Dear all,

Last weekend, an interview with Raju Narisetti, titled "Wikipedia is
building trust with transparency", was published in the Indian Express, one
of the major daily newspapers in India.

For your convenience, here is an archive link for the article:

The Indian Express link is:

The article quotes Raju as saying (my emphases),


“*More than 75% of the money we raise globally* goes to two things. One is
to *give money back to the volunteer community* so they can launch a new
language. Two is about *half of it goes to the infrastructure.* You need to
have databases and put it on the cloud and make sure it’s reliable,” he
said. Although a lot of the money is raised in the more developed Western
markets, *most of it is actually flowing into the global south,* where the
growth will come in languages and users.


This diverged sharply from my understanding of WMF finances. So I looked at
the records to try to fact-check these statements.

I found the Foundation raised $163 million in the 2020/2021 financial
year.[1] But it actually only spent $112 million of it (69%).[1] If the WMF
kept 31% of its revenue to itself, it obviously can't have spent "more than
75%" (i.e. over $120M) of the money it raised on anything.

This is a trivial point. But I was even more astonished by the other
statement in the article, that most of the money raised "is actually
flowing into the global south".

Raju was talking to an Indian audience. This article was timed to coincide
with the start of the Indian fundraiser – Indians are currently faced with
fundraising banners on Wikipedia as well as emails soliciting repeat
donations.[2] So I appreciate it is a good soundbite that might motivate
Indian citizens to reach for their purses and wallets. After all, few
people in India feel it is their job to send financial aid to the US,

But is this soundbite really true?

To fact-check that claim, I looked at the official figures in the latest
(2020) WMF Form 990 tax return detailing WMF spending outside the US.
According to the Form 990 section "General Information on Activities
Outside the United States", spending on activities outside the US amounted
to a total of $20,076,181 in 2020.[3] This means well over 80% of WMF
expenditure was in the US.

The Form 990 also provides a breakdown by global regions, detailing the
precise amounts the WMF spent in each region. Again, I found this paints a
very different picture to what the Indian public has been told in the
Indian Express.

First I added up all the amounts (Program Services, p. 29, and Grantmaking,
pp. 30–31) that were spent in Europe and North America (excluding the US).
I arrived at a total of $14.8M – which means that 73.5% of the total
spending on non-US activities was in these regions of the affluent north.

This left only $5.3M, or about 3% of total WMF revenue in 2020/2021, for
the entire rest of the world, which also includes countries like Saudi
Arabia, Russia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, which are not usually included in
the Global South. The actual money flowing into the Global South is thus
even less than 3% – hardly "most" of the money raised.

Raju mentioned the volunteers. I thought, let's leave Program Services
expenses (which presumably would include servers and caching centres
abroad) out of the equation and look at Grantmaking alone (pages 30 and 31
of the Form 990).

The Grantmaking total for activities outside the US given in the Form 990
is $3,475,062.

Almost exactly $1.2M (35%) of that went to Europe and North America
(excluding the US).

So total grantmaking in the entire rest of the world outside Europe and
North America was $2.3M, or 1.4% of the money the WMF raised in 2020/2021.

Again 1.4% is not "most of the money raised", by any stretch of the
imagination. And the Global South only accounts for a part of that 1.4%.

Lastly, as Raju was speaking to the Indian public, I wanted to find out how
much money the WMF actually spent on grantmaking in India. The Form 990
only gives grantmaking totals for "South Asia" – which along with India
includes other major countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan.

These totals are $75,198 (grants and other assistance to 22 individuals,
certainly not rank-and-file Wikipedians, given the average amount) and
$3,339 (grants to organisations). This yields a total of $78,537 for all of
South Asia.

I make that 0.048% of the WMF's 2020/2021 revenue. Only a part of that may
have been spent in India.

Please verify these figures for yourselves; I have provided the sources
below. If I have made a mistake somewhere, please tell me.

It occurred to me that perhaps some grantmaking figures in 2020 were
particularly low because of the Covid pandemic, which began in the spring
of that year. But Covid was a global pandemic affecting countries around
the world. So all countries would have been affected equally. And Covid was
not as serious in India in 2020 as it was in 2021.

I also know the WMF increased its grantmaking budget for the current year.
But even if grants to South Asia were to increase a hundredfold compared to
2020, they would still represent only 5% of WMF revenue. Such is the gap
between what is said in the Indian Express and the reality on the ground.

Allow me to make an appeal to your conscience.

The Wikipedia idea is to provide neutral and accurate information to the
public. I would say that Wikimedians – especially Indian Wikimedians – who
believe in that idea have a job to do here, because based on the above,
what the Indian public has been told in the Indian Express simply does not
match the reality.

Look at it like a Wikipedia article. If you found an article making claims
so wildly at variance with published facts, would you let them stand? Or
would you at least start a discussion on the talk page, to try and find out
why there is such an apparent discrepancy?

Let's have that discussion now, here and on social media.


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