Earlier today I sent an e-mail to the Wikimedia Foundation’s mailing lists, letting people there know that I’m planning to leave my position as Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. The purpose of this post is to get the news out to a somewhat larger group.
I will not be leaving right away. The Board and I anticipate it’ll take at least six months to recruit my successor, and I’ll be fully engaged as Executive Director all through the recruitment process and until we have a new person in place. And so, this note is not goodbye — not yet.
I want to say that making the decision to leave hasn’t been easy. It comes down to two things.
First, the movement and the Wikimedia Foundation are in a strong place now. When I joined, the Foundation was tiny and not yet able to reliably support the projects. Today we’re healthy, thriving, and a competent partner to the global network of Wikimedia volunteers. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t feel okay to leave, and in that sense, my leaving is very much a vote of confidence in our Board and executive team and staff. I know they will ably steer the Foundation through the years ahead, and I’m confident the Board will appoint a strong successor to me.
I feel that although we’re in good shape, with a promising future, the same is not true for the internet itself. (This is thing number two.) Increasingly, I’m finding myself uncomfortable about how the internet’s developing, who’s influencing its development, and who is not. Last year we at Wikimedia raised an alarm about SOPA/PIPA, and now CISPA is back. Wikipedia has experienced censorship at the hands of industry groups and governments, and we are –increasingly, I think– seeing important decisions made by unaccountable, non-transparent corporate players, a shift from the open web to mobile walled gardens, and a shift from the production-based internet to one that’s consumption-based. There are many organizations and individuals advocating for the public interest online — what’s good for ordinary people — but other interests are more numerous and powerful than they are. I want that to change. And that’s what I want to do next.
I’ve always aimed to make the biggest contribution I can to the general public good. Today, this is pulling me towards a new and different role, one very much aligned with Wikimedia values and informed by my experiences here, and with the purpose of amplifying the voices of people advocating for the free and open internet. I don’t know exactly what this will look like — I might write a book, or start a non-profit, or work in partnership with something that already exists. Either way, I strongly believe this is what I need to do.
I feel an increasing sense of urgency about this. That said, I also feel a strong sense of responsibility (and love!) for the Wikimedia movement, and so I’ve agreed with the Board that I’ll stay on as Executive Director until we have my successor in place. That’ll take some time — likely, at least six months.
Until then, nothing changes. The Wikimedia Foundation has lots of work to do, and you can expect me to focus fully on it until we have a new Executive Director.
To that end, the Board has appointed a Transition Team that consists of Wikimedia Foundation Chair of the Board of Trustees Kat Walsh, Vice-Chair Jan-Bart de Vreede, Chair of the Board’s governance committee Alice Wiegand, me, my deputy and the Wikimedia Foundation’s Vice-President of Product and Engineering Erik Moeller, Geoff Brigham our General Counsel, and Gayle Karen Young, our Chief Talent and Culture Officer. The Transition Team will be chaired by Jan-Bart, and I will facilitate its work on his behalf.
We haven’t yet defined exactly what the process will look like, although we do know that we will be engaging a search firm to help us. The Transition Team will be meeting informally over the next several weeks, and will have our first face-to-face meeting in mid-April. People who are potentially interested in the Executive Director role should keep an eye on the Foundation’s jobs page, where the position description and contact information for the recruiter will be posted.
Being the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation has been enormously rewarding for me, and I have loved my time with you all. There are many people I am going to want to thank, when we are closer to the date when I’ll be stepping down. For now though, I’ll just say that I love working with you all, I’m enormously proud of everything the Wikimedia movement is accomplishing, and I’m looking forward to our next six months together. I will, of course, always be your friend and advocate.
Sue Gardner, Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation