The power of knowledge for good

New Wikimedia Equity Fund grantees drive change at the intersection of free knowledge and racial justice

Lisa Seitz Gruwell
Sep 8 · 10 min read

Knowledge is a tool of power. And throughout history, that tool has been used for good and bad. Just as the sharing of knowledge can spark change and open minds, the restriction of knowledge can control, oppress, and harm people across borders and oceans.

To this day, many of the barriers that prevent people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge are rooted in systems of racial oppression. For example, Brazil is one of many countries around the world where Indigenous peoples still face a silencing and intentional omission of their traditions and culture. Centuries of colonization and slavery have resulted in the systematic erasure of knowledge from Black and Indigenous communities, as well as other communities often left out by systems of power and privilege.

At the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, our goal is to ensure that knowledge belongs to all. We believe in the power of knowledge for good. We support a global movement of volunteers dedicated to the idea that every single person can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. Our work is a call for not just access to knowledge, but also for equal participation — allowing all people to contribute and share their own knowledge, so we can build a more representative, and accurate, record of human knowledge for the world.

Yet we still have a ways to go to achieve this ambitious vision. There are huge knowledge gaps in our projects; they reflect the world and so too the world’s biases, with many of our projects — including Wikipedia — presenting a Western worldview of our history and experiences. The majority of volunteer editors on Wikipedia are white men from the U.S. and Europe. This lack of diversity among our editors means a less rich, complex, and accurate picture of our world, its people, and its knowledge.

If we are to gather the sum of all knowledge, we must make stronger, more deliberate efforts to build a more equitable and inclusive knowledge base. We must be intentional about outreach to communities in the global majority and those left out of our projects, including Black, Indigenous, and people of color, so they can share what they know.

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation announced the first round of grantees for the Knowledge Equity Fund, a pilot initiative to provide grants to organizations outside of the Wikimedia movement that work at the intersection of free knowledge and racial equity.

Each grantee was required to align to one or more of five areas of focus that were identified as areas that would be most beneficial to our mission of free knowledge. Building on our movement’s prior commitments to racial justice and knowledge equity, the Equity Fund is the first public effort from the Foundation specifically focused on racial equity. Through this $4.5 million fund, the Foundation will build a robust ecosystem of institutional partners working at the intersection of free knowledge and racial justice.

Today, we are excited to announce the inaugural group of organizations that will be powerful partners to the free knowledge movement:

Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism

The Arab Reporters in Journalism (ARIJ) is a nonprofit investigative journalism organization based in Jordan. ARIJ has built an expansive network of journalists across the Middle East and North Africa and has supported over 650 investigative projects on topics ranging from threats to freedom of expression, to systemic patterns of bias and discrimination. This grant will support ARIJ’s continued work in training and coaching media on how to report on issues of equity and institutional accountability, with dedicated workshops that tackle the skills, tools, and knowledge required for Arab journalists to address racial inequity in the region. Through their work, ARIJ will continue to grow the breadth of investigative journalism about inequity throughout the Arab World based on journalistic principles of facts, research, and multiple sources.

“In the past 15 years, ARIJ helped more than three thousand journalists in the Arab World to produce investigations that exposed wrongdoings in the region. I am very proud of our journalists, our ARIJeans. They managed to make an impact and win prestigious awards on their local stories which are produced to International standards. Today, with the help of the Equity Fund from Wikimedia Foundation, we will be able to train, coach and fund more Arab investigative journalists in underrepresented communities, and equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to accelerate accountability. We are honored to be receiving this grant from the Wikimedia Foundation, as we continue our shared mission to close the knowledge gap and promote racial equity.”

— Rawan Damen, Director General, ARIJ

Borealis Racial Equity in Journalism Fund

Borealis is a philanthropic intermediary that takes a community-led approach to addressing injustices and driving transformative change across the United States. This grant will be provided to their Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, which invests in local news organizations led by people of color that have built long-standing relationships and trust with the diverse communities they serve. With this investment, Borealis will invest in local community-based journalism with a focus on improving how communities of color are represented and reported on throughout the media. Through this work, they will increase the amount of citable articles about leaders of color and community issues and further knowledge equity.

“We are excited to be a part of Wikimedia’s global initiative to increase knowledge equity. Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Journalism Fund exists because we know that media organizations founded and run by journalists of color are essential for healthy democratic institutions to flourish. Not only do they make news and information accessible to often overlooked communities of color by expanding reach and breaking down language barriers, but they are also providing desperately needed perspectives and analysis rooted in lived experience, which is sorely lacking in mainstream media.”

— Amoretta Morris, President, Borealis Philanthropy

Howard University and the Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice

The Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice (IIPSJ) is a nonprofit organization that was established to promote social justice in the field of intellectual property law. IIPSJ is led by professors from and graduates of the Howard University School of Law (HUSL), the oldest historically black college or university law school in the United States and a leading institution in civil rights and social justice advocacy. IIPSJ advocates for equity and inclusion throughout the intellectual property (IP) ecosystem, including shaping IP law, policies, and initiatives to promote awareness of IP protections and possibilities among communities of color. With this grant, IIPSJ will create a two-year fellowship at HUSL led by a Wikimedia Race and Knowledge Equity Fellow to explore how systemic racism and injustice impacts how marginalized communities can participate in free knowledge (including in the intellectual property ecosystem), recommendations to address these gaps in knowledge, and how knowledge can be used to advance racial equity and empowerment.

“Intellectual property law plays an important role in the development of knowledge and in determining who has access to and enjoys the benefits of knowledge products. The Wikimedia Race and Knowledge Equity Fellowship provides a unique opportunity to explore the special tensions between prevailing intellectual policies and the knowledge empowerment needs of marginalized communities, and to develop strategies for employing IP and related systems to promote more equitable access to, inclusion in, and empowerment through knowledge production and dissemination.”

— Lateef Mtima, Founder and Director of IIPSJ and HUSL Professor of Law

InternetLab

InternetLab is a nonprofit think tank focused on internet policy and research around critical digital issues of inclusivity and equal rights, based in São Paulo, Brazil. With this grant, InternetLab will create a two-year fellowship led by a Wikimedia Race and Knowledge Equity Fellow that will produce scholarly writings and publications, as well as educational programming on the intersection between racial equity and free knowledge in Brazil. The Fellow will conduct research on topics including what barriers impact the participation of Black and Indigenous peoples in online knowledge, and identify national and local policy solutions across the fields of intellectual property, access to technologies, education and research, affirmative action, funding and incentives, among others. This fellowship will expand the available research about how racial inequity has impacted communities of color in Brazil.

The question of access to knowledge depends on the question of who has access and whose knowledge gets to be accessed and valued. InternetLab has been working both on policies for free and open knowledge online, and on how race, ethnicity and gender inequalities and digital technologies intertwine; the Wikimedia Race and Knowledge Fellowship is a unique opportunity for us to tie together those subjects. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to the imperative issue of how different policies — in subjects such as intellectual property, the educational system, state funding to culture and research — impact the participation of subalternized knowledge and subjects in the online knowledge environment in Brazil.

— Mariana Valente, Director of InternetLab

Media Foundation for West Africa

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is a non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting and defending the right to freedom of expression, particularly for media and human rights defenders, throughout the 16 countries in West Africa. This grant will support the MFWA’s continued work to protect the public’s right to access information and advocacy for equitable policies throughout the region. MFWA will promote investigative journalism on issues of equity and injustice as part of their focus on freedom of expression and access to information. The grant will also support the organization’s press freedom and independent journalism advocacy to help build a favorable and enabling environment for in-depth investigative reporting that encourages transparency and accountability — the lack of which often result in injustices and marginalisation of the poor, underrepresented, and minority groups.

“We are delighted to be part of this great initiative by the Wikimedia Foundation aimed at addressing a critical global challenge of inequity and injustice in access to knowledge and participation in the creation of knowledge. This is a great opportunity that will help boost our efforts at empowering all persons, especially marginalised groups, to access information and knowledge, and to freely assert their rights to freedom of expression both online and offline. This grant will also bolster our efforts at using investigative journalism to contribute significantly to amplifying the voices of marginalised and underrepresented groups, and seeking redress to long-standing injustices against such groups in West Africa. We are extremely honoured to be among the recipients of Wikimedia Foundation’s Equity Fund.”

— Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director, MFWA.

The SeRCH Foundation

The STEM en Route to Change Foundation (SeRCH Foundation) is a non-profit organization based in the United States that focuses on the intersection of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as a tool for social justice. This grant will be used to support their flagship program, #VanguardSTEM, which asserts the value of non-traditional knowledge alongside technical expertise and uses storytelling as a means of cultural production to amplify the contributions of Black, Indigenous, women of color and non-binary people of color in STEM fields. With this investment, #VanguardSTEM will grow their collection of featured BIPOC STEM creatives, adding multimedia to each profile to enhance the storytelling capacity. This collection of open and freely licensed audio, video, and written content about women and non-binary innovators and inventors of color will expand the repository of rich content in the Commons centering the experiences and expertise people of color in STEM and support non-traditional methods of storytelling.

“The SeRCH Foundation is thrilled to be included in the inaugural cohort of Wikimedia Equity Fund grantees. Over the past five years #VanguardSTEM, the signature program of the SeRCH Foundation, has used innovative multimedia digital storytelling to offer a platform to hundreds of STEM creatives, exploring the inextricable links between knowledge and identity, and centering the contributions and experiences of women of color and non-binary people of color in STEM. The support of the Equity Fund will allow us to expand our work to promote equity in STEM and continue making, taking, and changing STEM spaces.”

— Anicca Harriot, Chief of Community Development, #VanguardSTEM

Throughout the course of this grant cycle, we are excited to share the impact these organizations will have in addressing racial equity and access to knowledge for communities around the world.

The Equity Fund will provide one more round of grants in the coming year. We are currently collecting suggestions for this next round of grantees, including ideas from the Wikimedia volunteer community; if you have recommendations of organizations that could be a great fit, please share them through this Google form.

Our commitment to knowledge equity will continue to mean welcoming new people and organizations into the movement. At the core of this vision is the belief that access to knowledge is a human right. We must break down barriers of power and privilege that have prevented communities around the world from equitable participation in open knowledge. Our work calls on all of us to get involved in writing and rewriting history and interrogating the traditional narratives of what we know. The Equity Fund is one important step in this ongoing journey.

Lisa Seitz-Gruwell is the Chief Advancement Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation. Visit the Wikimedia Foundation website to learn more about the Equity Fund and our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

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