Leading the future of free knowledge:
Wikimedia welcomes CEO Maryana Iskander
What will it take to create—not just imagine—a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge?
The answer, according to Maryana Iskander, Wikimedia’s new Chief Executive Officer: activating a truly global community in our shared work.
Maryana seeks to realize the founding vision of Wikimedia, and her inclusive approach has been developed through a career of breaking down barriers to opportunity.
In a welcome letter to Wikimedia, Maryana recounted meeting a leading American academic named Rebecca, who exemplified the need for a knowledge source like Wikipedia:
“Rebecca told me a story of her primary school teacher asking the students to raise their hands if they did not have an encyclopedia at home. Rebecca was one of those students, and it made her feel that she didn’t have equal access to the resources needed for her education,” Maryana shared. “The work of (Wikimedia’s) collective community, should we achieve our vision, will make it unnecessary for a teacher to ever ask that question again.”
While working as CEO of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, a nonprofit tackling South African youth unemployment, Maryana had met another “Rebecca”—a young woman growing up in circumstances where it was a struggle to afford text messaging, let alone more meaningful engagements with the digital world. Maryana believes that as Wikimedia looks ahead, it must give all the world’s “Rebeccas” a point of entry into the online exchange of knowledge. Her first step, commenced before she formally started in January, was a global Listening Tour—a series of consultations with hundreds of Wikimedia volunteers, staff, and supporters.
Life experiences spanning three continents inform Maryana’s work. Born in Cairo, she is a Yale Law School graduate, has served as Chief Operating Officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has clerked for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She is a Rhodes Scholar and recipient of a 2019 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
On accepting the Skoll Award, Maryana paraphrased from the book Lean Impact: “For those of us committed to solving the world’s most pressing challenges, our work is to stay in love with the problem, not our solutions when they no longer serve us.” She is ready to bring this adaptive mindset to her leadership of Wikimedia.