Photo by Rupika Sharma/Wikilover90, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Over the last few years, the annual Wikimedia Conference has seen many more individuals in emerging communities. This year, Wikimedians from 79 countries, representing nearly one hundred movement affiliates, contributed to the event’s cultural, regional, and language diversity.

Community member Rupika Sharma interviewed several of these attendees to get their thoughts on the Wikimedia movement, their own communities, the Wikimedia 2030 strategy process, and how their involvement with it all will change over the next five years. They include:

  • Felix Nartey, Open Foundation West Africa
  • Sam Oyeyele, Wikimedia User Group Nigeria
  • Coenraad Loubser, Wikimedia South Africa
  • Liang-Chih Shang Kuan, Taiwan chapter/user group
  • Rodrigo Barbano Tejera, Wikimedia Uruguay and Wikimedia Digitization User Group
  • Nahid Sultan, Wikimedia Bangladesh

Here’s more about Coenraad. Tune back over the next few weeks to read the rest of the interviews as they are published.

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What are your personal and community’s plans and goals in the contexts of the global free knowledge movement and the Wikimedia 2030 strategy?

We were one of the earliest chapters, we came from the 11th chapter and it has been 10 years.  It has been volunteer work mostly, more of a same thing over and over again, [like] two or three weekly edit-a-thons in Cape Town. Some online communities and some of the South African Wikimedia [groups] are growing but very slowly and there has not been a push or outreach.

Most people on South Africa have no idea that they can click, edit and change things. Most people are very surprised when they find this. It goes more deeper than that. People don’t even understand what the internet is. Many people thinks that it is just a way to use Facebook or social media channels. It takes a few years for an internet service providing agency, there is a curve, you see people start using internet more and more, the longer they have engaged with it, the longer they have access to it.

The usage of data starts increasing when justifiably people have been on the internet for four or five years. So much of South Africa still hasn’t reached that point. So maybe for twenty percent of the country that has been there for enough years. But probably in the next three to four years we are going to have majority of the country reach that point. A goal for me is to make sure when that happens, people understands the way Wikipedia fits in and what Wikipedia is and this is a movement that they can be a part of.

What’s special about this conference is that it brings together such diverse people from all walks of life, from all industries, from all countries, all languages, all genders, all religions. I don’t think there is any other group on this planet that reaches so far and wide. I think people most capable of bridging the divides of this world are brought together on this planet. That is something really really special to be proud of.

So when you think about it, how difficult can it be to get volunteers and get people involved. So that is one side of it and other on the other hand, there is one part of diversity. There are two main groups of people, so everybody is passionate about either contributing, supporting something for a good cause or actually have a time and cause on mind. People who want to do something but they are not sure what, and the people who know exactly what they want to do. And then there are other two groups—that’s the people who know how to do certain things as opposed to people who know what they want to do.

And that is the special thing about Wikimedia Conference, because Wikimedia Deutschland [Germany] is so big and so well funded, funded at as opposed to 95 per cent of the rest is that they can afford to employ staff and they are becoming skilled at knowing how and the volunteers, they generally know what. So, bringing those two together and creating a space in which we can learn from each other is the magic that happens here.

It is one thing to attend a session and see a presentation, and then another thing to go out there, you realize that this is how you do things. Also, the learn about the balance between learning and practising. And the important thing about practising is that there are skilled people at hand and as you are trying something and making a mistake and there is something you don’t understand, you realize you can ask for assistance. Also, you build personal relationships, so that you know who to contact. And this person knows you through all the noise of the mailbox!

How was your experience at the conference? What did you learn, and how would you implement that in your community back home?

There are equal parts personal growth and skills that will assist our community. So, in personal growth I realized that even though I need to spend more time listening and paying attention to other people’s needs and trying to find ways on how to assist them, I still find it hard to do that. I still have urge to push my own agenda and to do what I think is the best rather than other people. And this is partly also why I joined this movement, in order to learn how to do this better. But I also joined because I can push things and can get things done. So it is about finding the middle foot, the way we can push and the way we listen. So, the strategy 2030 speaks to me about how I can push. We have volunteers and we are doing things but we are not actively doing outreach, we are not actively engaging with the partners in order to do projects. We are not looking for new sources of revenues in order to fund and drive some of this projects. So, that is three things that I am pushing for.

As told to Rupika Sharma (User:Wikilover90), Wikimedia community member

This interview has been minimally edited, preserving as many of the interviewee’s words as possible.