By: Caitlin Chandler
Hey community! You may remember December’s On The Record With: Lindsay Menard-Freeman. Well, we decided to make it a regular newsletter feature so that you can get to know the beautiful brains behind the faces of Torchlight members. This month we focus on Matt Matassa, our energetic communications and engagement pro. In addition to his unwavering optimism, Matt brings a diverse set of skills to Torchlight - from strategy and digital production to live video - as well as over a decade working on global health and social justice issues. Read on to learn more about Matt, and feel free to send him a note on Instagram at @BasqueMatt.
CC: Tell us about your role at the Torchlight Collective. What kind of projects do you work on?
MM: When I joined the Torchlight Collective two years ago, I had been working at the cross-section of international development and digital engagement for almost 15 years. At the time, Torchlight was consulting on initiatives that required a new level of communications and community engagement. So naturally, I was excited about the opportunities to focus on cutting-edge digital approaches that amplify the impact of our work.
Since I joined, I have been fortunate to work with some amazing partners and explore new strategies and methods to support meaningful engagement. I have primarily built and helped to implement integrated communication strategies and digital approaches. This includes partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build capacity within the SRHR youth advocacy movement; designing an approach for UNAIDS to crowd-source input into global advocacy efforts; and partnering with the International Family Planning Conference (ICFP) 2018 to produce a virtual program and communications strategy that helped expand ICFP’s reach.
CC: What does digital (or digital communications) mean to you, and how does it play out in Torchlight's work?
MM: I believe that “digital” is a mind-set instead of a section of an organization’s communication strategy. Digital is not a siloed concept, but instead it gives us the ability to innovate and engage audiences in meaningful, cross-cutting, and measurable ways.
As a strategic consultant, part of my job is to help our clients and partners understand the changing landscape of digital communication tools. I always encourage people to bypass creating a digital communications strategy and instead, build an integrated communications plan that relies heavily on digital tools and approaches. I find that creating a distinction between traditional and digital communications usually does a disservice to the final outcomes. I would argue that traditional communications now includes most digital methods and by separating them, you lose sight of the big picture.
For Torchlight, we take this to heart and integrate a spirit of innovation and forward-movement into our approaches. Although we have been fortunate to work with clients that understand the power of digital tools, we have also been able to help with their evolution to building smart digital capacities. I’m excited about this work and look forward to continuing down this path
CC: You recently led the virtual program and social media engagement for the International Family Planning Conference. What were some of the takeaways from that experience?
MM: The Torchlight Collective partnered with the Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health to produce the virtual component of the 2018 ICFP. Our main mission was to create an environment that encouraged partner engagement while building networks that helped to expand the reach of conference content, far beyond the walls of the meeting. This included a curation of original partner-produced content from our onsite studio, partner blogs and livestreams of select sessions and press conferences.
I can honestly say that the work we did with ICFP was one of the highlights of my professional career. One big takeaway was that with relatively small investments in content creation and digital tools, there is an exponential increase in the reach and the power of the message. The Gates Institute recognized the power of these investments and has set the bar for how to engage virtual audiences. Additionally, they are now building a virtual audience that will make their future conferences and initiatives more powerful and engaging, and that’s really exciting.
Another main takeaway is that members of the community are the best producer of content, because they are usually the ones closest to the issues. As part of our approach, we enlisted our community partners as content producers. We provided the studio, production guidance, and distribution support, and our partners created short segments that were used to engage our virtual audiences in the major themes of the conference.
CC: Any thoughts of the future of engagement? How can we expect to see international organizations and movements be more in touch with their communities moving forward?
MM: The last two years have shown that good content can be easily developed in a variety of different ways and innovative tools are empowering a new generation of content creators. As these new tools evolve, it is essential to put resources behind getting these tools into the hands of those with something important to say by making sure they have funding, opportunities for skills building, and exposure.
I would also love to see more conference organizers prioritize and engage audiences that are not physically present, and especially those from the global south, from key affected populations, and from diverse youth movements around the world.