This page is part of the Implementation Report for Regional Hubs. It regards specifically Interview 1.
- Date: June 26, 2021
- Duration: 1 hour
- Profile: Wikipedia Editor - User Group Leader (active online and offline)
- Region: Western Asia
- Gender: Man
- Interview language: Arabic
Questions and answers
1. What is your view to a regional hub in your region?
(This question was later reformulated to: In an ideal world, how would a regional hub look like in your region by 2030?)
- I was previously involved in an attempt to build a hub-similar initiative, called the Arabic Committee, which faced several challenges. These challenges made me rethink my position about how things should be done. I still believe in the core idea of the committee (which is to come together), but I am still not sure about the exact details of what needs to be done to reach the right direction.
- It is important to have a collaboration on the "Arabic speaking" level. The form of this collaboration should be a structure that can support any need or idea or project and to speak in the name of the "Arabic Region". How does this happen concretely? (1) First of all the collaboration should be happening between all stakeholders, and all of them shall be included (9 user groups, and online community), especially in terms of communication. There are already many platforms gathering the community, but there is a lack in terms of communication regarding the structural and organizational work. It is important that the network that will be created gives a sense of belonging for the community, not necessarily that it must be meetings of 500 people, but that the 5 or 10 people chosen should have legitimacy. Also (2), we need to clarify why we want this collaboration. Is it because we want an instance that speaks in the name of our region? Or do we want to organize projects? In my opinion, having this "hub" is great as it makes a central point of contact available. For instance, if the WMF needs the community input on a given subject, or want a representative from the region, the hub could be contacted and deliver this information. Any team in the foundation can contact this hub when needing to know more about the Arab region. The most important and problematic point is (3) how to safeguard that this entity will not be in conflict or overlap with the already existing local groups. I have heard this problem a lot during the discussions on the Arabic Committee, and I believe indeed that it is complex.
- An example that can visualize my thoughts is the example of WikiArabia, that the whole Arabic-speaking community should own, not only the organizing group. The choice of the city/country organizing should be made by the community, and not by a self-appointed group. To solve the issue, a hub is the most suited structure to lead this effort on the regional level. The regional projects cannot be coordinated by a local group, and this is why a "higher" entity (the one we call hub) should be created in our region.
2. Will the hub serve the online or offline communities? or both?
- Previously, I was strongly advocating the separation between the online and offline communities, in the sense that it is the offline community that organizes groups and events, and that therefore it should be them who shall take the initiative. I believed that the offline community is organized, while the online one is unstructured (which is not a criticism, as Wikimedia is by definition decentralized). Governance approach is very different between the two communities, one being very rigorous (offline), and one being flexible (where any editor can talk in the name of the community, and where even the oldest admins cannot claim to have decision-making power outside of the admin tasks). Due to that, I believed that joining these two communities would create many conflicts, between those constantly asking for elections and legitimacy, and those urging actions to be taken, and work to be started. The question is even more complex in the Arabic speaking region, with a language spoken in more than 20 countries. So diverse people and groups write in the same Wikipedia. They could all work independently and be independent groups, but are all overlapping when interacting on the same Wikipedia. All these points led me to conclude that if a structure shall be made, it shall be a collaboration between the offline entities (user groups).
- But this was what I thought earlier. In fact, through my experience in the international movement, I have also learned the counter-argument, which is that if we separate too much between these communities, an unhealthy atmosphere starts to be created. When considering something as big and impactful as a hub, both communities should be consulted so that they both feel estimated and taken into consideration. Sometimes, members from both communities are unaware and can have misconceptions about what the other part is doing. Gathering both of them under one roof (a hub) can make them come together and even collaborate better. This hub can even be the best place to engage online contributors in offline projects and conferences, and also give the online community the possibility to affect the offline world, which is something that was not possible with the local groups.
3. According to your answers, do you encourage having a hub specifically for the Arabic language?
- I would love to have a hub that is open to bigger communities, but the fact is that the Arabic speaking community is very isolated within the movement. Honestly, there is a lack of communication and collaboration with the international communities, and it can be difficult to integrate all the Arabic speaking community in a bigger hub where a language other than Arabic would be used.
