The Wikimedia Foundation’s New Funds Strategy: One Year Later

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Did you know funding to the Middle East and Africa from the Wikimedia Foundation went up by 149% last year? 

It has been a little over a year since the implementation of the new Wikimedia Foundation Funds strategy. We have achieved our stated goals, particularly around regional decision making and more resources to underrepresented communities, and gathered lessons and questions to take us into the future. 

A collaborative process

In 2020, the movement strategy recommendation to “Ensure equity in decision making” called for more participatory resource allocation, flexible funding systems, and the empowerment of local communities. The Wikimedia Foundation’s Community Resources team, which leads grantmaking at the Foundation, led a collaborative process to create a new, interim strategy to improve grantmaking toward these aspirations that could later feed into governance questions and movement strategy implementation. Over 9 months we met with 34 community representatives in two brainstorming sessions, ran 20 regional sessions and took on-wiki feedback to create a shared vision for a new funding strategy. As a result of this collaborative work, we launched the new Wikimedia Foundation Funds in July 2021. 

2021: A New Strategy

The new funds strategy created three new elements to meet the objectives that emerged from discussions:

First, a regional approach. Volunteer Regional Fund Committees were created in each of the seven identified regions, bringing decision making closer to the implementation of programs. To increase the access to funds new regional program officers conducted proactive outreach to communities and language support was provided. The criteria to receive longer term general support funding was opened up to include for the first time the opportunity for multi-year funding. We took time after the first round to solicit feedback about the process, shared the results and made changes for the second round.   

Second, the Alliances Fund and Research Funds were launched both attempting to welcome actors into the Wikimedia ecosystem. Finally, focusing on resources beyond the money, the Let’s Connect  peer learning program pilot which centers on human connection and skills sharing . And by introducing the Fluxx portal we have been able to understand and share more valuable data about the work that is being funded. 

Funds Strategy Results

The Funding  Distribution Report provides an overview of total fund distribution globally and by region. This year, we see that the new funds strategy has resulted in a more equitable distribution of funds across the regions. Funding globally increased 51% from USD 8 million to USD 12.4 Million, with the highest total growth of in the Middle East and Africa (149%) and ESEAP (135%). In 2021, funds to North and Western Europe (NWE) and United States and Canada (USCA) represented 60% of all funding. In 2022, while the real term levels of funding to the NWE and USCA regions grew – the overall proportion declined to 48%.

This the first time in history that these two regions received less than 50% of the total funding and because the overall pie grew NWE and USCA received increases of 18% and 25%  respectively. 

New pathways are opening up and 21% of general support fund recipients which focus on longer term planning came from previous rapid grantees. 14 multi year grants were approved for organizations that had corresponding multi-year plans. 

Learning Together

We also have learned that bringing 58 people together forming new committees and introducing new processes and funds to the communities is complicated. After each round we completed feedback reports from applicants and committee members highlighting areas of improvement, we learn and adapt after each round. (Round 1 Report, Round 2 Report). 

Feeling of empowerment and autonomy has been going up for committee members (4.1 out of 5 in the first round and then 4.4 out of 5 in the second round). Members want more participation in Movement Strategy discussions.   85% of applicants felt the strategy is heading in the right direction for decentralized decision making (58% answered yes and 27% said yes with some improvements).  Taking time for more proactive communication about all the changes throughout the first year of implementation as well as making space for greater interaction with the committees and building trust has been a key learning.  

The Let’s Connect Program now has 185 registered participants across 25 countries, from all regions, 60% from the MEA region. Participants valued the services offered through skills directory, learning clinics, 1:1 connections and resource sharing.  The Community-Foundation working group has been essential in building the program and valued as a fun, safe and inclusive space. 

“You know, a comfortable place like Let’s Connect was really needed in the movement. …several people were telling me that they feel safe in Let’s Connect, which feeling of safety is missing in other places”

South Asia regional learning session participant

The aggregated data from Fluxx helped create these learning reports which were the basis for 7 sessions that brought together over 200 grantee partners, regional fund committee members and Foundation staff to collectively reflect on this data.  The reports highlighted the programmatic focus on education, culture and heritage and challenges organizations are facing globally around welcoming and retaining a diverse volunteer base. People want to continue to analyse together creating shared understanding and practical improvements. 

We thank both the commitment of the volunteer committee members and all of the applicants who are on this journey with us.

Going forward

The discussions of movement governance and resource allocation are important and ongoing. In the interim together as a movement, we have been able to advance our goals, especially around equity of funding distribution and ability to connect people to learn in a safe environment. There is still much to reflect on and need for innovation that can be fed into the larger governance discussion. Some reflections to take us into the future are: 

  • Changing the relationship dynamic to partnership takes intention, trust and time. Trust-based philanthropy models are new to the movement. How can we continue to connect and learn from each other building trust and improving how we reach our goals.
  • The process remains heavy,  what information is truly needed to understand the work. A lightweight renewal process will be collaboratively built with the community over the next year. 
  • Multi-year funding has given grantee partners stability especially for their personnel. For organizations that want to develop and grow, what other support can be provided beyond funding?

Do you have any lessons or takeaways to add to these reflections? Are there any changes in our current grants process that you would recommend? We’d love to hear from you at kechavarriqueen@wikimedia.org

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