Talk:Knowledge Equity Fund

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Recipient criteria[edit]

  • 3. What is the selection process for receiving grants for the Equity Fund? [...] Recipients will have to meet specific criteria, such as [...]
  • 1. Who will be administering the Equity Fund? Tides Advocacy will disburse the Equity Fund grants on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation. The criteria and the process for application and reporting has been created by the Equity Fund Committee

Are the full and exact criteria created by the Equity Fund Committee public? Are the Tides Advocacy additional criteria public too? Thank you! MarioGom (talk) 15:37, 9 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

The first round of grantees were evaluated by the Equity Fund Committee under the following criteria, laid out in the FAQ:
  • Being a recognized nonprofit,
  • Aligning with one of the five focus areas of the fund.
  • Having a proven track record of impact, such as previous projects or programs that will provide an indication of how this grant will go.
  • Maintaining a sustainable financial model that is not dependent on a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation for their continued existence

We do foresee that these criteria will continue to evolve, especially in the next round of funding. We will be opening up the Equity Fund Committee to more community participation based on the valuable feedback we’ve heard throughout this process, and that will inform the criteria of additional grantees as well. Tides Advocacy will evaluate grantees for financial and legal compliance specifically; for example, to ensure their nonprofit status and details so that they are eligible for a grant. NGunasena (WMF) (talk) 22:40, 17 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

NGunasena (WMF): Thank you for your response. MarioGom (talk) 13:19, 18 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Questions to WMF about process[edit]

Questions have been asked about the Tides Advocacy Fund ever since news of it first transpired in December 2020, half a year after the money was first transferred to Tides Advocacy. The fund had remained unannounced—essentially been kept secret—until the publication of the 2020 Auditors' Report and associated FAQ. For history, see the related Wikimedia-l thread.

The WMF repeatedly said in response to questions that it had not yet worked out details and promised to make information about the KEF available at a later date. It missed every date it set itself. The Meta page for the KEF did not appear until June of this year, a full year after the decision to divert this money was taken.

About the process (please correct me if I got anything wrong):

