Organizers’ Perspectives from Ghana: Laying the Foundations for Greening the Wikimedia Space

A chat with organizers of the Wiki Green Conference

This year, the third iteration of the #WikiForHumanRights campaign has gained increased attention amongst the African community and this is evident in the number of activities and events that have been organized in the region. From Nigeria, Kenya, Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Ghana just to mention a few, each of these communities is learning how to run the campaign in its own context. As an organizer from Ghana working with the Open Foundation West Africa and temporarily joining the Wikimedia Foundation as a Senior Campaign  Fellow for this year’s campaign, I was intrigued at how innovative organizers were in their participation.  While listening to organizers this year, many of them have found it an effective way to think about a new public they previously hadn’t talked to. 

When running an event for a new Campaign, like WikiForHumanRights, local organizers typically have to figure out two things: the scope of the content gap on Wikimedia Projects and how to communicate with the potential contributors for that event.  Organizers need to develop a mutual understanding with the communities they want to impact on why the newcomers should join the Wikimedia movement. Instead of doing a full-scale newcomer outreach event in Ghana, as part of this year’s WikiForHumanRights campaign, the organizers of the Wiki Green Conference focused on building relationships with other environmental activists and organizations within the country so that they can develop relationships with these networks that can be activated for future outreach activities. 

Following the conference, I had the chance to chat with the three organizers  of the campaign namely; Maxwell Beganim, Otuo Boakye Acheampong and Nana Yaw Borta to better understand why the conference was a building block in their efforts to organize the Climate and Sustainability space. I wanted to share a brief summary of the conversation I had with them, but if you want more you can listen to the full audio here on the community podcast WikiUpdate

Understanding ‘why sustainability?’

Organizing activities is a mix of a passion for the topic and finding the right opportunity to connect Wikimedia with other communities of practice. When I first sat down with the organizers, I wanted to learn more about their motivations. I ask them: what motivated the Wiki Green Conference?

In 2020 soon after the pandemic hit, the UN came up with the triple planetary crisis. If you live in a country like us in the Global South, you might not actually know the theories behind climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss but you feel it in your environment every day. We see it here, for instance, I work with rural folks who are suffering because of the change in rainfall patterns the climate is hitting them big, not as a theoretical concept but as a practical concept […\ In Ghana, the current statistics of diseases as a result of air pollution is the second-most killer disease in Ghana. It means that the triple planetary crisis has real consequences on Ghana as a nation and therefore young people like us should be able to document and be able to talk about it that was my motivation.”

Otuo

“As a climate activist, and looking at the open movement, there is a nexus. The whole idea of tech and green became something that I was interested in and passionate about and so when the whole idea came with technology and green, I felt it was in line with my general objective because I have knowledge in the open space and the green space so why not merge and come up with a niche?” 

Maxbeg

“I am also in the climate space, I deal with kids to help them create awareness of what the climate means to them, but I realize that there is that gap. Most of them are naive about what is going on[…] Just as my co-organizer said, back in the days you don’t need an alarm, a bird will do the job of waking you up but in the urban areas you don’t see it.  There was a need for us to come up with a project that can bridge that gap. When we look at the opportunities that the open movement brings, the resources and the tools that they offer — These are things we could, first of all, create awareness and then find solutions that can help mitigate because down here people are really feeling it, it has a serious impact on humans. So that was the motivation for me.

After I saw the organizers both active in the conference and talking to them afterward, it was important to help me understand their motivation for participating in the conference and understanding the tactics that was used…

Stephen

Why a conference and not an edit-a-thon?

Edit-a-thons are one of the most common activities we see in the movement. But this time these three organizers took an unusual path by organizing a conference instead. From their perspective, since most of the targeted audience were new to the Wikimedia space, they saw organizing a conference as a way to draw attention from this audience to convene and be introduced to the Wikimedia space in a way that aligns with their interests. 

Though the participants got to learn how to edit, it was more important to build a greater shared understanding with the participants: of why Wikipedia matters for the kind of work that they already do, communicating environmental crises. Here is how Max and Otuo  explained it:   

Because there are different organizations, and they have their own understanding of it, it becomes very difficult to bring all these teams together even though there is the same objective. They may also, one way or the other, say that though we may have the objective they may not be aligned with this.

Maxwell

So I think one of the key challenges we overcame was to articulate what we are doing very clearly… the aim is greening the tech space, so it’s like an alignment, whatever you are doing, let’s green the tech space. Irrespective of how you want to do it, or not one way or the other you use tech…  Let me give you an example, if you look at one of the partners that came on board like the Internet Society Ghana Chapter, they do not necessarily work within the climate space but understand that we can green the tech space because it’s the internet that we use, they aligned with it… I think it’s about the alignment and the objective thus one. 

