Developing Networks for Development: where do we fit in?

Front of the World Bank.

Picture courtesy of Aman Emoto

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization is a small branch of the World Bank, but it does big work. For the past six years or so, UNIDO has examined how networks between individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments affect economic growth and development.

When they began, there were only a few points of consensus about development economics: 1) that no universal solution to growth exists, 2) that knowledge is the key to effective policy-making, 3) that there are global public goods, 4) that inclusive governance systems are necessary to growth, and 5) that there needs to be South-South triangular cooperation. In all of the data they pulled together from a variety of countries and organizations, they found a steady positive correlation between the level of interconnectedness and intra-connectedness of countries and their citizens, and GDP per capita/government effectiveness: The more connected a government, businesses, organization, and individuals in a country were, the higher they landed in any economic index.

From all of the graphs and data the World Bank has presented, it is clear that there must be some relationship between networks & economic growth and government transparency & effectiveness. Building networks requires ample time and resources. Like growing an orchard, one cannot expect seedlings to give fruit after a year. Likewise, networks need time to take root and mature before endowing their benefits. At the release of fresh Networks for Prosperity information at the World Bank, a representative of Costa Rica, which ranks about the same as China in term of density and quality of networks, made the above point admirably. He said that networks are more of a force in Middle Income Countries (MICs) because those countries have diversified industries outside of the primary sector of agriculture and mining. This means that networks have the potential to bring even more business into the state as a matter of agglomeration and assurance that the government will not change policies abruptly after a company begins operation. A well educated populace able to take advantage of non-primary sector jobs combined with a transparent, well-connected government means less social unrest, which then leads to greater investment opportunities and so on.

So what can the global Wikimedia movement do to tap into this particular field of networks and make a positive difference globally? Wikipedia can already be accessed on mobile technology, and partnerships with mobile providers, like Orange and Telenor, allow for people in the Middle East & North Africa, and Asia & Southeastern Europe to access Wikipedia and all of its information for free. So we know that there are ways to get important information to people on mobile technology without costs to them. Combine that with the fact that the 87% of the world’s population will have mobile subscriptions by 2015, and what you have is a well-established network that can be an instrumental part of getting the right kind of information to the right people in accessible ways. One particular suggestion for utilizing the reach of that network (brought up during individual discussions at the event) was the possibility of creating a or a similar project as a space for governments and International Governmental Organizations (IGOs) to post their policies clearly, and where citizens can comment on how those policies are implemented on the ground.

Wikimedia DC is working on building relationships with various organizations, non-profits, government institutions, and embassies to coordinate edit-a-thons and hack-a-thons, along with cultural and educational events to engage local Wikipedians and Wikimedians and encourage new individuals to join the global knowledge movement. The support of this large community will help us to continually update and improve the world’s largest encyclopedia and its related projects.

To access the Networks for Prosperity report, you can visit (PDF link):

Lisa Marrs, Outreach & Program Coordination, Wikimedia DC

Internet Freedom & Global Knowledge: Where do we go from here?

More than three months after the SOPA/PIPA protests, a big question still remains for the global Internet community: where do we go from here? The Wikimedia/Wikipedia community, which was divided over the decision to black out the English Wikipedia globally in January, faces a different but related question: have we done enough, and should we remain neutral moving forward? To help answer at least the first question, last week Wikimedia District of Columbia (Wikimedia DC), in partnership with the Washington European Society and the Estonian Embassy in Washington, hosted the inaugural event of the Embassy Outreach Initiative, “Internet Freedom & Open Government: an International Conversation.”

From L to R, Danny Weitzner, Chairman Marko Mihkelson, Ian Schuler, and Rebecca MacKinnon (CC-BY-SA)

The event, hosted at the Estonian Embassy, featured a discussion with Danny Weitzner, Deputy CTO for Internet Policy at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy; Chairman Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament; Ian Schuler, Senior Manager for Internet Freedom Programs at the US State Department; and Rebecca MacKinnon, Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board. Adam Kushner, Deputy Editor of the National Journal, moderated the discussion.

The conversation on Internet freedom highlighted several global issues and programs, such as the State Department’s $76 million effort to support worldwide Internet freedom programs, but two significant points emerged that have a particular significance to the Wikimedia community’s goal of global free access to knowledge. The first was an assertion by both Weitzner and MacKinnon that what we can do on the internet today is not a product of random forces or serendipitous actions, but was the result of hard work, of conscious domestic and international policy decisions, and of global efforts by public and private groups to create the environment in which the current Internet culture exists. This is the same assertion that was at the heart of Sue Gardner’s statement on the eve of the January 18 Wikipedia blackout: that “although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not.”

