Matchboxology was born at a dinner in 2005 between a diverse set of friends who became deeply bonded by a simple epiphany; consumers and citizens are exactly the same people. We wondered if we could pioneer new ways to harness our over 50 years of global development, marketing, and advertising experience across 5 continents to rethink how to wrestle with the African continent’s toughest social and development problems.
Behind development’s strategic imperatives, logical frameworks, system process tools, and key deliverables we saw a world of human beings driven by personal truths and triggers, attitudes and beliefs, aspirations, and social norms. Matchboxology was born to put the human realities firmly at the center of all our problem-solving.
In the beginning, we worked intuitively, probing for deeper insights by building trust through conversations and bringing those closest to life’s challenges and opportunities to the solutioning table. With Levi’s® as our first client and HIV prevention as our first thorny challenge, we discovered the power of tapping the creativity and voices in communities. We learned through trial and error how to collectively design and implement revolutionary new approaches with ordinary people, local leaders, and experts as equal partners in the process. Early in 2010, we discovered our Matchboxology way of working aligned beautifully into the global design thinking movement and so we proudly become Africa’s first Human Centred Design consultancy entirely by serendipity.
One of our workshop exercises perfectly captures the magic that Matchboxology brings to each assignment. We ask every participant to remove their right shoe and challenge the person next to them to put it on. Shock and horror lead to shrieks of laughter as feet too big for high heels and those too small for Converse brings out the child in all of us. And then the penny drops. Empathy is a very human, very shared experience. The Zulu’s have a beautiful phrase for this principle: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. A person is a person because of other people. When we are able to walk in one another’s shoes, we become very powerful problem solvers indeed.