Before We Finish: Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation


One of my favourite things about work is the interesting people I meet every day. When I remember, I ask people five quick questions 'before we finish' our meetings. This edition: Katherine Maher, the Executive Director for the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit arm of Wikipedia. Katherine was recently in Melbourne to give the keynote presentation at Melbourne Knowledge Week

Who is your last text from? What does it say?
The last message I received was just a few minutes ago - it came from a friend of mine who works for an organization focused on anti-corruption. He sent me a link to a news article about a candidate for Congress in the U.S. who has allegedly physically assaulted a reporter for the Guardian. It says: "Holy hell, have you heard the audio yet?" After listening, it does indeed seem like a quite literal assault on the free press.

Do you have a mentor?
I don't. At various points in my career, I've really craved the idea of a mentor, this mythical wise person who would give me perfect guidance and allay all my fears. Today I've realized that I'm fortunate to have built a community of many brilliant and empathetic people. It's taken time and hasn't always been easy, but the reward is so great: instead of placing all my hopes in the omnipotence of one individual, I can survey a diverse collective of folks with vastly different experiences, seniority, networks, and perspectives.

Favourite failure? (your own) Early in my career, I was working as a consultant for an international organization. I had built this really compelling pilot project with a colleague, and when it came time to issue a new contract for scaling it, the hiring panel passed me over for someone 'more technical.' I had failed to see what they were looking for in the role - and failed to pitch my skills correctly. I was gutted at the time, but a tremendous learning experience, and it snapped me out of mid-20s complacency. Within six months I'd shaken it all up: new city, new employer, new job, with wind in my sails.

What podcast do you never miss?

Tough one. I listen to the NPR Politics Podcast as an engaged citizen. I listen to Buzzfeed's Another Round with Heben & Tracy as an engaged human. They're utterly irresistible on pop culture, politics, gender, and race in America (and beyond).

What haven't you achieved yet?

Yikes, can I leave this question blank? There is *so much* I haven't achieved, including setting goals for future achievements! Day to day, I'm working on being more empathetic, more direct, and less concerned by the risk of failure. Also, despite my best efforts, I am still not a morning person.

You can watch Katherine's Melbourne Knowledge Week keynote in full here.