On September 7-8 in Kampala, Uganda, the Wikimedia Community User Group Uganda and Wikimedia 2030 Core Team teamed up to host the 2019 East Africa Strategy Summit, the first regional movement event held in the East African region.
This was the second event in a series of regional strategy discussions, following an ESEAP Strategy Summit, which took place in Bangkok in June 2019. Communities in other parts of Africa, such as South Africa, North Africa, and West Africa have had a chance to host international conferences and traditionally have a stronger presence at WikiIndaba. In light of this, the Core Team and the Ugandan user group wanted to collaborate on a dedicated opportunity for East Africans to both develop a sense of regional community and arrive at a shared vision for the future of the region in 2030. With this goal in mind, the summit began to take shape over the summer of 2019.
The Wikimedia 2030 strategic direction outlines a vision of the Wikimedia movement as the support system for the whole free knowledge movement. Part of doing this means Wikimedians having the opportunity to grow their projects in ways that support efforts outside of Wikimedian domains and encourage partnerships within the free knowledge sphere. With this in mind, the Ugandan user group intentionally chose to accept applicants who represented not only multiple countries, but different organizations and levels of volunteer experience. After scouting hotels, booking restaurants, organizing taxis, choosing participants, and planning an agenda, the Ugandan team was ready for arrivals.
45 participants joined from across 7 countries: Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They represented experienced Wikimedia volunteer leaders, as well as new Wikimedia volunteers, journalists, and representatives from partners like Open Street Maps and Creative Commons. Bringing this diverse range of backgrounds to one event created opportunities to build unity and a shared vision among free knowledge activists as a unified regional movement.
From intros to the Wikiverse to strategy canoes: a look at the Summit day by day
For the newest Wikimedians, the event was a chance to learn about the Wikimedia universe. What is an affiliate? How are decisions made? What are all of the Wikimedia projects? How do you get involved, and do all volunteers edit? More experienced volunteer leaders, as well as a guest appearance from 2017 Wikimedian of the Year Felix Nartey, supported the rest of the group in thinking critically about long-term change in the movement – what systems and support structures do we need to achieve our vision?
Two facilitators, one from Uganda and one from Kenya, led the two-day event. On the first day, participants used icebreakers and cross-country breakout activities to get to know one another, discuss the meaning of free knowledge in their local context, and set a vision for what free knowledge could look like in their country in the year 2030.
On the second day, participants learned more about the Wikimedia 2030 strategy process, including the 9 thematic areas the working groups are producing recommendations for. They completed a “strategy canoe” exercise to think about their strategic priorities under each area, and then gave directed feedback about the current recommendation drafts, which had recently been published and shared just prior to Wikimania.
At the closing of the event, participants reflected with gratitude that they had the opportunity to meet and connect. They concluded by making personal, country-level, and regional commitments for next steps to build the regional free knowledge community and take strategy discussions forward. Many country groups decided that as a next step, they wanted to form their own user group, strengthen local partnerships, and undertake new capacity building efforts. At the regional level, there was strong support for regular calls and check-ins across countries, but a platform or specific leader was not identified.
Exploring every avenue to ensure participation
The organizing team faced some logistical challenges getting participants from Kisangini in the DRC to the summit. Extra planning and assistance was required to ensure visas could be arranged and flights could be found in an irregular flight schedule. A French to English translator was also hired to help bridge language gaps and ensure attendees from the DRC could participate fully.
Once everyone had arrived in Kampala, the extra effort proved very worthwhile, as the five participants expressed a unique vision for the future of their country, learned key information to support their upcoming strategy salon, and shared with other participants about their innovative use of Kiwix to support medical education at hospitals in their town.
Going forward: Future plans post-Summit
In follow up to the event, Core Team member Douglas Ssebaggala took the lead on compiling notes, reports, and photographs. A Wikimedia Space training was organized to introduce East African community members to this newest platform for collaboration, and each country was asked to appoint a point person to take forward regional discussions. At the end, lead organizer Geoffrey Kateregga reflected that:
“The East Africa Strategy Sumit gave the participants a common understanding of the movement strategy process and presented us with the opportunity to have our voices heard in shaping the future of the movement. Most importantly, we were able to look at the challenges we face as Wikimedia volunteers in East Africa and suggest solutions as we look forward to Wikimedia 2030. I was also happy to see participants from countries like Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenua who had no existing Wikimedia communities get motivated to startup communities in their countries by learning from their counterparts in Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda at the event.”
For more information, please find the event summary report and a more detailed notes outline available on Meta. Photographs of the event are available on Wikimedia Commons under the label “East Africa Strategy Summit 2019”