  1. None of the discussions around who would be represented on the Equity Fund Committee were public or transparent. Is this correct?
  2. None of the Committee's discussions around grantee selection were public or transparent. Is this correct?
  3. Who initiated contact between the WMF/Equity Fund Committee and each of the grantees?
    a. In which cases, if any, was it the grantee who first contacted the WMF with an application for a grant?
    b. In which cases, if any, was it the WMF or Equity Fund Committee who first contacted the grantee with a view to offering them a grant?
  4. There was precious little information about this Fund publicised prior to this first round of grantees; at least not enough, it seems, for organisations all over the world to apply for a grant. The impression is that people had some or most of the grantees already in mind when the decision was first made to set this fund up. What part of this, if any, is incorrect?
  5. There is no public information at present about whether there were any other grant applicants that were turned down. Is this correct? Were there any?
  6. The current Wikimedia-l discussion contains further comments (e.g. more than half of the money from this global fund going to US organisations), along with some WMF replies. Is there anything you'd like to add to what was said there?
  7. Lastly, what if anything is wrong with the following characterisation of what happened here?
    The WMF told the public throughout 2019/2020 that money was urgently needed to protect Wikipedia's independence. It took far more money than it could spend. Rather than investing all of the surplus in its Endowment or letting it be added to its net assets, a small group of people at the WMF secretly decided to divert about $5 million of this money to finance social justice causes they personally favoured. In the process, they created a complete mismatch between what donors thought their money was for, and what it actually ended up being used for. --Andreas JN466 13:21, 11 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
It's not necessarily bad to divert WMF funds to "social justice causes", as long as it's done transparently. The WMF could just have put out an announcement "we have too much cash and need to get rid of it quickly for $reasons, but we don't have the means to oversee the money properly outside of the fields WMF is most familiar with, so we'll just donate 5 M$ to an experienced non-profit in the field; please contact us informally at $address if you meet $criteria". For instance the EFF or some legal clinics we regularly work with could have had the means to appropriately and transparently spend the money on such matters, while the WMF clearly is unable to at the moment. Nemo 07:58, 13 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
I agree, but we mustn't forget that transparency should begin with the fundraising messages used to bring that money in. Otherwise they're plain conning people. --Andreas JN466 10:49, 13 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
Answers to your questions below:
  1. As we kicked off this pilot program, we created an Equity Fund Committee based on the initial skills around legal expertise, communications and grants administration needed to create a grantmaking fund, and invited two community members to join us. We did this quickly in order to create the fund and start making grants, but even with that we did run into considerable delays given the lack of dedicated staff for the Equity Fund. For the second round of funding, we will be opening this up to additional community members to get involved in future rounds of funding. We will be sharing more information later this fall on how to get involved.
  2. For this first round of funding, decisions about the grantees were made by the Equity Fund Committee during our weekly meetings. The Equity Fund is different from the grants programs run by the Community Resources team, which are done through an open call and a participatory process. Decisions for the Equity Fund will continue to be made by the Equity Fund Committee, and we will be looking to expand community participation on the Committee.
  3. In all cases, the Equity Fund Committee learned about an organization and then reached out to them to learn more and find out if they would be a good candidate for a grant. For the first round of this pilot program, we did not do an open call for applications and ask organizations to submit for a grant.
  4. When the Equity Fund was first created, it was to fill a need to more directly address racial inequities that are impacting our movement but not directly related to our movement (such as the lack of citations about underrepresented populations, etc.) When the Fund was first created, we did not have any organizations in mind to fund. That is why, as you noted, we did miss our initial timelines of providing more information. The Equity Fund Committee took more time than we anticipated to define the scope of the fund, criteria for potential grants and our ideas for impact. Once we had those areas defined, we began looking through recognized networks of organizations working on racial equity issues for organizations that may fit our criteria and be impactful partners in the knowledge movement.
  5. We did not approach any organizations and then turn them down in this first round. We looked for organizations that fit the criteria of the Equity Fund, and after our ensuing conversation with the organizations, we moved forward with each of them as our first six grantees.
  6. We’ve chimed in on some of the Wiki-l discussions. We are still going through the responses, and will be replying to those on this talk page as well.
  7. This was not secretly done by a small group looking to fund organizations they have a connection with. We had made a clear commitment to racial justice in a statement from WMF leadership in June 2020, and this fund is an execution of the specific commitments made in that statement. The goals of this Fund are expressly to benefit free knowledge and further our vision.NGunasena (WMF) (talk) 22:46, 17 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks, Nadee. I do appreciate your answering.
  • To summarise, statements #1 and #2 above were correct. As for #3, there was no call for applications – you selected and contacted all the grant recipients yourselves. As for #4, you did not have any organisations in mind, only the general type of organisation you wanted to fund. #5, there were no other candidates turned down. #6, more info to come here on this page.
  • As for #7, I would argue that this initiative was secret inasmuch as you did not make public that nearly $5 million would be diverted for non-WMF ends until months later, when the auditors referred to the matter in their report. Please make such information public in a more timely manner in future.
  • I did not say that you sought to fund organisations you had "a connection with": I said you sought "to finance social justice causes" you "personally favoured". That is, surely, true!!!
  • Moreover, WMF leadership is by definition a "small group", and when you say "our vision", this seems very much to be the vision of your group, rather than the vision of the donor community, based on the fundraising messages they were shown. Please make your fundraising banners, which continue to imply that money is urgently needed "to protect Wikipedia's independence", more consistent with your actual spending practices and ambitions. If these are good causes, people will go for them, if you tell them about them. Regards, --Andreas JN466 10:11, 19 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
  • @NGunasena (WMF): Re secrecy, I'd really like to assume good faith, but this is a situation where not only was the whole thing not announced, but it really looks like it was systematically hidden. The public distribution of the entire WMF's annual plan was delayed for half the year, until three days after the required audit report. We could have found out relatively promptly from there otherwise. Was this a coincidence? --Yair rand (talk) 20:41, 19 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
    • Speaking of delays, when will the 2020/2021 fourth-quarter tuning sessions be published? Last year, they were uploaded on 13 July. This year, nothing, even though almost three months have passed since the end of the quarter. What is the hold-up? --Andreas JN466 09:55, 20 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
@Yair rand, I know that to folks outside the Foundation, this can really feel like intentional secrecy, as you point out. I appreciate you asking about it, and your willingness to assume good faith. Unfortunately, what happened last December was the result of a lack of coordination on the side of the Wikimedia Foundation. I know that we were extremely delayed in publishing our annual plan and did it later than we've ever done before, which was for several reasons around capacity and also planning during the pandemic. We were in a yellow budget scenario, which meant departments were adjusting their long term plans, and the Foundation leadership was constantly re-assessing what we should move forward with. So, the APP was delayed in coming together and being finalized.
The plan was always to publish the annual plan and then the audit report. Our communication about the annual plan also included a specific call-out about the creation of the Equity Fund. However, teams within the Foundation didn't coordinate as well as we should have and the publishing of the audit report before the Annual plan took some of us by surprise. It wasn't a coincidence, but it could have been handled much better.
Know that things have also been getting better - we already have plans in the works to solicit recommendations about the next round of grantees (coming soon!) and as evidenced in this last year's annual plan, we’re being more timely and transparent in both sharing our plans AND talking to communities about them. --NGunasena (WMF) (talk) 23:05, 23 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
NGunasena (WMF), why do you say "what happened last December"? According to the auditors, the $8.723M were transferred to Tides Advocacy "during the year ended June 30, 2020". In other words, at least five months passed during which no one at the Foundation thought it would be right to publicise the fact that millions of dollars had been diverted to non-WMF ends, without any community consultation whatsoever, bypassing all the established grants processes. The way it looks to an outsider is almost as though this small group considered these funds to be their pocket money, to spend as they wish, without accountability to anyone – certainly without accountability to donors, who are led to believe that the WMF is "struggling to have enough money to keep Wikipedia up and running," – that's how Trevor Noah put it – uncontradicted – in his April 2021 interview of Katherine Maher.
Also, could I ask you again about the Q4 tuning sessions? When will they be published? Regards, --Andreas JN466 07:03, 24 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Transparency[edit]

