Washington, DC, is a global hub for culture and knowledge. This is embodied in its numerous colleges and universities, more than 30 museums and the world’s largest library, containing over 29 million books.

But there is a fourth kind of cultural and educational resource within the city that is sometimes overlooked—Washington‘s 170+ embassies and diplomatic missions. These embassies are hidden gems of knowledge, housing cultural artifacts and works of art, and hosting numerous educational and cultural events, particularly in May, which DC Mayor Vincent Gray has declared as the city’s “International Cultural Awareness Month,” in order to showcase the value these embassies bring to the city.

In an effort to capture the intellectual energy and highlight the cultural and educational resources of these international institutions, Wikimedia District of Columbia (Wikimedia DC) last week kicked off its Embassy Outreach Initiative (EOI) with an inaugural event held in partnership with the Washington European Society and the Estonian Embassy in Washington.

The event, hosted at the Estonian Embassy, featured a discussion on global Internet freedom efforts with Danny Weitzner, Deputy CTO for Internet Policy at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy; Chairman Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament; Ian Schuler, Senior Manager for Internet Freedom Programs at the US State Department; and Rebecca MacKinnon, Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board. Adam Kushner, Deputy Editor of the National Journal, moderated the discussion.

From L to R, Weitzner, Mihkelson, Schuler, and MacKinnon. CC-BY-SA

At the heart of EOI is an effort to foster an international dialogue around Wikimedia DC’s and the Foundation’s vision. In that sense, the choice of the Estonian Embassy as the debut venue for EOI was not coincidental. Estonia currently ranks as the number one country for Internet freedom by the DC-based NGO Freedom House. Not only do tech, Internet companies, startups (think Skype) and knowledge initiatives thrive in Estonia, but so does the Estonian Wikipedia. Its nearly 95,000 articles, and 8.1 million monthly page views, may seem small compared to the English Wikipedia, but considering the country’s population stands at slightly over 1.3 million, these numbers are very substantial.

The global Wikimedia community will be coming to Washington, DC, this summer for Wikimania 2012, providing the city with an opportunity to witness how the world collaborates in pursuit of free global knowledge. Before these international delegates arrive, and long after they have returned home, Washington, DC has always been and will always remain a great place to promote international dialogue in support of shared knowledge. That is the ultimate goal of Wikimedia DC’s outreach and program efforts–like EOI and LibraryLab: they utilize the potential for collaboration that is present within the city and make a positive and lasting impact on global knowledge.

Nicholas Michael Bashour, President, Wikimedia District of Columbia