Wikimedia Belgium/Letter to the WMF Board
Reply of the WMF
The Wikimedia Belgium wants to thank the Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, Jan-Bart, for his reply on our open letter.
Open letter to the WMF Board
- Subject - Open Letter on Wikimedia Belgium
In the past two years the Wikimedia Belgium Chapter Candidate Founders (“The team”) has been working on founding the Belgian Wikimedia chapter (“WM BE” or “the chapter”). After discussions with multiple Wikimedia Foundation (“WMF”) staff members we realised the importance of following the step-by-step guide and organising the pilot projects. During the last years the team organised multiple events, including three editions of WikiLovesMonuments. During these pilot projects, the team attracted hundreds of volunteers, organised tens of real life events and set up ad hoc collaborations with different well established cultural organisations in the framework of the organisation of Wiki Loves Monuments (“WLM”).
End of 2012, we felt confident about the team achievements and we decided to start the incorporation process. The difficult Belgian legal framework ment that it took about a year to secure funding and finish all the documents. We applied with the AffCom end of 2013. As confirmed by the Affiliation Committee (“AffCom”) this application is currently on hold due to changes in the strategic vision of the WMF Board (“The Board”).
These changes have put the team at a crossroad. There has been a lot of disappointment within the project team by the lack of communication by both the AffCom and the WMF Board. We are confident in our application and feel it should be assessed properly. As such, we would like to share some issues with the Board. We hope these will clarify the situation and will lead to a successfull application.
- Issue #1 - personal legal risks
The team believes that the WMF does not sufficiently understand the legal and operational consequences of not having an incorporated national organization. If the group is not an official Belgian VZW/ASBL then according to Belgium law we are a “feitelijke vereniging” (de facto association) which implies that all members are personally responsible (legally and financially) for whatever what goes wrong with the organization. This important legal liability is only resolved by incorporating our organisation as an official legal association.
- Issue #2 - geographical exclusivity
Brussels is the de facto European capital, making it a hub for cultural and commercial activity on the continent. It hosts a massive amount of NGOs, journalists, cultural institutes and embassies. A major part of pan-European projects and exchanges is happening in Brussels. This implies extensive opportunities for European community to work and common projects with the different European Wikimedia Chapters. Several country chapters have already set up activities in Brussels without benefiting from common goals and strategies. This results in more (redundant) expenses and less effective activities and lower recognition. Having a Belgian chapter would mean these efforts could be hosted at WMBE and would make the organisation and administration more effective, as currently every little task has to be run over Berlin, London, Paris, Utrecht, etc.
- Issue #3 - Collaboration with external organisations
As “user group” we feel uncomfortable to interact as an official association amongst Federal and Regional Government institutions, cultural organisations, Universities, and other social and educational institutions. This limits our reach to organize national activities. We have several contacts with different institutions that are willing to cooperate with us and financially sponsor common activities, but we are unable to sign a formal contract/agreement as an organization that does not exist. As such, it is vital for our organisation to be fully recognized and be identified as the Belgian chapter and not just a group of friends. Official government or other national institutions will only consider talking to us if we are recognized as “official representation” of the the Wikimedia Foundation in Belgium. The proposed “user group” kind of organisation lacks trust and recognition.
- Issue #4 - registration as tax-free organisation
Not being incorporated makes it impossible to grant Belgian tax-free forms to citizens wanting to contribute to our organisation. Even more, Belgian regulations regarding these tax advantages are very strict. As confirmed by our our legal advisor, just setting up a vzw/asbl is not enough. The only way to be eligible for this kind of support is as “Belgian chapter of an international organisation” . This shows again that a loose organisation (“user group”) would really limit our financial possibilities.
- Proposed solution
We are confident in the strength of the team and our realisations. We feel our chapter application should be assessed properly by the Board. As pointed out in this letter, we think the following three points are of a vital importance for the future of the team:
- Being able to incorporate as a Belgium VZW/ASBL (official legal non-profit organization according to Belgian law);
- Being established as the Belgian chapter for the Wikimedia Foundation, owning the right to use the name “Wikimedia Belgium” and the corresponding WM logo;
- Approval of the adjusted Wikimedia Belgium Start-up Grant as discussed with the PEG committee .
We hope we can continue with our journey to create a national Wikimedia organization. All is ready to go and we are awaiting the “go” signal.
- Legal note
As confirmed by the AffCom, the main reason for disapproving the Belgian chapter or putting it on hold are the result of changes within the Wikimedia Foundation. Although we understand the need for continuous improvement, and hope to incorporate our chapter before August this year, we object to the applicability of the “two year waiting rule” after a failed chapter application.
For the Wikimedia Belgium Chapter Candidate Founders,
Alberto, Antoine, Derek, Dimitar, Geert, Maarten, Jos, Romaine
Core Team overview
As proven by an image taking during WLM 2011 , the team has been fairly stable since 2011. Due to the international importance of Brussels, our chapter has been attracting a lot of foreign volunteers. Our list of active volunteers contains people from Belgium, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Israël.
