Wikimedia Foundation Chief Executive Officer Transition Team/2021/Frequently asked questions

Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Katherine Maher is leaving the Wikimedia Foundation on 15 April 2021 after five years as CEO (seven years with the Foundation).

Why is Katherine leaving?

As Katherine herself put it: "Right now, with the world in a period of transition, and major challenges of polarization, climate change, and social justice, it just feels like a good time to take on a new challenge. Knowing when to move on is an inexact science -- leave too soon, you regret it, leave too late, others regret it. It’s part of leadership to try get that balance right, it’s also part of leadership to know when to step aside and create space for the next generation. Right now, we have a staff, institution, and movement that are healthy, durable, and excellent. And as for me, Wikimedia requires 200% of everything, and it’s hard to plan the future while you’re in it, so I’ll be taking some time to do that."

Why so soon? Don’t you want to wait until we can meet in person?

Katherine responds: "Of course. But we’ll always have the chance to meet in person - it’s why I never say goodbye, just see you next time. But since we don’t know when that will be, it’s important that we as a movement are able to be resilient and adapt even in difficult times. I’ll still be around, I just know this is the right time to step aside."

Can we bribe her to stay?

Sorry, no. We all know that is not how Wikimedia works. This is such a perfect inflection point for Wikimedia leadership, after the 20th birthday and as Movement Strategy becomes our day to day reality -- things are in great shape and you are in good hands.

Katherine: "you could try, but I would just donate it back to the Foundation. #wikilove"

Does this mean you’re looking for a new CEO?

Yes! (there is no job posting for a CEO today)

How will that work, who is leading the search?

We are working with Kathleen Yazbak of Viewcrest Advisors, a leading search firm for nonprofit executives to assist the Board Transition Committee. This committee includes Dariusz Jemielniak, who is chair of HR Committee, Tanya Capuano, who is chair of the Audit Committee, Raju Narisetti who is on both committees, and Board Chair María Sefidari. Viewcrest has helped with Board and executive searches during Katherine’s tenure, as well as helping us originally welcome Katherine to her permanent position. We will keep you updated, and a job description will be posted soon.

How long do you expect it to take to find a new CEO?

Of course the hope is that it will not take too long, but you never know. We hope to be finished in 6 to 9 months.

Why is Katherine not staying until there’s a successor?

On Katherine’s part, she is not concerned that waiting for a successor is necessary --  Katherine and the Board have discussed succession for a long time and everything is well prepared. The C-Team (Leadership Team) is solid and well-settled in, we have a great team of new and experienced VPs, directors, managers, and brilliant individual contributors across the organization. We have got the strategic direction and the Foundation’s Medium Term Plan as guideposts for the work we want to accomplish. We are in a good place.

How does this affect the Foundation?

Katherine will be drawing back from day-to-day operational work to transition interim responsibilities starting February 8th. Until a new CEO is hired, the Board Transition Committee will work closely with an executive Transition Team composed of General Counsel Amanda Keton, Chief of Talent and Culture Robyn Arville, and Chief Financial Officer Jaime Villagomez.

Katherine will spend the next three months supporting the transition. Much of February and March will be spent preparing with the C-Team on institutional knowledge transfer, and sharing lessons learned. Our work will continue with next year’s annual plan.

Why is an interim not being appointed?

Katherine and the Board have had a succession plan in place for some time. In that plan, the Board creates a Transition Committee and assigns staff to the Transition Team. This group will be responsible for strategy and planning for the time being. All the C-Team have critical and large operational roles to play and everyone, including the Transition Team members, will continue their important work during the transition.

What is the impact on Movement Strategy and Medium Term Plan?

The Movement Strategy has started implementation and is going well. The conversations on next steps will continue, and we encourage you to join in!

We are now halfway into the Wikimedia Foundation’s Medium Term Plan (MTP). The MTP serves as the source for Annual Planning and is the bridge between our previous strategies and the Movement Strategy. As we begin weaving the Foundation’s work into the movement, MS recommendations will help shape our future together. As that is happening we will continue on the goals we’ve set up for the Foundation.

What role does the Board envision the community having in the Foundation’s next steps?

The community has always played an important role in helping the Foundation learn, prepare, and navigate situations. We are still deliberating about a number of critical decision points and expect we will be moving forward with news, information, and opportunities to feedback throughout the transition process. The Board hopes the community will continue to participate in discussions and invites their continued feedback. We are monitoring our mailing lists and standard Board outreach public forums.

What are you looking for in a new CEO?

The Transition Committee of Wikimedia Trustees has created a job description that we will share shortly. There are no strategic shifts in the Foundation’s functioning even as our growth and ambitions have added a lot more complexity to the CEO role.

Is the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission or work going to change?

No. The Wikimedia Foundation remains committed, as always, to working towards a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. The Wikimedia community will continue their amazing work on our project sites like Wikipedia and Wikidata, and the Foundation will continue to support the work of these talented volunteers. Our MTP and the 2030 Movement Strategy remain the Foundation’s guiding stars.