Beyond the Classroom: Insights from Wiki Student Summit 2023

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A group photo during the Wiki Student Summit 2023
A group photo of participants during the Summit.

When we were young, we all had dreams, dreams of becoming someone in future, dreams of achieving something in life. Dreams that no one has ever been able to be sure of being able to achieve! Dreams that only existed in our minds and hearts. But we all believed that one day we would achieve all that we have been dreaming of. That’s the spirit and kind of dream I have always had towards the Wiki Student Summit since 2019.

Every year since 2019 the Tanzanian University Students Wikimedians prepare various events and activities to bring together students from different Schools, Colleges and Universities for the purpose of teaching, creating awareness on open knowledge on different fields and topics of impact such as climatic change, Gender issues and any other community impacting topics. These events play a pivotal role in shaping our communities and creating a better and brighter future for the future generation.

2023 has been a year of dreams come true. The sun-drenched streets of Dodoma Tanzania pulsated with an unusual excitement in July 2023. For the first time, the bustling capital city hosted the first-ever Wiki Student Summit with the theme: “Connecting, Collaborating and Creating on Wikimedia”, a national phenomenon gathering 100+ passionate students united by their fervour for improving access to free knowledge. It was a watershed moment, marking a significant shift from smaller community meetups to a grand stage where students could join hands with their peers from across the nation and contribute to the open knowledge movement through the Wikimedia Foundation’s platforms.

Before the Summit: From Dream to Reality

The exhilarating pulse of the 2023 Wiki Student Summit in Tanzania, a sensation that resonated through the air, didn’t manifest spontaneously. Instead, it was the culmination of an extensive period of meticulous planning and the unwavering commitment of a cohort of dedicated individuals labouring behind the scenes. As we delve deeper into the pre-summit phase, a captivating saga unfolds, offering a glimpse into the origins of this groundbreaking event.

Picture a dynamic collaboration where each element, from the careful curation of speakers to the intricate details of logistical arrangements, was harmoniously orchestrated. This intricate dance of preparation was a testament to the commitment of the organizing team, a group of individuals whose passion for education and global connectivity fueled their every decision. In this crucial prelude, the seeds of innovation and inspiration were not just planted but cultivated with care, nurtured by the collective vision of the organizers.

The planning phase became an incubator for creativity and forward-thinking, as each challenge was met with innovative solutions and strategic foresight. It was during these months that the very essence of the summit took shape, shaped by the dedication, creativity, and collaborative spirit of those working tirelessly behind the scenes. Their efforts were not merely logistical; they were the architects of an experience that would transcend the conventional, setting the stage for a summit that would be transformative, empowering, and truly global in its reach.

A Vision Takes Root

The conception of hosting the inaugural Wiki Student Summit in Tanzania emerged from a profound aspiration to empower the local student community and foster connections with the broader global Wikimedia network. Acknowledging the untapped potential of Tanzanian youths and recognizing the crucial importance of diverse voices within the open knowledge movement, a passionate and dedicated team of organizers embarked on a mission to transform this visionary idea into a tangible reality.

The concept for the summit was initially presented to Ebenezer Mlay, the founder of Open Knowledge Tanzania and the Wikimedians of Arusha User Group. A thorough discussion ensued to chart the course forward. In the initial phase, a conference grant application was submitted, aiming to secure support from the Wikimedia Foundation for hosting the event. Regrettably, funding from this particular summit proved elusive, and there was a moment of disappointment. Despite this setback, we rallied and persevered.

Building the Dream Team

To ensure the triumph of the summit, we curated a diverse and skilled team of volunteers and organizers, each equipped with expertise in event planning, Wikimedia editing, and community engagement. Our team members hailed from various regions, including Dodoma, Morogoro, Iringa, Arusha, and Dar es Salaam, bringing a rich tapestry of experiences and perspectives to the collaborative effort. The success of this undertaking is indebted to the collective dedication and proficiency of our team.

Special commendation is due to the team leaders who played pivotal roles in steering our endeavours. Our heartfelt gratitude extends to Ebenezer from Arusha, Awadhi from Morogoro, Hussein and Miriam from Dodoma, Rashid from Iringa, and JrSiki from Dar es Salaam. Their unwavering commitment and tireless efforts were instrumental in bringing the summit to fruition. Their leadership not only ensured the seamless coordination of diverse talents but also fostered an atmosphere of collaboration and shared purpose that defined the success of our collective venture.

Months of Collaboration

The months leading up to the summit were a whirlwind of activity. Organizers held regular meetings, both online and in person, to discuss every aspect of the event. They meticulously planned the workshops, secured speakers, identified sponsors, and ensured accessibility for all participants. It was not an easy task at all considering this was the first big event for us to host we had a lot to learn from past events and ongoing events, and some of us had to attend some events to gain the experience in person.

Overcoming Challenges

Organizing a significant event in an unfamiliar setting inevitably brought forth a set of challenges. Navigating language barriers, addressing logistical complexities, and managing limited resources necessitated inventive solutions and steadfast commitment. The team engaged in close collaboration with local partners, pooling efforts to surmount these obstacles and guarantee a seamless experience for all participants. Anticipating and proactively addressing potential challenges that could arise before, during, and after the event proved to be a crucial preparatory step. This strategic foresight was instrumental in our approach to mitigating any issues that could potentially arise at various stages of the event, ensuring a well-prepared and resilient execution.

