Transitions at The Engine Room: Some updates on what’s next

Zara Rahman

Over the past few months we’ve been on the search for an Interim Executive Director to hold the reins at The Engine Room for the next few months while our ED, Julia, is on leave. Alongside that, we’ve been looking for new board members, and today I’m thrilled to share that both of these searches have been successful! Gillian Williams has joined us as Interim Executive Director until September, and Elizabeth Eagen has joined our Board of Directors. 

In other news, I’ll be transitioning out of The Engine Room at the end of March, after nearly seven years here (more on this below!). Laura Guzmán and Paola Mosso, who have been leading our Engagement and Tech teams respectively, will be stepping into the roles of co-Deputy Directors. 

More on our Interim ED and our new Board Member 

Gillian brings a wealth of experience in leading nonprofits focused on human gain and social justice at an executive level, having served as an Executive Director herself. She has worked and consulted with a number of nonprofits around areas of leadership, organisational and board development, and how to navigate major transitions. She’s hit the ground running already, and we’re delighted to have her on the team for the next six months. 

Elizabeth has been an ally to The Engine Room for a long time – she gave us one of our first grants to start our Responsible Data work, and she’s already provided invaluable support and advice. She ​​established and led the Emerging Technology portfolio at the Open Society Foundations’ Information Program, and currently works as the Deputy Director at CAT Lab. We’re so excited to have her deep expertise on our board, to help guide our future strategy and programmatic work.

Some background on the last six months

We’ve shared some of this over social media, but for more context on some of what’s been going on in the last few months: In September last year, our Executive Director, Julia, was diagnosed with early-stage cancer. As she stepped out for treatment, I took on the role of Acting Executive Director, and I can only express my complete gratitude to the team, the Board and all our core funders for all the ways that they supported our team during that transition period. Everyone, without exception, stepped up to offer me the support, grace and trust I needed to be able to fill those big shoes under such tough circumstances, and the team as a whole really showed up for each other. 

In many ways, this period has been the biggest test of our commitment to wellbeing and solidarity that we’ve had as an organisation so far. Adjusting our organisation in a way that would allow our ED to step away for an undefined period of time, while ensuring that our commitments to partners were met, our work remained impactful and thoughtful, and that our team was supported – wasn’t easy. 

As it happened, in the months before Julia’s diagnosis we had also been discussing my exit from the organisation – I had been feeling like it was time for new challenges, and to open up new space for emerging leaders in the organisation. I’m so glad I was able to stay for longer than planned, but that personal desire, and belief in making some space, remained. 

I’ve truly loved my time at The Engine Room, and will remain a lifelong cheerleader for the team and all of their great work. I feel immensely grateful to have landed at this organisation when I did: I can’t think of many organisations where I would have had the opportunity to grow at the pace that I have, to learn so much in a hands-on and supported way, to shape so much and work on such impactful, interesting, important topics with such smart and kind people. 

What next? 

As Julia is now happily in recovery, she will slowly be easing back into a support role at The Engine Room over the next few months, before rejoining us as our Executive Director in the autumn. At the same time, the current senior leadership team (Laura and Paola as co-Deputy Directors, and Gillian as Interim ED) will be settling into their roles, with others in the organisation taking on new responsibilities as well. 

I feel so happy to be leaving The Engine Room with such strong leadership – both at the executive level, but also through all of the team, who are all leaders in their own right, shaping our programmatic work, pushing us to do and be better, and pushing forward our mission of strengthening civil society’s use of tech and data. On that note – make sure to take a look at our just-launched 2021 Retrospective to get a glimpse of the work we did last year.

You can contact Gillian on gillian[at], and our co-Deputy Directors Laura and Paola are also available to talk through any questions these transitions might bring. It’s been an absolute honour to be part of this team, and I hope to be ‘seeing’ many of you online in the future! 

Photo by Robert Horvick via Unsplash.