- wishes not to disclose real name
List of activities 2010-2014
Below an overview of our activities since 2010. For simplicity we kept the descriptions short. We are available to give more information on each activity, including the involved organisers and volunteers.
- July 2010, lobbying for our chapter during Wikimania Gdansk
- Wikimeets in September and December
- March - Wikimeet Gent
- June 7 - Wikimeet Gent
- August 3 - start up meeting WLM, Gent
- August - lobbying events during Wikimania Haifa
- September 15 - Upload marathon Gent
- September 30 - Upload marathon Brussels
- October 14 and 19 - online discussion on WLM judging
- October 22 - Judging Session in Mechelen
- November 5 - lobbying for WM BE at Wikimedia conferentie Netherlands
- September-November - organization of Wiki Loves Monuments and its Awards Session at the KIK-IRPA
- November 10 - Award Session at offices of the KIK-IRPA
- April 21 - Wikipedia Café Meeting in Ghent
- April - Presentation of WLM and Wikimedia at the Café Numérique in Brussels
- July 1 - statutes discussion meeting in the Hackerspace in Brussels
- August 17 - Wikimedia meet-up in Hermalle-sous-Huy
- October 16 and November 19 - discussion meetings with OKFN (Open Knowledge Foundation)
- September-November - organization of Wiki Loves Monuments and its Awards Session at the KIK-IRPA, the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage
- November 30 - Meeting with Lodewijk at KIK-IRPA about Founding Wikimedia Belgium with Antoine, Romaine, Ward, Robby, Geert, Jos
- December 8 - Presenting Wikimedia and discussion participation at CC-be Relaunch. Since then close collaboration with CC-be and the CC European Coordinators (based in Ghent and Berlin)
- March - Wikipedia atelier (workshop) at Mundaneum in Mons (educating staff, proposing exposition with QRpédia)
- April 16 - Approval of the chapter Start-up Grant agreement
- April - Kickoff meeting of the Free Knowledge Advocacy Group EU in Brussels
- April - Annual Big Fat Brussels Meeting co-organised with other chapters
- May 21 - Presentation for Flemish cultural institutions in Brussels about Wikipedia, Wikimedia and doing projects with Wikimedia.
- May 26 - Wikipedia Cafe Antwerp
- June 10 - WLM project set up. Preparation of the WLM grant request. Assessing which parties will participate this year.
- June 5 - Support of the legal advisors (VSDC) on our statutes and ROI
- June 29 - WWI edit-a-thon in Leuven
- June 29 - Discussion on the steps forward with the WLM project team. Meeting the volunteers.
- July 3 - We are finalizing our bylaws and request formal candidate founders
- July 10 - Grant Request for the organisation of WLM BeLux is approved
- July 17 - meeting KIK-IRPA on the organisation of WLM (venue, reception & drinks, determining date)
- August 14 - WLM Social Media day
- August 22 - meeting Herita on collaboration with WLM
- September 4 - meeting legal advisors on WMBE statutes
- September 7 - kick-off meeting. Meeting new contributors, explaining the rules, sharing tips and tricks. Meeting at the Halles Saint-Géry, Brussels.
- September 23 - Team meeting
- September 23 - Fashion edit-a-thon, Antwerp, organized together with Fashion Museum Antwerp and image donation to Commons of museum
- September 28 - upload marathon in Gent. We explored the historical inner city of Ghent, en took additional pictures. We met and exchanged experiences. WM BE was discussed, too. The meeting resulted in a serious spike in uploads.
- September 30 - Last WLM participation day. Online rally to convince people to upload their last and best images.
- October 3 - WLM Judging information session
- October 22 - WLM Final judging session
- October 22 - Ada Lovelace Day 2013 edit-a-thon in Brussels
- October 23 - Preparation of WLM Award Session
- October 27 - “Mois de la contribution en Bruxelles” (Collaboration Month in Brussels)
- November 5 - Team meeting finalising the Wikimedia Belgium statutes
- November 5 - Award session at the Royal Institute at the Cinquantenaire, Brussels. Talks by the director of the institute, the organisors, the jury. Awarding the prices. Reception where we approached new members
- November 12 - Wrapping up WLM
- January - Start of negotiations with the Bulgarian “Dossier Commission on State Security” about a release and digitalisation collaboration project (European Parliament event in Brussels)
- January-March - Together with FKAGEU we worked on the European Commission copyright consultation
- February 01-02 - Support WMF presence at FOSDEM, ULB Campus Solbosch, Brussels & presentation of Wikimedia chapters with own stand
- February 02-06 - Wikipedians in European Parliament: photography and editing project about members of the European Parliament.
- April - Big Fat Brussels Meeting vol. 2 - co-organised and co-hosted by WMBE volunteers
- June 17 - Presentation to federal government in Belgium and discussion about future collaboration
- September-November - WikiLovesMonuments 2014