Building Excitement

As the summit date approached, the communication team launched a comprehensive communication campaign to generate excitement among potential participants. They created social media buzz, reached out to universities and student organizations, and organized online pre-summit workshops to introduce people to the world of Wikimedia. The journey from a vision to reality was paved with hard work, collaboration, and unwavering passion. The dedication of the organizing team laid the foundation for the transformative experience that awaited the participants at the Wiki Student Summit in Tanzania.

During the Summit: A Glimpse into the Summit

A compilation of photos from different activities during the event. Magotech, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The atmosphere at the summit was one of electric energy and intellectual curiosity. Workshops covered a wide range of topics, from editing best practices to combating misinformation and promoting diversity in content creation. Participants also had the opportunity to hear from inspiring keynote speakers, including prominent Wikimedians, activists and academics.

From the outset, diversity, equity and inclusion were woven into the very fabric of the summit. Organizers carefully curated a representation of participants reflecting the global nature of the Wikimedia movement. Students from across religions, ethnicities, and genders conversed, debated, and collaborated, enriching the discussions with their unique perspectives. The Wikimedia Universal Code of Conduct served as a guiding principle, ensuring a respectful and welcoming environment for all.

Beyond the formal sessions, the summit provided ample space for informal exchanges and networking. Coffee breaks and meals buzzed with conversation, as students from different regions and cultures shared their experiences and perspectives. The common thread binding them all was a shared commitment to making the world a more informed and equitable place.

3 Key Takeaways from the Summit

  • The Power of Collaborative Diversity.

The summit served as a potential reminder that collaboration thrives on diversity. Participants embraced the richness of different experiences and viewpoints, leading to the creation of innovative solutions and enriching the content of Wikimedia projects.

  • Democratizing Knowledge Through Inclusion.

The event reaffirmed the unwavering commitment of the Wikimedia movement to making knowledge accessible to all. Conscious efforts were made to include marginalized voices and perspectives, ensuring that the global knowledge base truly reflects the diversity of human experience.

  • Innovation Springs from Inclusivity.

When diverse voices are heard and valued, innovation flourishes. The summit showcased the boundless potential of inclusivity, as students from underrepresented communities presented bold ideas for enhancing user experience, addressing misinformation, and expanding outreach to previously unheard voices.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

Despite the successes, the summit also highlighted some challenges. Language barriers, limited financial support for some participants, internet connectivity, limited financial resources and logistical difficulties in navigating a new host region presented hurdles that required creative solutions. These challenges underscored the importance of ongoing efforts to improve accessibility, communication, and resource allocation within our community.

Catalyst for Change: The Enduring Legacy

The 2023 Wiki Student Summit in Tanzania was more than just a day event; it was a catalyst for positive change. Participants left the summit empowered, equipped with new knowledge, skills, and a network of like-minded individuals ready to make a difference in their communities and beyond.

  • Increased Participation and Local Content.

Inspired by the summit experience, many students are expected to become active contributors to Wikimedia projects, enriching the knowledge base with local perspectives and experiences.

  • Enhanced Content Quality and Diversity.

The influx of fresh, diverse voices will undoubtedly lead to the creation of more accurate, relevant, and culturally nuanced content on Wikipedia, Wikidata, and other Wikimedia platforms.

  • Open Knowledge Advocacy and Community Building.

Participants will become vocal advocates for open knowledge within their communities and educational institutions, raising awareness about the importance of free and accessible information. They will also play a crucial role in building and strengthening the local Wikimedia community in Tanzania.

  • Nurturing Future Leaders.

The summit has identified and empowered a new generation of open-knowledge leaders in Tanzania. These young minds, equipped with the skills and confidence needed to navigate the digital landscape, will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping the future of the Wikimedia movement, ensuring it remains diverse, inclusive, and truly representative of the global community.

After the event: Continuing the Legacy in 2024 and beyond

The momentum generated in Tanzania carries a promise for the future. Plans are already well underway for the 2024 Wiki Student Summit, with the venue yet to be announced. Whether it takes place in Morogoro, Dodoma, Iringa or the tourism city of Arusha, one thing is certain: the spirit of collaboration, diversity, and inclusivity that defined the Tanzanian summit will continue to shine brightly.

Building on the Tanzanian Model

The success of the 2023 summit has paved the way for replicating the model in other regions. Imagine vibrant student gatherings in India, Nigeria, or the Philippines, echoing the Tanzanian call for open knowledge and bringing fresh perspectives to the Wikimedia movement. Such regional summits, inspired by the Tanzanian precedent, hold the potential to empower local communities and enrich the global knowledge landscape.

Focus on Emerging Challenges

The future of the Wiki Student Summit lies not only in expanding its reach but also in adapting to the evolving challenges of the digital age. Misinformation, digital divides, and ever-changing technologies demand innovative solutions and engage young minds. Future summits can act as fertile ground for brainstorming initiatives to combat these challenges, ensuring that the open knowledge movement remains relevant and accessible in the years to come.

A Catalyst for a Brighter Future

The 2023 Wiki Student Summit in Tanzania marked the beginning of an exciting journey. The Wiki Student Summit is more than just a gathering of enthusiastic students; it’s a vital step towards a future where access to knowledge is truly universal. By empowering young minds, fostering inclusive collaborations, and nurturing innovation, the summit has the potential to transform the landscape of global education and information sharing.

As we look forward to the 2024 edition and beyond, let us carry the torch ignited in Tanzania, building a future where everyone, regardless of their background or location, has the power to learn, contribute, and shape a more informed and equitable world.

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