Wikimedia Foundation Board noticeboard/4 February 2021 - Executive transition planning

Message from Katherine Maher

This message, "Thanks for all the fish! / Stepping down April 15", was sent by Katherine Maher on 4 February 2021.

Hi everyone,

Earlier today, I announced to my colleagues at the Wikimedia Foundation my intention to step down as CEO later this spring. April 15th will be my last day, marking my seven-year anniversary with the Foundation and the movement. This was not an easy decision, but it is the right one. For now, I want to share with you why I’m moving on, and what comes next. I’ll save deeper reflections on where we are as a movement for later.

In some ways, this was the easiest hard decision I’ve ever made. It’s never exactly a good time to step away -- transitions always have some rough edges -- but it’s always best to do so when the organization is strong, and before you’ve overstayed your welcome. The movement is in a good, strong place. Our communities are growing, our readership is too. Our 20th birthday, the launch of our Universal Code of Conduct, and the movement strategy recommendations are all milestone moments of solidity and strength. I have great hopes and confidence in the upcoming plans for strategy implementation, particularly the work on the movement charter and interim global council. We are healthy, and thriving.

While we will always have more work to do to become the Wikimedia that we want to be, our movement and our organization is in a phase of renewal and regeneration. We have deepened our practices of consultation, collaboration, and inclusion that will be the foundation of the next decade of our work. We have a deep and stable financial position that will help us grow and protect us from any storm, and the trust in our projects has never been higher. Our communities are poised to take on deeper responsibilities of governance, accountability, and leadership, populating a rich, representative, and leaderful movement for free knowledge.

The Foundation is also strong, and filled with passionate, values-aligned leaders at every level of the organization, deeply committed to the work of our movement and mission. Although we don’t always all perfectly agree on absolutely everything, we are working more openly and cooperatively with our movement than ever before. Collaborative strategic planning, sustainable programs to support technical communities and tooling, co-development and consultation on transformative new experiences welcoming newcomers, cooperative partnerships on public health data, bibliographic data, and human rights data -- all of these are signals of much great work to come. Even difficult topics, such as brand and movement governance, continue to bring people together in nothing less than feisty commitment.

Together, we have rich resources of brilliant people, deep passion, and compassion. We are making progress on some of our greatest challenges, from editor and readership growth, technical debt, representation and participation, safety and knowledge equity. I am proud of what we’ve done together, and grateful for all the ways in which this movement has made my life immeasurably richer: friendships that will last a lifetime, intellectual curiosity and kinship, and so many memories of so much dancing, from Accra to Berlin to Chandigarh.

As for me, I’m going to take a break, and a research fellowship, as a place to think about what’s next. It’s hard to think about your future when you’re fully in your present, and for the past seven years, I’ve been fully present for this movement. But as I look around, I see global challenges such as polarization, inequality, and climate change, as well as opportunities for generational renewal and optimism. As a Wikimedian, I lean toward optimism, and plan to head in that direction.

What’s next

  • We announced this planned transition publicly on our communications channels during a Foundation all-staff meeting today.
  • A Board Transition Committee composed of Dariusz Jemielniak, who is chair of HR Committee, Tanya Capuano, who is chair of the Audit Committee, Raju Narisetti, and María Sefidari as Board Chair, will launch the search for a new CEO. They’ll work closely with the executive Transition Team on organizational operations, and with the broader board on an open candidate call. The Board is working with the goal of onboarding a new CEO by Q2 of the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
  • We’ve been working on succession planning for the CEO role since 2019 as a matter of best practice, and the organization is well-prepared for a thoughtful search for the next phase of our mission. The Board has decided to work with Kathleen Yazbak of Viewcrest Advisors for the executive search: I’ve worked closely with Kathleen on a number of occasions, and she is a true Wikimedian at heart.
  • I’ll be drawing back from day-to-day operational work to transition interim responsibilities starting February 8th. A C-level Transition Team of Jaime Villagomez, Amanda Keton, and Robyn Arville, our two board officers and chief people leader, will take up key responsibilities and decision making around planning, community, and people, and work closely with the broader C-team and VP leadership cohort.
  • I’ll spend the next three months supporting the Foundation in readying itself for a transition. I’ll spend February preparing with this group and other organizational and community leaders on movement strategy and institutional knowledge transfer, sharing lessons learned, and supporting the organization in developing the next year’s strategic plan.
  • I look forward to celebrating with you in March and April!


Message from María Sefidari

This message, "RE: Thanks for all the fish! / Stepping down April 15", was sent by María Sefidari on 4 February 2021.

Hi everyone,

As you can see, Katherine just said she will be stepping down from her role. I am happy for Katherine, but it is impossible not to have some mixed emotions given we have been working together for seven years, and quite closely for almost five of them since she became the interim ED and I became an officer of the Board. Almost half a decade of very intense challenges and changes, of thinking about the future of the Movement and how to best achieve our Mission. I am proud of our successes and yet we have a ways to go. The work is never done, but we do strive to walk the talk when we say we want to make the sum of human knowledge accessible to everyone everywhere. As a Board, we thank Katherine for her leadership over the last five years as CEO and ED, two years as CCO, and wish her the greatest success in future endeavors. I have no doubt she will be brilliant wherever she finally decides to go after her much deserved time to rest and reflect, starting with her fellowship.

I would like to thank Katherine for an extraordinary job. As a leader, she set a new standard for transparent, open engagement with our global communities. She worked side by side with movement leaders with empathy and collaborative participation in the wiki way. Thanks to her leadership we created our Movement Strategy together. She walked the talk with resolve and determination, and the Foundation and the Movement are in a better place now than they’ve ever been.

Katherine and the Board have long had a plan in place in the case of a succession. According to that plan, a Transition Committee of Wikimedia Trustees has been selected to recommend to the Board Katherineʼs successor and includes Trustees Dariusz Jemielniak, who is chair of HR Committee, Tanya Capuano, who is chair of the Audit Committee, and Raju Narisetti, along with me as Board Chair. The Wikimedia Foundation has retained Viewcrest Advisors, a leading search firm for nonprofit executives, to assist the Board Transition Committee.

Until a new CEO is hired, the Board Transition Committee will work closely with the Wikimedia Foundation executive Transition Team of General Counsel Amanda Keton, Chief of Talent and Culture Robyn Arville, and Chief Financial Officer Jaime Villagomez, ensuring the important work of the Wikimedia Foundation in supporting Wikipedia and other Wikimedia communities continues without any disruptions.

Kind regards,
María Sefidari
Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, on behalf of the Transition Committee.