Global Volunteers Headed to the Annual Wikimania Conference

Q&A and suggested responses

1. Who is Ms Maryana Iskander, what is your background, and what is your involvement with the Wikimedia Foundation as the new CEO?

I joined the Wikimedia Foundation as CEO in 2022 after spending a decade as the CEO of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, a non-profit social enterprise focused on building African solutions to tackle the global crisis of youth unemployment. Throughout my career, I have focused on how organisations can center access and opportunity.

My role at the Wikimedia Foundation is one of leadership and support. We are part of a global human-led, technology-enabled movement to bring free and open knowledge to all people at a time when it has never been more needed. I’m grateful to work across the movement to achieve our mission together.

2. What is the background of the Wikimedia Foundation?

The Wikimedia Foundation was founded in 2003 to expand access to free knowledge across the world. We host Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects that are written by passionate volunteer contributors, affiliates and user groups around the world. The Foundation’s role is to build the technology that enables the Wikimedia projects, support volunteers in their work of creating and sharing free knowledge, and advocate for policies that protect and advance access to knowledge.

3. What is the role of Wikimedia in Africa?

Broadly, our vision is a world in which all people can participate in the sum of all knowledge. To do this, Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia, must have representation from all the world’s voices. If there are gaps in who can access and contribute knowledge, there are gaps in information. We want to make sure those gaps are addressed and filled.

Only 1.5% of Wikimedia editors are based in Africa – not nearly enough voices to represent more than a billion people and perspectives. To fill these gaps, the Wikimedia Foundation has made a commitment to “knowledge equity”, which calls on us to recognise the technical, political and social barriers that keep people from accessing and contributing to global knowledge.

Volunteers and communities based across Africa work tirelessly to get others involved. Wiki Indaba, for example, is an annual conference hosted by African volunteer groups to celebrate the work of Wikimedians in Africa and collaborate on initiatives around the continent. Over the past year, user groups in Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria have hosted local edit-a-thons, photo competitions and gatherings to close the knowledge gap about African history, culture and people in the Wikimedia projects.

4. This year’s theme for South Africa’s Women’s Month is “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Improved Resilience”. How does this relate to Wikimedia? 

With Women’s Month and Wikimania both in August, there’s so much to celebrate. There’s also a lot left to do. Fewer than 20 per cent of editors on Wikipedia identify as women, leaving a gap in representation both in the articles on Wikipedia and in the volunteer community.

It’s a challenge to fill the gap in representation without more women editing Wikipedia. Another contributing factor, though, is the lack of credible sources to cite about women in the first place. This cascading issue means that there is not enough previously published information that editors can draw from. It makes this major gap in equitable content especially challenging to patch.

We must think about how to encourage more women to contribute to the Wikimedia projects. One of the biggest challenges women face in South Africa is the feminisation of poverty, which has prevented women from participating in many different areas of society. This plays a role in how women in the country can engage with free knowledge, including how easily they can access technology and how much leisure time they may have.

5. The Wikimania events that took place across the world – what was the purpose and the impact of these? What were the main takeaways from this year’s Wikimania Event?

This was only the second year that the Wikimedia movement organised an entirely decentralised and remote Wikimania celebration. The virtual event was paired with regional in-person celebrations organised by local communities around the world. The event included live interpretation in 13 languages over four days, including Swahili – the first time we’ve ever been able to offer interpretation in Swahili at Wikimania. This was especially timely as we just commemorated the first World Swahili Day on July 7.

We’ve since heard from participants around the world who were excited to have been able to participate from home and reconnect with other Wikimedians despite some technical challenges. The virtual programme included a wide range of sessions led by Wikimedians, from sessions on knowledge equity to images on Wikimedia Commons and running successful campaigns. Wikimania 2022 showcased the diversity and breadth of this impossible movement. Next year’s in-person Wikimania in Singapore will be an addition to, not a replacement for, the rest of the incredible events organised by communities and volunteers across the globe.

6. Dr. Nkem Osuigwe was announced as newcomer of the year in this year’s Wikimedian of the Year awards. How can we include more Africa-based projects such as hers in the global Wikipedia ecosystem?

At this year’s award ceremony, I enjoyed learning about Dr. Nkem Osuigwe’s work

to close crucial gaps in knowledge about African history, and her enthusiasm for highlighting African voices. Some of the other African volunteers we’ve recognised include Felix Nartey, who received the Wikimedian of the Year award in 2017 for his contributions about his home country of Ghana, as well as his leadership with several initiatives to encourage others to contribute to Wikipedia. Sandister Tei, also from Ghana, was recognised as Wikimedian of the Year in 2020 for her invaluable contributions to COVID-19 articles about the pandemic’s impact on the country.

In addition to these individual volunteers, Wikimedia communities have a vital role in building knowledge infrastructure in Africa. WikiVibrance is one community-led project that focuses on encouraging young people to participate in the free knowledge movement. To commemorate Africa Youth Month 2021, the WikiVibrance Project worked with young people across six African countries to close content gaps across four themes, including education, entrepreneurship, employment and engagement.

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