Puzzles and Priorities: Reflections from Maryana’s Listening Tour

Maryana Iskander
Maryana Iskander

Four months ago today, I introduced myself as the incoming CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation. Two weeks following my first letter to you below, I launched a two-month listening tour. I spent this time doing three things: (1) talking with people – I spoke with 275 people from 55 countries; (2) joining community events – I participated virtually in 17 community-organised events around the world that gathered over 750 volunteers; and (3) meeting with staff teams across the Wikimedia Foundation. A summary is available on Meta.

Wikimedia Foundation CEO virtual meeting with WikiNaija community on 6 November 2021

I engaged on and off-wiki with people who reached out directly. I also asked to speak to those who may not usually have the loudest voices. I posed questions about our vision, mission, impact, strategy and how we relate to the rest of the world. I asked what we know from evidence, research and data – not only our own opinions. I tried to deeply understand our current ways of working, how they have been shaped by the past, and what they may mean for the future. And I delighted in listening to stories about what motivates people at a personal level to contribute to their projects and communities.

Screenshot of Maryana Iskander’s listening tour stop with Portuguese and Spanish Speaking communities

Several hundred conversations later, I want to share with you the five “puzzles” that will shape my incoming priorities for the first six months. The quotes I’ve included to describe each puzzle come from these conversations. I certainly haven’t learned everything or spoken yet to everyone. But I have chosen to describe what I heard so far as “puzzles” because they will require collective ingenuity and shared problem-solving if we are to achieve ambitious aspirations and tackle complex challenges.

While the ‘tour’ may be done, my listening and learning continues. I will spend the first few months of 2022 with Foundation teams based on the west and east coasts of the United States. Where the pandemic makes it possible, I hope to also meet with interested volunteers and community members as I travel.

Over the past two decades, you have created one of the most astonishing digital communities in all of human history. Tomorrow, we will celebrate this again on Wikipedia’s 21st birthday. I am full of abundant optimism for what lies ahead. And without being too naive, I am ready to work for the day when this can be true for us all: 

“Knowledge knows no boundaries. And yet we are averse to differences. Differences in culture, language, experiences. This is my hope. That one day people refer to Wikimedia as one and only … They wouldn’t care whether there is a Foundation, or a Wikimedia this or that. They’d just say: ‘Wikimedia is making knowledge a better place.’”