Revamping our intensive tech & data support

Joshua Sehoole

The Engine Room’s Matchbox programme provides direct, intensive support to social justice organisations from resource-constrained backgrounds who are interested in using technology and data to strengthen their work. 

Since Matchbox was launched in 2014, we’ve been partnering with organisations via an open call and subsequent selection process, guided by criteria developed to help us find initiatives that would be a good fit. Over the years, we’ve grown our matchmaking skills and supported a number of partners in Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa. Our core Matchbox support team continues to be based in these two regions, and have themselves worked within local social movements and civil society organisations.

From 2022, we’ll be running our Matchbox programme a little differently.  

Inspired by learnings from our recent research on equity in funding, we are moving towards a new selection process. After months of research and reflection, we have decided to make our Light Touch Support programme (LiTS) the primary way through which we select Matchbox partnerships. Our LiTS programme provides lightweight support to organisations and individuals working towards social justice, who have questions about using data or technology in their work. 

From 2022, we will do away with the open call selection process (which can be labour- and resource-intensive for organisations who apply) and instead invite Matchbox applications from organisations who have already engaged with our LiTS programme beforehand. We believe that this will allow us to deepen our connections with organisations more organically, build partnerships in non-extractive and non-exploitative ways, and ensure our partners’ time and resources are well applied.

What’s changed? 

  • Growing our relationships and support offers organically: Instead of committing to long-term partnerships with organisations we meet through a selection process, we are now keen to start small (through LiTS) and develop our collaboration with organisations more organically, taking more time to become familiar with each other and ensure that our way of providing direct targeted advice is something that resonates with our partners.
  • More time spent supporting organisations: Open calls involve an extensive selection process that demands a lot of work from everyone involved. The process can be a strain on organisations – especially during the pandemic – and also on our own team, since we’re only able to support a handful of partners intensively at a time. By growing our connections with former LiTS partners instead, we spend more time on relationship building, project design and support provision.
  • Growing more equitable partnerships: As with any relationship, it usually takes a while for us and our partners to  get to know each other: our areas of focus and expertise, our workflows and working styles, our commonalities and differences. Letting organisations know that they can now request more intensive support, and mutually engaging in assessing if, how, and when that is appropriate, reinforces a more equitable approach to partnership, grounding the growth of our support in trust, honesty and solidarity. 
  • Increased flexibility: The open call process tied us to a particular application window; we will now instead be able to offer support to organisations along a more organic timeline. Trust helps us to hold space for honest conversations where partners have room to engage with us at the most appropriate and opportune moments for them, allowing us to provide support that is responsive to shifting organisational contexts, capacities, resources and needs. 
  • Shorter timeline: We used to take on a sizable project to work on with our partners for around 12-18 months; Matchbox partnerships will now take place  over 6-8 months. The more contained timeline requires us to really prioritise what’s needed most, and to embark on it incrementally.

New processes = new challenges 

This is a new format, and we’ll need to learn and refine the programme accordingly as we go. We’ll need to figure out things like how to best navigate shifting numbers of partnerships, and  how to best manage a more demand-driven level of support (in terms of our matching our internal resources to changing levels of demand). 

We’ll also need to keep an eye on who might not know about us, in order to ensure that we continue to have a diverse pool of partners. This means actively promoting our LiTS support in spaces more accessible to those who tend to be excluded from tech and data spaces. 

On that note, if you are working in a social justice context and have questions or ideas related to using tech and data in your work, we’d like to invite you to schedule a LiTS call with us (or to please share our LiTS programme with partners you think might be a good fit!).

We are also eager to hear your thoughts, concerns, advice, experiences, questions, and ideas around our new approach – feel free to reach out to us at joshua[at]


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