As noted by many people, there's a notable lack of transparency around these grants. All information about the applications/projects, their budgets and their goals need to published, whatever their format is, on Meta-Wiki. The people running those programs should also be encouraged to be active on Meta and interact with the community. Otherwise, we're condemning those projects to failure, as with the previous projects which WMF run under a shroud mystery. No Wikimedia-related initiative can succeed if it doesn't follow Wikimedia values. Nemo 13:59, 11 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

ha, good point. sometimes it really seems persons get carried away when there is too much money on a bank account, this does not exclude persons at the WMF :) we tend to forget that the wikipedia movement is not expert in helping rich people to save time, by providing or finding a paid service - like the serch foundation, or borealisphilanthropy. the wikipedia movement seems to excel in organizing the free time of persons with no money. when the vision is to bring down "... societal or economic barriers .." i would have loved to see this vision and the wikipedia persons strenghts even better combined than with the current proposals. --ThurnerRupert (talk) 22:06, 12 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
I concur. --Piotrus (talk) 08:21, 24 October 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Grantee info[edit]

Given that no public discussion of grantees took place beforehand, it might be useful to compile a little background info on each of the grantees for people unfamiliar with them, beyond the grantees' own websites. If anyone else has spent time researching these orgs, I'd love you to add, expand, correct the below as appropriate. Cheers. --Andreas JN466 14:13, 11 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

The SeRCH Foundation, Inc.[edit]

InternetLab[edit]

  • $200k grant
  • Main institutional sponsors: Google, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, etc. [2]
  • Past partners: Facebook, WhatsApp, Mozilla, etc.
  • No page on Portuguese WP, none on English WP. --Andreas JN466 17:03, 12 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

The Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice (IIPSJ)[edit]

  • $260k grant
  • Founded by Howard University's Prof. Lateef Mtima
  • Mtima was a prominent, frequently quoted academic supporter of Google in the context of the Google Books settlement (and in other contexts) [3]
  • Generally seems to be aligned with Google ... if anyone is aware of any issue where Mtima opposed Google's position, I'd be interested in hearing about it
  • Most recent Form 990 for 2019 shows total revenue of $270k ($75k in year prior) vs. total expenditure of $348k (vs. $34k in year prior) with total year-end assets of $133k (vs. $212k in year prior)
  • Only three officers/employees listed: Mtima (30 hours/week, $0 reportable compensation), Steven Jamar (1 hours/week, $0 reportable compensation), Aisha Williams (0 hours/week, $0 reportable compensation)
  • Main expenses: Management services by non-employees ($130k), IT ($100k), conferences/meetings ($80k)
  • Mtima has no English WP biography at present --Andreas JN466 17:03, 12 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Media Foundation for West Africa[edit]

Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism[edit]

  • $250k grant
  • No Wikipedia article at present. --Andreas JN466 18:49, 23 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Borealis Racial Equity in Journalism Fund[edit]

  • $250k grant
  • Minneapolis-based, most recent Form 990 (2019): [4]
    • Total revenue: $26M ($23M year prior)
    • Total expenses: $18M ($28M year prior)
    • Net assets: $26M ($18M year prior)
    • Highest-compensated employee: Margarita Rubalcava, President, $200K
  • Borealis Philanthropy has no Wikipedia article at present. --Andreas JN466 18:57, 23 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Accountability[edit]

Can someone (ping User:NGunasena (WMF)) answer the following:

  • How were those entities selected? In particular: was there a transparent application, how was it advertised, and what was the scoring process? Where is the scoring rubric, and can we see the scores for those NGOs compared to the ones that failed?
  • What is the justification for diverting funds away from Wikimedia Community? Are there no longer any areas that could benefit from funds within the Community, i.e. are we so afloat in money that we can afford to help other causes, as there is no longer any use for that money within the Wikimedia Community? --Piotrus (talk) 08:26, 24 October 2021 (UTC)[reply]
To your last question: budget constraints and understaffing are still major problems in WMF core areas. MarioGom (talk) 08:54, 30 October 2021 (UTC)[reply]

Concerns[edit]

I remain very concerned by this funding process. The last round of grantees was quite a surprise announcement, and there was no way to follow up on the announcement since the grant details weren't shared - it was basically 'we've given $X of movement funds to this org' and that was about it.

Hopefully lessons have been learnt since the last round - and things have also changed at WMF, since we now have the regional grant committees. So please, make the information about the potential grants available on meta before they take place, and invite community input on the candidates at the review stage, not just the suggestion stage. And please ensure that you involve the WMF's regional committees in the review process. Thanks. Mike Peel (talk) 20:28, 21 January 2022 (UTC)[reply]