A few hours after a massive earthquake struck Haiti, I was having dinner with Jimmy Wales, Sue Gardner and a couple of other Wikimedia folks. We discussed, among other things, the tremendous success of Wikimedia’s latest fund-raising campaign. It wasn’t until I returned to my hotel room that I saw breaking news about the devastating earthquake, on Wikipedia. In 24 hours, 311 people made 891 edits to the Haiti quake article. The page had 1.89 million views in January alone.

But that was just the beginning of a string of Wiki experiences that give me real confidence in the value of Wikimedia and appreciation for what Wikimedia can bring to all who participate. Indeed, late that same night, I spent an hour reviewing the work of Wikipedians on the strategy wiki in preparation for discussions about the community’s health the next day. The write up ran 24 gripping pages, all prepared by a volunteer task force. It’s this kind of work that elicits comments such as those by Chris Grams who refers to the strategy wiki in his blog as a “showcase[e] [for] their exhaustive, happening-as-we-speak strategic planning process in all of its transparent, open glory.”

Then last week I was on a call with a client who surprised me by casually dropping the concept of Baumol’s Cost Disease in the middle of a sentence. I was stumped. Luckily, Wikipedia was already open on my computer and within 30 seconds I had a working definition of Baumol’s Cost Disease, and valuable insights on how it applied to my work around education innovation (which I pursue on days when I’m not in the Wiki world).

On Sunday, while watching the Academy Awards, I followed the developments on Wikipedia as Jeff Bridges won the award for best actor. It was amazing to behold the work of Wikipedians in updating Bridges’ Wikipedia article to reflect his new Oscar winning status and rapidly addressing issues of vandalism. There were 13 edits within one minute of the announcement. Within an hour, a notably stronger and vandalism free Wikipedia article chronicled Jeff Bridges’ entire acting career.

I share these stories in hopes that others will, like me, appreciate what Wikipedians have created and how they go about the work of generating and sharing “the sum of all knowledge.”

Since my first working session with the Wikimedia Foundation early last year, I have been repeatedly schooled in the infinite ways people collaborate for social good and what it means to tackle challenges in an open, collaborative way. I have witnessed a massive community contribute its personal and expertise to the “fun” work of creating and editing articles, and to the “necessary” work of defining strategy, solving problems, scrubbing out vandalism, maintaining operations and providing financial support to ensure that Wikimedia can function and be available to the benefit of all people. Finally, I’ve realized how much knowledge is accessible to me in a quick Wikipedia search. It has opened whole new avenues of my learning journey.

For all of the chatter surrounding Wikimedia, at its core it’s a social movement of dedicated people who create knowledge to benefit hundreds of millions of people around the world. Those of us who work within the social sector can learn a lot from Wikimedia’s success. I will continue to include my own “lessons from Wikimedia” in this blog, and I would love to include your insights as well, on what lessons other social movements and organizations might take from or contribute to the Wikimedia experience.


Barry Newstead is a partner at The Bridgespan Group currently supporting Wikimedia’s open strategy process.