If you don’t start, you will never get to the end.” — Juliana Bernadette van Cornewal (Lynn’s grandma)

Let us first fast forward to the end. After a decade of researching, ideating, co-creating, challenging, wondering, and celebrating, we have come to the finish line of Dr. Monk. We knew this wasn’t forever. In fact, we wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be.

Ok but why?

There are myriad reasons to put an end date to an endeavor.

Toxicity starts with holding on too tight, insisting on a direction. From the start, we said that we did not want to become an organization that exists to sustain itself — that is not what the world needs.

We also wanted to make space for potential, for unspoken dreams, and unknown paths that are waiting to unfold.

Third, there is something nice about consciously ending a good thing. It allows you to reflect on what you have achieved, and what you are grateful for.

And while it is hard to say goodbye to each other as a team (tears!), we know that we must. At the same time, there is no such thing as goodbye when you run a business like a family.

As the dust settles

Once the dust settles, you start to see the shape of what you created. We love the shape of Dr. Monk. We combined our powers, from several different parts of the world, and together forged our unique flavour of transformation.

Dr. Monk has advised country ministers on the African continent, listened to farmers in rural Ghana, Ivory Coast and Kenya, worked with breastfeeding mothers in Nairobi and Accra, got creative around mental health innovation, worked with children to tell their stories, made documentaries, designed high-level sessions, did rather unconventional research, rubbed shoulders with future female African Presidents, and co-created artistic interventions like a street art festival and our very own Church (join us!). And this was our JOB!

In all our work, we immersed ourselves in different worlds, got up close and personal, and encouraged each other to use our own voices.

And off we went on another adventure. Often taking bold steps forward, sometimes in disbelief, wondering when someone would call our bluff. Being together as a team helped us survive several episodes of imposter syndrome. Can we do this? YES WE DID! And, along the way, through these experiences, we realized we had more and more to offer.

Want to see more of our work, soak in some of our experiences, steal some of the tools we used? We are very excited to show you the virtual exhibition we have prepared you, with highlights of our decade of Dr. Monk.

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What we take along

Embedded in the DNA of Dr. Monk has been a deep curiosity — maybe obsession — with inequality. The inequality that is ingrained in everything we touch.

How can this same single globe be so drenched in contrasts, like day and night? How can we hold concepts like human rights in high esteem, while countless people offer up their lives to serve the trivial needs of a few? How come the parts of the world we call “poor” hold the resources that made other parts rich? How come there is so much talk of progress, sustainability, morality, but so little of this is acted upon?

These are huge questions that Dr. Monk has asked itself and tried to explore from different perspectives.

In our search, Dr. Monk straddled at least two worlds. The first is the world of ideas and narratives, and the second is the world of raw lived experiences. While these two worlds stand in a dynamic dance with each other, they are very separate.

In the first world, there are entire machines of existence that perpetuate dominant ways of thinking. Here, people take a stance on issues they have no experience with, form opinions and judgments about how the world should be, or decide the shape and fate of people they see as “other“. Here, people organize and compartmentalize their lives according to the next achievement, wish, hope, or dream. This is a very powerful world.

This world is far away from the second world, where people take it one day at a time; navigating, coping, adjusting to what life throws at them. An incredibly valuable lesson in our work has been that reality is everything, not narrative. Interviewing people, listening to them, we noticed that people in this world sometimes struggle to express their hopes, dreams and desires; these concepts do not serve them. And although these people have a different set of choices available to them, they are far from powerless. We learned that two things are true at the same time: those who have power determine the outcome, and each of us has more power than we realize.

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We also learned that impact is a verb, and never complete. Having a positive impact on the world is not a state that you reach. It’s a commitment, it’s a constant practice, it is learning, it is acting, it is coming together. Some impact is not measurable — and that’s ok.

Lastly, we learned that when there is deep trust, laughter, and commitment within a group of people, there’s no limit to creation and failing turns into learning together. A major shout out to Kwame, Afra, Jamel, Elizabeth, Marrit, Caro, Eefke, Laura, Cynthia, Lutuf, Dumi, Tikwiza, Alex, Ivan and others who joined our team over the years, in any major or small way — you were the best crew anyone could wish for. A deep bow for our collaborators and clients, who felt like partners in crime and created the impact we could never have had alone. A ton of gratitude to our support system — Marijke, Jim, Mummy, Will, Tom — how could we ever have done this without you? And love to our little humans — Ella, Manoa, and Isao — for keeping us grounded and giving us all so much joy.

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So here we are

We are thankful for our experiences, from which we harvest abundantly. We hope we have contributed something positive. We bring along lessons for every day of our lives. We have supported each other through the darkest of times. And we have loved our work.

This is our final lesson: learning how to end consciously, honoring what has been, and letting go — knowing deeply that life has so much to offer each of us.

With love,

Ama van Dantzig and Lynn Zebeda
(Ex!)co-founders of Dr. Monk

P.S. From the ashes of Dr. Monk rise two things. First, the Dr. Monk Foundation in Ghana, which will be continuing the Ananse Climate Education Project and other local arts, culture and education projects in Ghana. Second, the Church of Climate Change as a stand-alone initiative, which you are oh so welcome to join!

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What is Dr Monk?

Dr. Monk is an international agency that offers research and ideation. We work with pioneering clients to develop interventions that will help us move towards a more equal, regenerative and compassionate future.

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