Meet Alaa Najjar: Wikimedian of the Year 2021 winner

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Alaa Najjar at WikiArabia 2019 in Marrakesh (Noureddine Akabli CC BY-SA 4.0)

This year’s seven Wikimedian of the Year award winners were announced today at the 2021 virtual Wikimania convening. Read the interview below with Alaa Najjar.

Alaa Najjar is a community organizer, medical practitioner and major contributor to Wikimedia’s COVID-19 content. 

Alaa can be found everywhere on Wikimedia. With more than 472,000 edits across all projects, Alaa is highly trusted as a prolific contributor. He also works as an Arabic language admin and in several other roles on Arabic Wikipedia, writing thorough and invaluable articles on medicine and co-leading on technical infrastructure. He spearheaded the COVID-19 project on the Arabic encyclopedia and majorly contributes to the WikiProject Medicine, providing critical access to life-saving information in his community and around the world. Alaa’s work helps to combat medical misinformation and confront the pandemic with reliable, fact-checked information.

“I contribute to Wikimedia because of the ability to share knowledge for all, without any barriers such as language.”

In addition to being a medical graduate student, Alaa is a board member of Wikimedians of the Levant; member of the Wikimedia Stewards User Group; editorial board member of WikiJournal of Medicine, and on the Arabic Wikipedia’s social networking team. 

Alaa gets the surprise call from Jimmy Wales

The Wikimedian of the Year award is an annual tradition to honor the efforts of one of the movement’s exceptional contributors. This recognition is one of seven awards made this year to celebrate contributors who have made a remarkable impact on our movement. The awards were announced at this year’s virtual Wikimania celebration by Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales (watch the announcement!). 

“During a global pandemic, Wikipedia has managed to remain fortified against misinformation because of the work of volunteers like Alaa. Alaa’s significant contributions to Arabic Wikipedia represent a care and a commitment to neutrality and accuracy that have encouraged a high standard of quality information on Wikipedia. This award celebrates Alaa’s leadership, his prominent role in supporting and growing his community, and above all, his passion for providing knowledge for the world.”

– Jimmy Wales

We spoke with Alaa to learn more about his experiences and perspectives on the Wikimedia movement. Here are some highlights: 

Q: What motivates you to contribute to Wikimedia projects?

“The ability to share knowledge for all, without any barriers such as language. Also, to be able to motivate other Arabic speakers, especially in my country, to produce content of a high quality.

Q: Can you share a favorite memory from your time contributing to Wikimedia?

“I’ve had many good memories so far, but the best are usually when I meet other Wikimedians, or when I finish writing a featured/good medical article in Arabic.”

Alaa presenting at WikiArabia 2019 in Marrakesh (Noureddine Akabli CC BY-SA 4.0)

Q: What impact has the MedProject had on Arabic Wikipedia?

“The Arabic WikiProject Medicine managed to grab editors who can participate in the medical domain (including medicine, anatomy, pharmacy, dentistry, etc) and lead them in an organized way and enrich the content related to diseases existing in the region. Most of the participants in the project in Arabic Wikipedia belong to the medical sector, which means more accurate and reliable content. We managed to produce 46,000 medical articles, and the role of the project has become very prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We confront misinformation that spreads fast on the internet and on social media channels. We  do our best to add related sections in existing articles or even add new articles as needed; building reliable information with resources that help people get  correct information.”

Q: How has your work helped to confront COVID-19 disinformation?

“We started by establishing a special team of people who follow up on the articles related to the pandemic. Any changes or newly-created articles are directly and continually reviewed to avoid and prevent any incorrect misinformation others may add. In addition, we confront the type of misinformation that spreads fast on the Internet and on social media channels. 

We do our best to add related sections in existing articles or even add new articles as needed, building reliable information with resources that help people get correct information. We follow up the articles with high visit rates to update and enhance its content, for the same reasons. Finally, we tried to publish reliable information about COVID-19 using the official social media channels of Arabic Wikipedia to guarantee distributing correct information for the public.”

Q: What advice do you have for newcomers to the Wikimedia projects?

“Newcomers, welcome to the Wikimedia world! We’re all volunteers here. Don’t be afraid to edit as you are encouraged to be bold! If you do get stuck, you can ask, all of us will be happy to help you! Ask, listen, discuss, understand, and be patient.”

Q: What is one thing you wish everyone knew about Wikimedia projects?

“The most important thing is that everyone can contribute and edit under the umbrella of the guidelines and policies, and that participants are volunteers. Unfortunately, the huge amount of effort and time that volunteers contribute is not known to the public and those who don’t know how Wikimedia projects are managed. I wish that everyone recognizes the importance of such projects, whether Wikipedia, Commons, Wikidata, etc.

Q: Where do you see Wikimedia in the next 20 years?

“The Wikimedia Foundation started the implementation phase of Wikimedia Strategy 2030, which aims to make the movement the main source of knowledge in the world. By then, many things should be accomplished, such as enhancing the platform, increasing awareness, sustaining participants, more partnerships, etc. With the support of communities and affiliates, I see that the strategy’s main objective will be achieved, and that’s what every single Wikimedian wishes for.

Congratulations, Alaa! 

About the 2021 Wikimedian of the Year Awards

The Wikimedian of the Year is an annual award that honours contributors to Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia editors, to highlight major achievements within the Wikimedia movement in the previous year. The tradition dates back to 2011 and has evolved since then in dynamic ways to welcome and celebrate Wikimedians from different backgrounds and experiences. This year’s celebration is bigger and more inclusive than ever before, recognizing seven exceptional contributors to the Wikimedia movement in six categories, including Newcomer of the Year, 20th Year Honouree, Rich Media and Tech contributors, and Honourable Mentions, as well as the Wikimedian of the Year. 

*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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