- I believe that in the current context, it is difficult to include Turkey or Iran in the regional hub because of linguistic and cultural differences. There are almost no common projects between the Arabic-speaking community and the Turkish and Persian communities. The Arabic speaking community is somewhat homogeneous, and it will bring a real complexity for all parts if a MENA hub is created, and gathers all the countries, even those where Arabic is not spoken. Moreover, the hub in itself should support the community in its language, and since Arabic is a big language and one of the United Nations languages, it is logical to have a hub for it. This can be compared to the closest initiatives to us, that are WikiFranca and Iberocoop, that are both gathering communities and affiliates based on languages (French and Spanish), and do also aspire to become a hub. In our case, we can even say that our language overlaps with the region, so the regional hub would be the same as linguistic hub for the Arabic-speaking region. For me it is clear that the region and the hub should not be called MENA but rather the Arab Region.
- It is however important to clarify that minorities within the region will be included and welcomed in the hub, as they are culturally part of the Arabic region, and can collaborate with the Arabic speaking community since they already speak Arabic.
4. Concretely, can you describe how the Arabic-speaking regional hub will be? What will be its structure? Its roles and responsibilities?
- I think we should not start by idealizing and dreaming, but rather by starting small and growing gradually. If you want me to give you a vision about this hub for the next 5 or 10 years, I believe that an important requirement is that this hub should be a legitimate and united structure. This is the biggest challenge at this point of time. The purpose of this hub would be to gather all the Arabic-speaking community and serve it, by managing its conflicts, but without intruding in the local groups affairs.
- Because of the current challenges, the hub might start with simple tasks, maybe not directly managing projects, but rather discussing and gathering people, as a central platform. In theory, the hub could achieve amazing things such as supporting smaller groups and under-represented communities, drive big projects, but I want to stay realistic. It seems to me that it is naïve to think that this could be happening soon. There are many governance problems in the community, and these problems should be solved first before any structure could be implemented. Why do I say that? It is because everything starts locally. Locally we have the user groups, and then the hub on the top. If the user groups have problems, no hub could work properly (this is what we witnessed with the Arabic Committee). Local groups are like foundations of a house, and should be empowered first before being able to go further.
- The hub will probably be small, having between 10 and 20 people working in it. It will need to have the financial responsibility over the region, and centralize things such as grants. Ideally, the current regional grant committee (Middle East), can be a responsibility of the hub, but in collaboration with the WMF. In fact, I am against the idea of having people from the region taking grant decisions about the region, as it creates many conflicts of interests, and many people base their decisions on friendships or conflicts, which is not the best approach. Usually financial matters are problematic, and this is the reason why the local governance should be improved before any responsibility is given.
5. What about people at the hub? Will they be volunteers or employees?
- The core of the hub should be volunteers. The hub in the Arabic region according to me will mostly make decision. Decision-making as an employee is not best, as you will probably make decisions that will best suit your employer, not the community. I think that the decision-makers can sit in a sort of board, similar to what the existing affiliates have now.
- This said, employees are much needed to drive the work forward. Many WMF employees at that time could be working at the hub, if they speak Arabic and are working on matters related to the region. If we would like to describe the process, I think that any work opening at the WMF related to the Arabic language or the region, should be discussed with the hub, and eventually go through it. It is not acceptable that people are employed to work with the community without it being consulted. In the past, this created many problems, with a community feeling that the WMF staff is totally disconnected with it, and that nothing is happening. The WMF has employed many people responsible over the Arabic region/community, but almost nobody knows them or their work. This is why a hub is needed to oversee this and be a link with the community (and also its voice).
6. Do you believe that each region of the world should have a hub?
- I think that the most interested regions can show their interest and start building a hub. However, I do not like the current spirit where it seems that the community is left to itself, and that "an ocean" is presented to them, being told "well swim now. Good luck!". I think that the WMF should commit to at least support those who express that they want to have a hub, and not leave them alone, especially if they are volunteers and need resources.
- I also think that regions are different. All that I have presented here is my opinions on a hub in the Arabic-speaking region. For sure, other regions have different backgrounds and needs, and might require other sorts of structure than what we in the Arabic region want. The most important is that each region needs to have a clear view about what they want to have (the same way we are doing for the Arabic region now), and that the WMF provides all support that the community needs and asks for.
Key Takeaways - Interview 1
- It is important to have a regional hub specifically for the Arabic speaking region.
- The regional hub should serve both online and offline communities.
- Act as a coordinator in the regional projects such as WikiArabia.
- The hub will be coordinating, but not really driving the projects
- Managing the projects would be the responsibility of the local groups.
- The hub will represent the community, and WMF needs to take it into consideration when hiring or working in projects related to the region.
- It is the community that should start building the hub
- But it should not be left to itself. WMF should support in needs the community asks for.