In 2021, the Wikimedia Foundation announced the first grants of a "Knowledge Equity Fund" created in June of the previous year. This involved about a million dollars of WMF funds being given, in the form of grants, to a number of external charitable and advocacy organizations.
This proved controversial; as we covered last October, a "somewhat-viral Twitter thread" questioned the relevance of these organizations to Wikimedia projects and values, and while some of the controversy was certainly political in nature, many of the grant recipients seemed unrelated to Wikimedia projects, prompting further discussion on mailing lists. One concern was the lack of community input into the process that led to the fund's creation. Another was the use of money which was generally solicited on the grounds of being necessary to fund Wikimedia projects, meaning that many donors likely did not know or intend for their funds to be given to unrelated organizations. Two of the grant recipients from the first round seem to have not shared financial reports detailing how the money was spent.
The Wikimedia Foundation has announced a second round of grantees this month, saying in its announcement:
Equity – more specifically, knowledge equity – underpins our movement's vision of a world in which every human can share in the sum of all knowledge. It encourages us to consider the knowledge and communities that have been left out of the historical record, both intentionally and unintentionally. This is an important pillar of the Wikimedia movement’s strategic direction, our forward-looking approach to prepare for the Wikimedia of 2030.
There can be many reasons behind these gaps in knowledge, derived from systemic social, political and technical challenges that prevent all people from being able to access and contribute to free knowledge projects like Wikimedia equally. In 2021, the Wikimedia Foundation launched the Knowledge Equity Fund specifically to address gaps in the Wikimedia movement's vision of free knowledge caused by racial bias and discrimination, that have prevented populations around the world from participating equally. The fund is a part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s Annual Plan for the 2023-24 fiscal year to support knowledge equity by supporting regional and thematic strategies, and helping close knowledge gaps. Building on learnings from its first round of grants, today the Equity Fund is welcoming its second round of grantees.
This second round includes seven grantees that span four regions, including the Fund's first-ever grantees in Asia. This diverse group of grantees was chosen from an initial pool of 42 nominations, which were received from across the Wikimedia movement through an open survey in 2022 and 2023. Each grantee aligns with one of Fund's five focus areas, identified to address persistent structural barriers that prevent equitable access and participation in open knowledge. They are also recognized nonprofits with a proven track record of impact in their region. The Knowledge Equity Fund was initially conceived in response to global demands for racial equity, and the global reach of these new grantees is testament to and in recognition of the systemic impact of racial inequity in affecting participation in knowledge across the world.
The grants announced are as follows:
Black Cultural Archives is a Black-led archive and heritage center that preserves and gives access to the histories of African and Caribbean people in the UK. Their goals with this grant for the coming year include increasing research into their collections, as well as increasing the breadth of their collections for research.
The Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, or the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN for short), is a non-profit organization based in Indonesia that works on human rights and advocacy issues for indigenous people.
Criola is a civil society organization, based in Rio de Janeiro, dedicated to advocating for the rights of Black women in Brazilian society. They prioritize knowledge production, research, and skills development as part of their work. They are also part of a national and international network of human rights, justice and advocacy organization focused on promoting racial equity.
Data for Black Lives is a movement of activists, organizers, and scientists committed to the mission of using data to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people. They will use the grant in part to launch a Movement Scientists Fellowship matching racial justice leaders with machine learning research engineers to develop data-based machine learning applications to drive change in the areas of climate, genetics, and economic justice.
Create Caribbean Research Institute is the first digital humanities center in the Caribbean. The grant will be used to expand Create Caribbean’s Create and Code technology education program to enable children ages 5-16 to develop information and digital literacy as well as coding skills.
The Filipino American National Historical Society, or FANHS, has a mission to gather, document and share Filipino American history through its 42 community based chapters. The grant will support continuing and growing FANHS’ scholarship and advocacy on accurate historical representations of Filipino Americans and counter distorted and effaced ethnic history.
Project Multatuli is an organization dedicated to non-profit journalism, especially for underreported topics, ranging from indigenous people to marginalized issues. Their goal is to produce data-based, deeply researched news stories to promote inclusive journalism and amplify the voices of marginalized communities.
On the subject of financial transparency regarding the Wikimedia Endowment: here is what the minutes of the January 2022 board meeting had to say about it. Not exactly a wealth of detail, but we do at least get a financial summary:
8) Fundraising update
- Overview, lead by Caitlin Virtue
- Review of Fundraising Report, lead by Amy Parker
- Summary: As of December 31, 2021, the Endowment held $105.4 million. There is currently $99.33 million in the investment account and $6.07 million in cash. An additional $8 million raised in December will be transferred to the Endowment in January 2022.
This summary was the last time the Endowment Board meeting minutes contained a dollar figure for the Endowment's total value (cash plus investments). Requests for an updated figure in February.
A couple of weeks ago, the Wikimedia Foundation's Jayde Antonio the approved minutes for the January 19, 2023 Endowment Board meeting to the its page on Meta. Noticeable here is the lack of any substantial new information – apart from noting the approval of the Endowment grants which were announced publicly back in April, they essentially just repeat the boilerplate meeting agenda posted months ago.
For example, the meeting's agenda (posted in February 2023) contained the following item:
6:25 - 6:55 pm UTC: Fundraising Update (Board Chair, Jimmy Wales and Endowment Director, Amy Parker)
- FY22-23 year to date update
- Campaign strategy
The minutes approved by the Endowment's board, led by Jimbo Wales, repeated the same point almost verbatim when they were added in July:
Fundraising Update (Amy Parker)
- FY22-23 year to date update
- Presentation of campaign strategy
At the meeting we discussed, to universal agreement, that we should publish more information and more often [...] the discussion about publishing more information and more often came about in no small part because the January minutes were something that I felt were not good enough in terms of being open and informative. (A financial report is forthccoming – I haven't seen it yet – but delayed because the relevant person creating it has taken a bit of family leave.)
This is a strange comment, as it would seem entirely within the power of the board to determine what information the minutes of its own meetings should contain. He later clarified: "The minutes of the previous board meetings are not written in realtime in the board meeting. They are a legal document prepared in advance and reviewed by the legal team and staff."
Following that discussion, however, Wales did provide a more meaningful update on Meta-Wiki:
In official business, the Board moved to hire KPMG as our independent auditor for the new entity, approved a spending policy for the Endowment, approved an operational budget of $2.09 million, and approved a grantmaking budget of $2.91 million for FY 2023-24. We also set the target of $11.5 million in revenue between fundraising and investment income this fiscal year. We ended the last fiscal year with $118 million in the Wikimedia Endowment and are projecting to grow the corpus by approximately $6.5 million depending on market performance and after expenses.
How much of this $118 million is held by the Tides Foundation, and how much by the new 501(c)(3) organization, is unknown. The Wikimedia Foundation has been keen to emphasize that the Endowment is now a transparent 501(c)(3) non-profit, fulfilling a promise first made in 2017, but the Endowment website itself continues to say:
The Endowment has been established, with an initial contribution by Wikimedia Foundation, as a Collective Action Fund at Tides Foundation (Tax ID# 51-0198509).
Jimmy Wales also uploaded a document to Meta-Wiki titled "Wikimedia Endowment 2023-24 Plan". This provides information on fundraising goals, an operational timeline, and the Endowment's budget for 2023–2024. It mentions $1.8 million in annual expenses in the most recent financial year (similar to the figure mentioned in the minutes for the July 2022 board meeting), including $400,000 for unspecified professional services. It envisages the Endowment standing at $130.4 million by the end of the 2023–2024 fiscal year.
Even with the information now provided, the Wikimedia Endowment has never published a statement detailing its revenue and expenses for any year of its existence. Its actual receipts and spending from 2016 to the present day, including the fees paid to Tides, are completely opaque. The Wikimedia Endowment, the Wikimedia movement's richest affiliate, remains some way away from delivering the level of transparency ordinarily expected of Wikimedia affiliates.
Wikifunctions, the newest Wikimedia project, is a new space to collaboratively create and maintain a library of functions. You can think of these functions like recipes for a meal—they take inputs and produce an output (a reliable answer). You might have experienced something similar when using a search engine to find the distance between two locations, the volume of an object, converting two units, and more.
The announcement describes Wikifunctions as "a core component of the larger" Abstract Wikipedia, a project designed to have volunteers writing simple Wikipedia articles in code that can then be translated into human languages. Both projects are spearheaded by Denny Vrandečić, the former project lead of Wikidata and a past Google employee. You can learn more about how Wikifunctions works in this short video on Commons and YouTube.
A technical evaluation published in December 2022 had criticized this "decision to make Abstract Wikipedia depend on Wikifunctions, a new programming language and runtime environment, invented by the Abstract Wikipedia team, with design goals that exceed the scope of Abstract Wikipedia itself, and architectural issues that are incompatible with the standards of correctness, performance, and usability that Abstract Wikipedia requires." However, Vrandečić's team disputed such criticisms and rejected the evaluation's recommendations, which had included decoupling Wikifunctions from Abstract Wikipedia, and having it based on the existing Lua programming language that is already integrated into MediaWiki and widely used by Wikipedia editors (see detailed Signpost coverage). – AK, H
Wikimania 2023 is taking place in Singapore this week, from 16 to 19 August, with some workshop, hackathon and pre-conference activities happening on 15 August. Event partners include UNESCO, Google, Creative Commons and Mozilla as well as a number of Singaporean partners like NETS and the National Library Board.
While this year is the first time since 2019 that the Wikimedia movement's annual conference is happening as an in-person event again, it is also open to remote participation. The full schedule can be found here.
The Signpost wishes all those who travel to Wikimania safe journey and a great conference!