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In his “State of the Wiki” address at the 2011 Wikimania, Jimmy Wales awarded the first ever “Wikipedian of the Year” award to Rauan Kenzhekhanuly, a Wikipedian from Kazakhstan. Included with the honor was travel expenses to bring Rauan to Wikimania 2012 in Washington, D.C., next week, where Rauan is looking forward to sharing his experiences with growing the Kazakh Wikipedia and learning more about others’ outreach programs.
Rauan worked in civil service in Kazakhstan for several years before jumping at an opportunity to do a one-year fellowship at Harvard University in Boston. As part of his fellowship, he took a class at the Kennedy School in fall 2010 that changed his life: Nicco Mele’s “Media, Politics, and Power in the Digital Age”, part of a pilot of the Wikipedia Education Program. Students in Professor Mele’s class were required to read Andrew Lih’s book “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia” and contribute to the English Wikipedia. Rauan was hooked.
“Thanks to Nicco’s class I discovered the Wikipedia world. The influence was so profound that it brought me to a new path in my career,” he says. “While editing the article in English Wikipedia, I checked the Kazakh version as well. However, I was disappointed when I saw that Kazakh Wikipedia doesn’t have sustainable community.”
Rauan set out to change that. He recruited some friends and founded WikiBilim (bilim means “knowledge” in Kazakh), a nonprofit organization devoted to expand the availability of free knowledge on the internet in the Kazakh language. WikiBilim’s first target was the Kazakh Wikipedia, which at that point had just 7,000 articles and only 4 active editors. Rauan and his friends at WikiBilim set a target of 200,000 articles maintained by a sustainable community of 500 active editors.
“At the very beginning we were looking for messages powerful enough to engage more people in our project,” Rauan says. “We decided to change the well-known Wikipedia motto from ‘free access to sum of human knowledge’ to ‘free access to sum of human knowledge in your own language.’ The appeal to language worked out. Today we have more than 130,000 articles and more than 200 active editors.” read more