A letter from The Engine Room’s Board, and a message from our Executive Director, Julia
Letter from the TER Board
October 18, 2023
Dear Friends, Partners, and Supporters of The Engine Room,
Today we are announcing that Julia Keseru is leaving The Engine Room at the end of this year. We are deeply grateful to Julia for the work she has done and the legacy she built during her tenure. With Julia’s leadership The Engine Room expanded its services and support portfolio, attracted diverse funding and partnerships, and deepened its impact in multiple regions.
Julia joined the team in 2015 and has been our Executive Director since 2018. You can read more about the reasons for her transition and what she is going to do next in her letter below. We thank Julia for her passion and investment that helped The Engine Room grow into what it is today, and we wish her the best in her future endeavours. While she will be greatly missed, we are eager to see what she does next!
Moving forward, we are excited to announce that TER will formally adopt a model of co-leadership based on the learnings and work of the current leadership team, who have cultivated a shared leadership approach since Julia’s health crisis two years ago. This started when we brought in Gillian Williams as our Interim Executive Director during Julia’s medical leave. As Julia eased back into work, Gillian and Julia developed a model for sharing leadership. Together with co-Deputy Directors Paola Mosso and Laura Guzmán, they formed a committed, diverse, thoughtful senior leadership team who dug deep into feminist and shared leadership. They’ve written about it in a recent blog.
We have spent time reflecting on co-leadership and the future of the field, and engaged in developing the core tenets of what we are looking for in leadership for the organisation. Over the summer we created a process of candidate recruitment, interviewing, and selection. We were excited when Paola expressed interest in co-leading The Engine Room, and she formally interviewed with us through this process. We are pleased to announce that we have selected her as one of the two co-Executive Directors.
Paola has been with The Engine Room for eight years. She is embedded in various local and global activist communities and has deep expertise in digital ecosystems, online infrastructures, emerging technologies and justice-focused technologies. Please join us in congratulating her for this new role and wishing her the best!
Today we are also announcing our formal search for the co-Executive Director. You can learn more about it in the posting here. We’re excited about this search, and look forward to hearing from all of you.
Ivan Sigal, Chair
Message from our ED, Julia
Eight years ago I joined a team that I admired from afar but didn’t know deeply – the one thing I was certain of was that The Engine Room was doing things very differently than others. Under Alix Dunn’s visionary and compassionate leadership, I found myself in a completely distributed global team that was functional and fun to be a part of. From the first moment I knew that this was going to be a long-term relationship and that I came across something rare and magical: a team that makes me motivated and happy.
In a few years, I found myself at the wheel of the same team. Leading an organisation like TER was a dream come true for me. And little did I know how transformative the past five years were going to be.
Two years into my tenure the pandemic hit and while The Engine Room weathered the storm of the global health crisis, it was not without scars – my own personal ones included. My daughter was only one when I became ED and I learned the hard way how difficult it is to be an involved parent and a responsible leader at the same time. Then two years ago I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and had to step out of the work to go through a series of invasive treatments and surgeries. I am happy to report that my health is in great shape right now, but the past two years have dramatically changed my perspective on life.
Most importantly, I realised that I care deeply about how people exist in the world as physical entities – what our true bodily boundaries are, how we can meaningfully coexist with each other in ways that uphold our dignity, and how we create systems that support autonomy and integrity. As I dove deeper into corporeal philosophy, bioethics, bodily integrity and cyberfeminism, I developed a tremendous appetite to learn new things, venture into new arenas and experiment with new ideas and ways of being and working. I also learned that I have meaningful things to say about how our bodies exist in a digital era – things that significantly build on The Engine Room’s legacy but that might go beyond its mission.
During this period I also fully comprehended that time is precious and our existence on this planet is very short – which led me to my decision to transition out of The Engine Room by the end of the year, and pursue my dreams in different avenues. I feel incredibly proud of the things we have achieved in the past decade, bittersweet about saying goodbye to this team, and massively inspired by the potential and resilience of The Engine Room as an institution.
And while I know I contributed to that potential in significant ways, I am also deeply aware that individuals alone can never make long-lasting change. The Engine Room is a rare gem because of the collaboration, dedication and diverse viewpoints that make up our DNA – thinking in communities and ecosystems is ingrained in our work and makes us who we are today.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to work with the smart, sweet and thoughtful individuals who made up The Engine Room and I owe special thanks to Alix, Anneke, Zara, Laura, Paola and Gillian for their brilliance, comradery, compassion, ethics and comedic timing. I found tremendous intellectual and emotional inspiration in these women and I wish every leader had the opportunity to share the joys and burdens of leadership with such partners.
I feel calm, proud and relieved to be able to leave the organisation in the fantastic hands of Paola and her co-leader to come. Continuing the co-leadership model is something I believe is right for TER and for the field. Paola and I joined The Engine Room almost the same time and we worked together in many different variations. We supported organisations with their tech platforms, designed myriad projects together and raised funds successfully. We organised events and facilitated conversations and co-wrote proposals, strategies and hundreds of other documents. Most importantly, we spent quality time together in random Airbnbs, airports and trains, talking and talking and talking endlessly about the world we want to live in, the work that needs to happen to get there, and all the things in life that motivate us to get up each day with passion and diligence.
In the past eight years I got to know Paola as a thoughtful, creative, value-driven and incredibly visionary person, someone whose thinking is both inspiring and grounding in my own work. I am beyond excited to see where she and the team are going next, and routing for their success all along the way.
And what will I do next? Like I said before, I am in an experimental mode and very much enjoying it. Next year I will dedicate my time to pursue the DataBody Integrity – my research oriented fellowship at the Mozilla Foundation that allows me to dig deeper into the politics of bodies in the digital era. Besides that, I am trying to support more organisations in my home country, Hungary, flex my coaching muscles, and grab every opportunity to have fun with my family and explore the world. When we get closer I’ll share more about my work!