The structure of the $2 million grant Omidyar Network has made to the Wikimedia Foundation (see previous Signpost coverage) has been made public. During an open meeting on IRC (full log) with the new members of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, Matt Halprin, a partner of Omidyar Network and one of the new board members, said that the grant consists of $1 million in unconditional grants, $500,000 in matching funds for the next fundraiser, and $500,000 conditional upon meeting targets for global reach and global participation.
Sara Crouse, Wikimedia's Head of Partnerships and Foundation Relations, clarified further by email that:
we expect four disbursements of $500K each:
$500K unconditional in short order
Up to $500K in matching funds in early 2010 following the fundraiser
$500K unconditional around this time next year
$500K in spring of 2011 when targets are met
Wikimedia Executive Director Sue Gardner explained by email the reasons the specific targets for global reach and global participation rate are not being revealed publicly:
Basically, Omidyar had asked Wikimedia not to publish the target numbers -- e.g., the actual numeric target for global unique visitors. I gather that's standard practice for Omidyar, and I believe it's essentially for reasons of their flexibility.
For example, if we have a target of [x] [unique visitors], and we have an actual result of [x-5%] [unique visitors], Omidyar would want to reserve the ability to be flexible in its response to that. For example, Omidyar might choose to award Wikimedia the grant regardless of our failure to meet the
target. But it might not necessarily want that known by its other grantees, presumably so they wouldn't point to it in the event that they fail to meet their own targets. Basically, my understanding is that Omidyar would rather preserve its flexibility to make internal decisions as it sees fit, rather than feeling constrained by expectations or precedent. It also might want the flexibility to refine the targets with us: for example, as we go through the strategy planning process, the participation metric might be refined over time – and it might not want to create the expectation with other grantees that targets are highly flexible and can be regularly revisited.
Our original request to Omidyar was to publish everything – that's our preference with all grantmaking institutions, and for example that's
what we did with the Hewlett grant [of $500,000, announced last month]. But, Omidyar told us it's their standard practice for internal reasons not to publish targets, and that they would be okay with us publishing the measures (e.g., global
unique visitors monthly) and the actuals (obviously, which we would and will do anyway), but not the target numbers themselves. We wanted to respect that they had arrived at that decision for reasons that are important to them, and so we agreed. I personally don't see why it matters to anyone what the actual numbers are, particularly since there are no special "activities" associated with them that will cost money, and since we developed them ourselves, and they are consistent with our general goals, which are (as [new Wikimedia board member Samuel Klein (User:Sj)] I think said in the [open meeting on IRC]) pretty unsurprising and non-controversial. But I respect that other people do seem to feel differently, and I understand that secrecy -in and of itself- can create suspicion. Upshot though: the target numbers themselves IMO are not super-important. IMO what's important is that we're engaged in good discussion with Omidyar about our goals and mission and strategy, and I hope that will be really helpful to us.
Gardner also addressed concerns voiced by some Wikimedians—including Wikimedia critic Gregory Kohs (User:Thekohser)—over the appearance that Omidyar Network had "bought a seat" on the Wikimedia Foundation board with the $2 million grant. Kohs researched earlier grants made by Omidyar Network, showing that Halprin or others from the organization have frequently taken places on the boards of other non-profits to whom Omidyar Network has made significant grants. To the question of whether a seat was bought, Gardner said:
In my opinion, the answer is no. To frame it as "selling a board seat" implies that the Wikimedia Foundation would not have invited Matt to
join the Board if it hadn't been for the grant, and it implies that anyone offering two million dollars would have gotten a Board seat. I don't think the former is necessarily true, and the latter is definitely not true.
The Wikimedia Foundation Board and I had many conversations about Matt's skills and background and personal style, and it was generally agreed that he would bring a lot to the Board. Matt's seat is not an institutional seat for Omidyar Network, offered in exchange for a grant. It's an individual seat, offered because we felt the Board, and Wikimedia generally, would benefit from his personal engagement with us. It has no special privileges associated with it: Matt's a Board member like any other.
The question could be asked: would the Board have offered Matt a seat in the absence of a broader engagement with Omidyar Network, including
the grant. That's impossible to answer with real certainty, because we met Matt in the context of discussions about a grant: we did not
know him before those conversations began. Personally, I think it's entirely possible that had we known him previously, he would have been
invited to join the Board on his own merits, completely absent the other conversation. (As I think [ BirgitteSB ] said on foundation-l, if the [ Wikimedia board Nominating Committee ] had found him first, she would have supported him as a
candidate.) But it's impossible to know what might have happened, and I think it would be a little disingenuous for us to pretend we do know, or could know.
Personally, I think framing the question as "selling a seat" implies a quid pro quo -- that Omidyar Network "got" a Board seat in exchange for a grant. And I can't see how Omidyar Network benefits from Matt being on our Board, apart from the satisfaction of advancing their own social mission, to help people improve their lives and enable them to engage more productively with each other. I would frame the whole thing entirely differently: I think we are lucky to have found Omidyar Network, I am happy that we've developed a engagement with them, and I am comfortable that it will be productive and useful for Wikimedia in all aspects. I think Matt will be a fabulous Board member, and the funding will help us advance our mission, and we will also benefit from the other advice and expertise that Omidyar Network is able to offer us. So I think it's all good.
A discussion is ongoing about how to improve the mailing list Foundation-l, which some participants say is too high-traffic and is dominated by just a few people. There is a Meta page for collecting ideas at m:Improving_Foundation-l.
The weekly Strategic Planning office hours will be held on IRC at Tuesday September 15, at 20:00 UTC, in the the #wikimedia-strategy channel.
So far in September, the following project milestones were reached.
The Vietnamese Wikipedia pushes past the 100,000-article mark with "Shenyang J-11", part of a series of articles on military aircraft by Nalzogul. Around 5% of the Vietnamese Wikipedia's articles were originally created by bots.