The global dialogue on Internet freedom did not start on January 18, and it’s far from being over. There is no doubt that Internet freedom will always be a central component to the mission of providing free access to global knowledge. One has to only look toward the Uzbek Wikipedia, which was blocked in Uzbekistan for no good reason, to see an example of how attacking Internet freedom can impede our global vision and goals.

The second significant point from the discussion at the embassy was the perhaps deserved criticism that the Internet community has been largely reactive when it comes to Internet freedom, and it needs alternatively become more proactive and use its power constructively to influence or advocate for suitable alternatives. Stopping SOPA/PIPA and hindering the progress of ACTA did not solve the problems that they were designed to address, and there are already talks of what needs to be done next. The Internet community as a whole, and the Wikimedia community in particular, needs to figure out how it wants to shape the global conversation. We need to, as a movement, decide what role want to play in this dialogue or we run the risk of possibly facing another SOPA not too far down the road. But we also need to be careful to avoid sidelining or disenfranchising those in the movement who are not comfortable with (or legally restricted from) advocacy.

One thing to keep in mind is that promoting advocacy and facilitating dialogue are two different things. We don’t need to advocate for a particular viewpoint or policy to facilitate constructive dialogue about the issue as a whole, if that’s the role we want to play. Sometimes simply being present and making the decision makers aware of our existence and our needs makes a significant difference. SOPA, and particularly ACTA burst onto the scene after years of closed-door negotiations, and that’s part of the reason why the response to them was so intense. Many of the policymakers drafting them had no idea what the needs of the Internet community was, or even how the Internet works, because the Internet community was never a part of that conversation and these policymakers did not even think that the community’s opinion mattered. These policies, and way they developed, would have been radically different had we made our presence, needs, and significance known earlier.

Initiatives at Wikimedia DC, like the upcoming Open Government Project, are designed to do just that— to facilitate dialogue and allow the community to be an active participant, both online and offline, so that our needs are not ignored or misrepresented in the future. We at Wikimedia DC will always work toward the goal of empowering individuals across the globe through access to knowledge, and Washington, DC, is a great place for us to make an impact. After all, it was here where President James Madison wrote that “a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Nicholas Michael Bashour, President, Wikimedia District of Columbia

Note: The statements in this post are simply my own and do not represent the opinions of the Board of Directors as a whole

Wikimania 2012 Keynote Announcement

Mary Gardiner, Co-founder & Director of Operations and Research at the Ada Initiative, to keynote Wikimania 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 23, 2011:  Wikimedia, District of Columbia (Wikimedia DC) is pleased to announce Mary Gardiner as the keynote speaker for Wikimania 2012, the international Wikimedia conference. Mary will be speaking at the opening session of the conference on Thursday, July 12, 2012.

“We’re very excited to have Mary Gardiner open the conference this year,” says James Hare, coordinator of Wikimania 2012. “Mary has been a strong advocate for open source and has worked extensively to elevate the role of women and increase their participation in open source and open culture. Her work fits perfectly within our vision of empowering individuals around the world through free and open access to the sum of human knowledge. We look forward to welcoming her to Washington, DC.”

MARY GARDINER is co-founder and Director of Operations and Research at the Ada Initiative and founder of the first and largest women in open source organization in Australia, AussieChix, which she subsequently expanded into Oceania as Oceania Women of Open Technology. Mary has served as a council member for Linux Australia, the largest non-profit funder of open source projects in Australia and as program chair for, the largest Linux conference in the southern hemisphere.

THE ADA INITIATIVE is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing participation of women in open technology and culture, which includes open source software, Wikipedia and other open data, and open social media. Co-founders Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora each have ten years of experience in open source software, open culture communities, and women in computing activism. The Ada Initiative is named for Countess Ada Lovelace, widely acknowledged as the world’s first computer programmer. She is also the world’s first open source programmer. For more information, visit

WIKIMANIA has been, since 2005, the premier annual international gathering of experts, academics, and enthusiasts whose vision is to empower people around the world through free access to global knowledge. It has been previously held in Frankfurt, Germany; Boston, Mass.; Taipei, Taiwan; Alexandria, Egypt; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Gdańsk, Poland; and Haifa, Israel. Additional information on the conference can be found at

WIKIMEDIA DC is the official regional chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation in the District, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Delaware. A non-profit educational organization, Wikimedia DC is dedicated to the advancement of general knowledge and the collection, development, and dissemination of educational content under a free license or in the public domain.

Contact: Nicholas Michael Bashour, Vice-President

Phone: (313) 377-4589, E-Mail:

Contact for Ada Initiative: