Among all interviewees, the first thing that was really obvious was the passion they have for their work, for Wikipedia, for Wikimedia and for Free Knowledge. There is a great sense of pride in belonging to this movement and in the excellent achievements of the Wikiverse.
The Wikimedia cause is vast, complex and huge – and above all, it is highly important. It has an impact on the whole of society. Wikipedia, as its main project, profoundly changed the way in which knowledge is produced, distributed and consumed. It made Brockhaus and Encyclopaedia Britannica– things that were taken for granted only 10 years ago – obsolete. Wikimedia Commons, for example, has already overtaken many big photo stock websites, providing free media for everyone and for every use. Wikidata is the biggest systematic approach to collecting structured data in the entire world. In short: Wikimedia is a young movement yet it has achieved tremendous things.
The global footprint of the Wikimedia projects is massive:
Passion & Individual Motivation
All over the world, Wikimedians are striving passionately for Free Knowledge. All of them are fascinated by Wikipedia and the movement. Many are addicted to it. Some even dedicate their life to it.The date and hour when they signed up on Wikipedia is remembered like a second birthday; the Wikipedia globe is carried on t-shirts and badges, even as a tattoo on the skin.
The feeling of contributing something that is useful for other people is a major driving force for many Wikipedians. Being part of this tectonic shift in the creation and consumption of knowledge is exhilarating. Seeing others using Wikipedia, possibly even reading an article that you have created, generates a feeling of pride, confidence, happiness.
"A map I uploaded was shown in a huge soccer stadium, and one newspaper published my article. That’s just awesome and makes me feel so proud!"
There is strong identification and commitment. People are ready to invest hugely – whether as an editor in Wikipedia, in sister projects or as an activist in offline activities. The sense of being “part of this crazy amazing thing” even exceeds time capacities and personal limits.
"I spend ¼ of my salary for Wikipedia activities"
"It’s crazy that I do all this… I don’t know why… I just have to."
"I’m totally addicted to Wikipedia."
"I’ve spent 30 hours per week with Wikipedia activities. That was almost like a full-time job."
Every person who was interviewed is unique. They live in different countries, speak different languages, belong to different cultures, and live under different economic and societal conditions. And they all have their own dream about what they want to do and why.
"I do it for my country."
"I want to democratise knowledge."
"I want to deliver education to people in my country."
"I want to support my local editing community."
All of them want to share their excitement about Wikipedia: “You only know this excitement when you have done it – and I want to share this feeling”. Out of a small group of editors in only a few language versions of Wikipedia, a huge global community has evolved, with countless sub-communities, groups, committees, organisations – and personalities.
Tendency to form Wikimedia Chapters
There is a great tendency among active Wikimedia volunteers to form groups, to connect with like-minded people, to create a framework for the urge to accomplish more than just editing. Why sit alone in front of the computer when there are great people out there, striving for exactly the same thing? Why not getting organised, take this excitement and enthusiasm and create something even greater out of it? The most common framework for formal groups is Chapters.
Several people who were interviewed see Chapters as being the best vehicle to move the mission forward at a local level. They have the necessary knowledge about the local culture, language, laws and economic situation.
This enables them to do all sorts of different things: they can put Wikimedia values across to stakeholders in their country, reach out to institutions and the broader public, liberate content and influence legislation, teach how to edit Wikipedia, gain new followers and volunteers, enable volunteers to run projects, build relationships with donors and the media, and many more. Chapters can find the fitting paths to further the mission in their country.
In addition, volunteer time and enthusiasm is considered to be the most valuable and scarce resource of the movement. With their local knowledge, Chapters consider themselves to have the best capability to engage with volunteers and to recruit new volunteers.
Not all of the Chapters are the same - in fact, they differ highly within different categories: size, age, experience, staff or volunteer drive, funding structure, program portfolio and development path. And, of course, they are created by individuals who again have their own dream about translating the global mission to their local activities. Comparing Chapters is therefore challenging.
What unifies the Chapters is the fact that they are formed of enthusiasts who have found a framework within which they can allow their talents and passion to unfold. There is a tremendous will to contribute something, to make a change, to have an impact.
“I finally can work with like-minded people.”
“It’s the best work of my life.”
But not only that, through their activities, Chapters can contribute to a meaningful mission in general, and create an impact in their own country. There is a great sense of pride and support for their own country. This does not lead back to pure patriotism, but instead is addressing attempts to enhance the legal or learning situation in particular countries.
Their Chapter provides the volunteers with the sense of being part of something big. They can leverage the efforts towards the mission on a local level. Within the network of Wikimedia organisations, Chapters see themselves as the “arms and legs” of the Wikimedia Foundation. Or the eyes: without them, “the Foundation would be blind”.
This is one view.