Wikinews interviews Asaf Bartov, Head of Wikimedia Grants Program and Global South Partnerships

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Buenos Aires, ArgentinaWikinews interviewed the Wikimedia Foundation's Asaf Bartov, the Head of Wikimedia Grants Program and Global South Partnerships, at the Fourth Ibercoop — Ibero-American Wikimedia Summit; where, hosted by Wikimedia Argentina, a cooperative group of wiki contributors and supporters from Spain, Portugal, and Latin America met to foster collaboration and experience sharing related to the Wikimedia Foundation movement in these countries. The Wikimedia Foundation is a US non-profit and charitable organization, that encourage Wikipedia readers to become contributors and editors of the Internet encyclopedia that ranks in the top-ten most-visited websites worldwide,

Asaf Bartov
Image: Guillaume Paumier.
The attendees to Iberoconf 2014
Image: Iván.

((Wikinews)) Besides your assistance as a representative of the Wikimedia Foundation, in what other ways does the Foundation support Iberoconf?

Asaf Bartov: So, the Wikimedia Foundation supports Iberoconf because we see value in having Wikimedians with a shared culture, mostly shared language, get together and be able to share experiences and form collaborative plans in their own language. This is something very unique to Iberoconf in terms of the size. There are very few groups other than the Ibero-American group that share a language and ability to communicate in that way. That's why we support it. The ways we support it is, well, we fund it, we provide the funding for having this meeting, the travel, [...] etcetera, and we support it by being here, by taking the time to attend the conference and be available to have conversations, both group conversations and one-on-one conversations with the delegates, many of whom do not have other opportunities to speak to us face-to-face. So this is the opportunity. Even though we live in the 21st century, the world is digital and technological, and theoretically we could do a lot of communication on video-calls, etc., and we can, the truth of the matter is that a lot of people feel distant from the Foundation, hesitant to approach, even though we are very welcoming and friendly I hope, a lot of people need to see us and talk to us, and have dinner with us, before they feel comfortable approaching us with issues and problems and things, and so there is value just in the social aspect which is being here, and being accessible, and being human. But in addition to that, we are here to also share our knowledge, our expertise, our suggestions, in the more formal part of the program. This particular year I am here with two colleagues of mine. [...] Both of them also speak Spanish so they can contribute more freely and have delivered presentations on their topics of expertise. This is support that Iberocoop gets and all other Wikimedians can get. So I think it's a valuable opportunity.

((WN)) Which positive aspects of Wikimedia Argentina do you value at this Iberoconf?

Asaf Bartov: First of all, they have done a great job organizing the event. Everything is running smoothly as far as I can tell. The venue is really good. The program is running according to schedule more or less. So that's good; and they did this in a fairly short schedule after there was some uncertainty about who would host the conference. So that was good. More generally, I really appreciate their successful transition with the new Executive Director, who has been able to assume all of the responsibilities, including, crucially, their submission to the FDC [Funds Dissemination Committee] process like their proposal which was good as we have just learned this weekend when the FDC published its recommendations which are granting Wikimedia Argentina practically the budget that they requested. Which is a very strong positive signal from the FDC that Wikimedia Argentina is on the right track, its programmatic approach is good and its planning is solid. This is all very high praise, this is all hard to achieve; it's is not as easy as it seems. Most specifically, I would say Wikimedia Argentina has some interesting partnerships, these educational partnerships that we have heard about yesterday are promising. I like that they are working... they are not just doing, you know, the Wikipedia education program — going to classrooms, having students write articles — but they are collaborating with other external non-Wikimedia organizations towards free culture and free knowledge. That is a very powerful mechanism for growth of impact. So that they are not bound only by the volunteers you have but they also leverage the external part.

((WN)) I am from Costa Rica, and Costa Rica is the smallest of the groups represented during this Iberoconf. What should Costa Rica learn from Iberocoop to reach the same degrees of success that have reached the rest of the chapters?

Asaf Bartov: That's a good question. I would say, if I were in your shoes, one interesting question I would ask of everyone here is, when did you feel, what do you feel was the inflection point, the turning point, in the growth of the community in your country — like, was there an event, or was there a — like, not necessarily even a Wikimedia event, like maybe it was, you know, the National Elections of 2008 — was there something that you feel triggered a lot of growth, was there a moment where you feel, yeah there was all of the history up to that point, and then there was growth. It would be interesting to learn from all our colleagues here what that moment was for them, if they can think of one, and then see if some of those stories may be relevant for Costa Rica. Maybe there is something you can do, maybe something you can think about. Other than that, there's just the general solutions for all in our movement: trying to have regular meet-ups, trying to collaborate with allies groups like free software groups. These are more generally solutions, but specifically to learn from Iberocoop I would ask people to think about their early stages and see if they can offer you some advice.

((WN)) The Wikimedia Foundation funded the assistance in Iberoconf of two persons per group. Is it possible in the future for the Foundation to fund the assistance of more than just two?

Asaf Bartov: The answer is, maybe. [chuckles] The reason we stick to two is to keep to the total size of the event manageable. Not just in terms of how much it costs, although that's also a consideration, but also in terms of keeping the sessions effective. Think about the session we've just had [...] — that was a complex conversation to have with no preparation, this wasn't discussed for a lot of weeks in advance or something, and even the size we already have now was too big; we were broken into groups, to come out with something and then try and mash it together, which was an effective way to do it. But that shows you that very large groups is not very effective for discussion and so the balance between not having just a single point of view from each country represented and between having just an unmanageable two-hundred-people conference — because that becomes like a happening, like Wikimania, instead of a working conference. They're different types of events. And so two is a good balance between them, with at least two people, there are two tracks they can go to, have parallel sessions and bring the most value back to their community. The one exception I can think of is for chapters that have staff to also include one staff member; so, next year wherever we hold it, if it's not in Argentina for example, I think it would make sense for two board members of Wikimedia Argentina to come and [one staff].

((WN)) Thank you!


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