“Change happens at the speed of trust.” –Lydia Pintscher
Katherine Maher shared these words with community members and Wikimedia Foundation staff in an email accepting the role of interim Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation last week.
The Wikimedia movement has thrived over the years thanks to trust: trust in our mission, trust in each other, and trust that the world will support and welcome free knowledge. It has not always been easy, but we have been most successful when united around our core values and mission.
Last week, the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation appointed Katherine, the Foundation’s Chief Communications Officer, to lead the organization in this interim period. She began serving in the new role on March 14. The announcement followed the resignation of our former executive director Lila Tretikov, and came amidst much discussion among community members and staff about the future of the organization and movement. The Board was heartened to see how warmly our community, including staff and volunteers, welcomed this news. It is clear Katherine has made an effort to build trust and solid working relationships both inside the Foundation and with many members of the community.
The Board shares the sentiment of many staff and community members: we are confident in Katherine’s leadership as we focus this next phase of our work. She has a reputation for listening to and empowering people around her, including colleagues and community members. She has proudly served the Wikimedia movement since joining the Foundation in April 2014. During that time, she developed a versatile and effective team that serves the needs of the organization and movement, collaborating closely with other departments and the community. She has thoughtfully introduced new capacities and led her team through transitions, and played a critical role in shepherding the strategy process and the annual plan, in collaboration with other members of the leadership team.
Katherine is a longtime advocate for global open communities, culture, and technology. Previously, she led advocacy for the international digital rights organization Access Now, where she worked on freedom of expression, access to information, and privacy. She has supported the efforts of citizens and governments around the world to deepen transparency and participation in her work with the World Bank, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and UNICEF (where her team built wikis for youth participation in major global issues), and she is a member of the advisory board of the Open Technology Fund.
All of these experiences and skills make Katherine an excellent leader for the Foundation, and support for her is felt throughout the movement. In a staff-wide meeting on Friday, she expressed optimism for the future of the Foundation and recognized the importance of finding a sense of direction. “This isn’t just about holding a steady state; this is about moving the organization forward,” she said.
To do this, Katherine and the leadership team have committed to making progress on a number of key priorities. These include delivering on important deadlines for the Annual Plan and strategy, filling the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role, directly addressing issues raised in our recent staff engagement survey, and supporting the Board to find a permanent Executive Director. The Board is confident in the ability of the Foundation’s senior leadership team to build a supportive, fair environment where people can get things done. We look forward to supporting these efforts.
We want to express our appreciation for the community members and staff who have shared their feedback about the future direction of the Foundation and our movement. We want to hear from you about what you would like to achieve in this interim period. This includes how we can collaborate to prepare for and welcome our next Executive Director. In the coming weeks, Katherine will be hosting IRC office hours and a streaming Q&A session to answer your questions and share some thoughts on the Foundation’s major priorities.
Our projects continue to transform the world and make a real and direct impact in the lives of millions. The passion we all share for our mission will continue to motivate us during this process.
The Board looks forward to supporting Katherine and the leadership team as we move forward. We will also work closely with Geoff Brigham, who will continue serving as Board Secretary, and Jaime Villagomez as Board Treasurer, both of whom report to the Board in those capacities.
Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees
This post has been edited to clarify Katherine’s start date.