Meet the Nomads – Mark and Judith of Foundation Communicaid

Meet Judith Madigan and Mark van Luyk, founders of Foundation Communicaid. Judith is the General Director/ Chairperson and Mark the Creative Director/ Photographer of this unconventional nonprofit organization that supports aid organizations two nu nomads who have blended their passion for charitable endeavors with that of traipsing around the world. I caught up with them in Bangkok, and over a bottle of Italian Chianti and plates of Mexican food we talked about their way of living.

Foundation Communicaid (FCA) was formally established about a year ago to assist local community based aid organizations with their marketing and communications, by using photography, graphic design and copywriting to maximize the organizations’ marketing potential. It grew after Mark and Judith, both world travelers, saw the need for such a service as they volunteered for a few aid groups during their travels. They noticed that too often organizations on the front lines of helping communities and people were unable to effectively communicate to potential supporters and donors what it was the organization was doing, how well they were doing it, and what they needed in order to keep helping people in need.

In The Netherlands Mark was an established photographer, communications and marketing professional serving as creative director for a marketing company. Judith was a licensed MSc Optometrist. Both have a great passion for charitable work. Our intention was and still is to contribute to a better world- helping others with our skills, said Judith. This passion, coupled with her university (masters degree) structuring skills and Mark’s creative disciplines, formed the beginning for a new vocation that would take them out of The Netherlands and on the road. It was an opportunity to do what they wanted. While in The Netherlands, stated Judith, you can’t plan for a life like this. You just have to go and see what happens.”

What interested them in becoming mobile was: freedom, more opportunities, and the chance to experience diverse cultures to see the world. Although Judith admitted to being an at-home person and found the whole mobile lifestyle idea a little frightening at first, she soon learned that it is she who makes her “home” and not the other way around. I can adjust very easily now. And, she added, Mark and I finally have plenty of time for each other which was not the case when we were living the work-a-day world back in The Netherlands.” Mark shared the sentiments of his co-worker (and personal partner) and offered an example where mobility really shined.

Up until recently the two had based themselves in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After nearly a year in that city they felt it was simply time for a change of scenery. They were also offered other opportunities elsewhere. Being mobile allowed them to pick up their gear and mobile office equipment, get on an airplane and set up shop in Bangkok. In two more months, they’ll be in various locations within Indonesia. Also, Mark added, being able to move about grants me moments of greater creativity and clarity. It is while traveling that I get these, lack of a better word “epiphanies” where I get the nature of the meaning of something that I can reflect in my work.”

Both Judith and Mark are full time nomads. Though Southeast Asia is where their work is taking them these days, they are completely open to working and traveling to just about any location on earth. They have their main office in The Netherlands, so they do like visiting neighboring European countries as often as they can when they are up that way and can afford it. Even with an ever-growing travel case of mobile equipment, they don\’t find themselves anchored in any particular place yet.

These mobile professionals are, however, traveling heavier than they had anticipated at first with Mark being burdened a bit more than his partner since he’s the photographer which requires camera equipment in addition to his notebook computer and related accessories. Mark has two cameras, both Canons. His primary one is the 1DSMarkII and he has a 10D as backup. He totes along 3 lenses (all Canons): EF 24-70mm 2.8, EF 70-200mm 2.8 IS, and EF 16-35mm 2.8, as well as a couple of remote flash units. Both prefer Macintosh computers. Their newest acquisition is a MacBook Pro 15.4″ screen, 2.2GHz with Leopard OSX. The other notebook is a PowerBook G4 with a 12″ screen. They chose Mac over PC because they’re partial to the graphic quality that Macs are known for, and because the operating system is not (yet) greatly vulnerable to malicious viruses. Plus they simply like the stylized design that Mac offers. (All of this stuff is packed in 2 Pelican cases, customized to fit all the stuff for FCA.) This equipment is in addition to a Wacom tablet (for graphics), Yamaha classical guitar, small iPod, and Motorola mobile phone.

When asked if there are any web-based services they rely upon to run their business, they said that here they keep it simple. Skype is their main tool for verbal communications and their on-line banking keeps their finances flowing. Other than that, they use what’s in their computers. They have little problems communicating with their clients globally or supporters back in The Netherlands.

The Netherlands is where FCA gets its financial support through donations and support grants. Their work, however, is performed overseas and changes as the opportunities and need arise. It’s a real hands-on approach. They work closely with the client at their site, but their follow-up work is done through electronic communication as “Team Worldwide” will travel from project to project as nomads. It is a vocation that has amazed and is envied by both supporters and clients, especially the latter. Community based aid organizations are usually pretty location bound, noted Judith. They see our ability to up-and-go and view that as a great way of living.” Mark added that one of their clients refers to them as “The New Gypsy Organization.”

This statement brought the interview to the next logical question, regarding the pros and cons of the nu nomadic business and lifestyle. They both said that the benefits were sort of obvious: the opportunity to travel which is in addition to what was mentioned earlier in this article about freedom and opportunities, working and meeting with various people and communities. The down side was that they sometimes felt scattered and less organized then they wished to be. They had to maintain discipline and working hours, which can be a challenge when you’re in an environment where people are often having vacation time’such as on a tropical island. Also, the time difference between Asia and The Netherlands, where they often have to do net meetings, can be difficult. When the Dutch office is open or their supporters most available, it is already late at night where the FCA team is. But, Judith assured that’s not a big problem; just a little inconvenient at times.”

In closing, Mark and Judith’s advice to those people wanting to set up their own mobile business is to: Follow your heart. Why keep yourself in this lifestyle that doesn’t make you happy? Take the step! By traveling opportunities will arise. Ultimately, the good stuff, like success and happiness, is sure to follow.”

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