Like practically everyone else I know, I’m a regular user of Wikipedia, and I have often marvelled at the thought of all those thousands of people writing and editing Wikipedia entries. I still don’t know who they are but, having interviewed Anasuya Sengupta, Senior Director of Grantmaking at the Wikimedia Foundation, I do have an idea of the role grantmaking plays in supporting them. ‘Grants go to national chapters around the world as well as to small and emerging groups and individuals who are helping build knowledge on Wikipedia and its sister sites,’ explains Sengupta. ‘They support both online work – making the editing environment easier for contributors, running edit-a-thons and workshops to help people understand how to edit Wikipedia, etc – and offline outreach, from going into schools and colleges and informing people about Wikipedia to much longer partnerships with galleries, museums and archives to help them understand the advantages of having their content in the public domain.’
Another thing that particularly interested me was the process by which grant proposals are developed and considered at the Wikimedia Foundation. The September Alliance special feature on philanthropy and power gives examples of a variety of different ways in which funders are sharing power with beneficiaries. One possible downside of these models is that the processes involved are often resource-intensive. They take up a lot of both funders’ and beneficiaries’ time, making them perhaps more practical for small funds. But the Wikimedia Foundation will distribute around $8 million this year, and its grantmaking is totally participatory.
‘We’ve always been transparent about our grantmaking,’ said Sengupta. ‘Every grant proposal comes to us on wiki through the individual or group that is applying for it. Community members – active participants and editors in one of the Wikimedia projects – can look at the proposals and comment on them. Other community members who are on grants review committees then review the proposals and offer their suggestions and advice as well as their recommendations to the foundation and its board.’
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Caroline Hartnell is editor of Alliance magazine