Secondly, a lot of people have myths about Wikipedia and so the onus is also on us, as people who understand, to clear all these myths and doubts within this space. So people are working in the space [Green space] but they go to other places for information but if you tell them, look you can contribute or you can curate content by getting your voice heard. I think the challenge is also about capacity building because some of the organizations are not fully equipped or understand some of these issues, you need high-level skills to be able to do that. But hosting this workshop you realize that people are now interested in knowing even Wikipedia.

And Otuo described why this kind of outreach matters for the local communities in Ghana: 

As a research scientist, this is what, most literature on climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss is in the English language. And even in the sciences, we are always saying 90% of all research is in the English language. We want local content, so how can we have something in Twi? Ga? Dagomba? The Wikimedia Foundation gives us those platforms through the languages we have in here. So when we are able to bring technical people into the movement who can also write in their local language they are able to present the picture in a wonderful and perfect way. 

For instance, I read Twi so it will be easier for me to write about Climate Change in Twi for the local people to understand than what a white man can write in English. For instance, when I start mentioning some of the terms like ‘mitigation’, ‘adaptation’, ‘climate vulnerability, and ‘risk assessment’ these things are not local terms, and the local people won’t understand. But if I say it in Twi, they will understand. And so we can leverage the Wikimedia platforms to also translate some of this information and even create articles in our local languages as experts so that people can actually appreciate the concept of the triple planetary crises. Because access to information now is a human right and so I think that we should all have access to information and that information we should have should be inclusive such that if I don’t speak English I shouldn’t be cut away from accessing information and Wikipedia gives us that platform that is why I think bringing an expert to work in this area is one of the best ways to go as a sustainable solution.

The way forward now is to get tailor-made solutions that fit a particular context and environment. We can’t just import what is being done in the US when we talk about climate change because they have a high adaptive capacity to climate change so we can’t import what is there. We need tailor-made solutions and how do we get them: use the experts here and be able to communicate it to other people out there. And so going a specific way will help us solve most of our challenges and our problems.

Otuo

Following through? What’s next?

As movement organizers, we are all enthusiastic about reaching and bringing newcomers into the movement. However, when it comes to the retention of these newcomers, different strategies come to play.  When talking to them, Stephen described:

We brought people from other organizations. As organizers we will also do well to participate in their activities… Because when you partake in their activity they feel you are part of them so they even give that listening ear to listen to you in the first place.. If you are part of them they already feel you are giving them a different solution. They become open to it… Secondly, we have communities here in Ghana Like OFWA, Dagbani Usergroup, and Wikimedia Ghana Usergroup. So we also try to integrate them into those user groups so that they will get that support that they will need because I believe with Wikipedia you can’t learn everything in a day. I believe the affiliates are in such positions to offer that training. Most of these groups have activities and contests that they run daily so it always keeps you busy and always wanting to do more. So it’s more about getting them engaged…”

Stephen

What Followed?

The Wiki Green Conference laid the foundation for yet another fantastic local collaboration between the Youth Climate Council Ghana and the Open Foundation West Africa: hosting a hands-on skills building workshop dubbed Climate Change edit-a-thon. The two-day hybrid workshop’s objective was to inform and equip young climate activists from the network of the Youth Climate Council Ghana on how to use Wikipedia to raise public awareness of climate change in Ghana. It was a thrill to observe how the young people responded to this appeal with such fervor and expertise.

Unlike the Wiki Green conference which focused more on knowledge sharing, the two day training was more focused on impacting practical skills. Throughout the 2 day event participants edited Wikipedia, uploaded images on Wikimedia commons and basic translation skills. We were impressed by the participants’ determination during the workshop and are confident that they became allies of the movement. 

Day 1 of the Climate Change edit-a-thon training
Day 2 of the Climate Change edit-a-thon training
WikiForHumanRights 2022 Workshop Ghana CC BY-SA 4.0

What’s next?

I am inspired by the great work and effort these organizers put in when organizing their events. Community building can be challenging, time-consuming, and yet rewarding if the right techniques are put in place. Gathering from what these organizers have shared, Wikimedia affiliates have a major role to play in the retention of newcomers who come in through various activities that are being organized in our communities. 

As a campaign organizer in Ghana, and part of a local affiliate, I am provoked into rethinking the design of the future growth for my community. I am going back to my community more equipped with a better perspective about organizing campaigns and building communities. Being a fellow at the Wikimedia Foundation for this year’s WikiForHumanRights campaign has been truly a wonderful and insightful experience full of learning coupled with the adventure as we explored and deployed new tactics. I must commend the campaigns team for this initiative. In my next blog I will be sharing my experience and lessons learned.

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