Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees/Call for feedback: Community Board seats/Reports/2021-02-23 Wikimedia South Africa Chapter

Wikimedia South Africa Chapter

The meeting which was held on google meet was attended by the president of Wikimedia ZA, two board members (all males) and one female who was new to the Wiki movement.

The various ideas proposed by the board and two community members were discussed.

The president and board members of Wikimedia ZA had an initial meeting before. So on the call, they spoke on behalf of themselves and other board members who weren’t present on the call. In summary, the Wikimedia South Africa chapter is in support of community representation on the board more than geographic representation.

  • The majority on the call expressed worry about the fact that community members do not make up a majority of the board
  • One person was not convinced of the reason why the board seats was increased from 10 to 16. He was of the view that the board hasn’t made a valid case for why they need more appointees on the board. He mentioned that the problem that concerns him was that, board appointed trustees and Wikimedia executives were not elected through a democratic process, yet they could make decisions overruling the community members. He would like the board to ensure that the community has a majority of seats on the board.
Regional Seats/Quotas
  • Considering the issue of ensuring diversity on the board, one person spoke on behalf of all who attended the initial meeting they had. According to him, they weren’t able to come to a clear consensus although, some board members were in support of geographic quotas. He mentioned that the people who were in support of ensuring diversity on the board do recognise the need for people with expertise, knowledge, representative ability and legitimacy to represent part of the world that are not currently represented on the board. He mentioned that most of their discussion was focused on geographic quotas because that is what they care about most. According to him some Wikimedia ZA board members were skeptical about this same idea because they think categorizing people is problematic. They are also of the view that this process is not democratic and this might not ensure the selection of the best candidate.
  • The president of Wikimedia South Africa Chapter also mentioned that they are also looking forward to seeing gender diversity on the board. He said that, as a chapter, one of the things they advocate for is having an equal gender representation on the board. And they will very much like it if these representatives are from the African community. He however adds that, they do not just want equal gender representation but they want someone who understands what is happening . I quote in his words “We don’t just want warm bodies sitting in those chairs. We want people who are Wikipedians who understand what is happening and are real advocates of what we stand for.”
  • One person suggested two options: to take the plunge and make a commitment to invest in diversity by having people from diverse backgrounds serving on the board at the risk that they might not be the best candidates. Or the community can decide not to take the risk. According to him there are pros and cos to both so either way, there has to be compromises made. He ended by strongly suggesting that, whatever decision is made, should not be treated as a permanent decision because he is of the view that realities change over time. The president of Wikimedia ZA was also in support of this point.
What would be the best implementation of a regional quota?
  • To ensure there are quality and diverse people on the board, one person suggested we invest in the growth of representatives from various communities. An additional person supported this idea. She said some investment has to be made in finding people who are diverse to serve on the board.
  • The president of Wikimedia ZA also suggested the board adopts a long term process in investing in community members. And one way to do that he said, was for the board to run a project in collaboration with other organisations which trains selected community members (especially women) to acquire specific skills which will be needed on the board. Based on the performance of the participants, some can be selected to serve on the board. He says it is not an easy thing to do and it might take some time but he believes this is worth trying out.
  • He also suggested that another way is to find people who aside being volunteers, have professional jobs and skills in specific areas but do not engage in discussions like the call for feedback. He suggested we train these people to think administratively and make them take interest in administrative and board duties.
Vetting of Candidates
  • The president of Wikimedia ZA mentioned that they discussed the evaluation form. And one of the question that came up was, what are the criteria outlined in the form that one needs to meet to be a part of the board? Not all agreed on the evaluation form he said. He wanted to know if it was possible for community members to have a discussion about the evaluation form.
  • One person mentioned that the only time community members hear from the board is during election process
Unanswered Questions
  • What difference can having a representation on the board make?
  • What is the real impact of the board of trustees? If we did have a representation on the board what changes will we experience that we have not yet experienced?
  • Why are we talking about only the community seats? Why aren’t we also talking about the appointed seats ? What is the mechanism using by the board to appoint trustees? Why can’t these appointees be community members?
  • Can community members be given a chance to give their input on the evaluation form.
Action items

What community will do: Inform other community members about the ongoing Call for feedback discussion and other future elections or discussions

What the facilitator(s) will do: Share confirmed date and time of next office hours with all who were on the call.