Tighe Flanagan is Director of Wikimedia Foundation’s Education Programs, which helps educators and students around the world contribute to Wikipedia in an academic setting. As Director, Tighe leads the education team and is also responsible for coordinating with the education programs in the Arab region and Africa. Prior to his work at Wikimedia Foundation, Tighe served in the Peace Corps and worked as a consultant for USAID and the World Bank. Tighe graduated from the MAAS program in 2012 and earned his undergraduate degree from Franklin College in Switzerland in Visual and Communication Arts and French. He currently resides in Washington, DC.
Tell us a little about what you do at the Wikimedia Foundation.
The Wikimedia Foundation is the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia and its sister sites. Most of the staff focus on technical issues, like software development, new features, and support. I work on the side of the organization that serves our communities who contribute to the Wikimedia projects, primarily as volunteers.
My role works with individuals in local communities who want to use Wikipedia or a sister project in a learning environment with students. Typically, this looks like writing new content for a local language Wikipedia, improving existing articles or creating new ones on topics not yet covered.
I support our communities globally but focus primarily on the Middle East and Africa. I help local volunteer leaders plan and execute their programs, create partnerships and track the impact of their students’ work online.
What do you like best about your job and how do you feel it impacts others?
I like how my role, supporting individuals in their local contexts, has a real impact on the general public’s access to knowledge. Over the past four years, I have seen the Arabic Wikipedia grow and develop, and a lot of that progress is thanks to students in diverse places like Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria and elsewhere. It’s satisfying to know that more Arabic speakers have access to more topics in their own language.
How do you think the MAAS program at Georgetown prepared you for your job, and what were some of the components that made it memorable?
Studying at MASS helped me think critically about different aspects of working in the region. Working in international development and now supporting grassroots communities, it is important to think through all decisions and policies, and to be aware that there may be unintended consequences for things done poorly.
Having first worked for two and a half years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jordan and then continuing my study of the region as a MAAS student, I grew more and more distrustful of people claiming to be “experts.” My work allows me to directly support people where they are, and include them in the planning process to meet their actual needs, not what I assume they need.
MAAS also gave me strong enough Arabic to confidently interact with people at all levels in the region, from people on the street to ministry officials.
Do you have any advice for current MAAS students?
Your studies are what you make them. You may not know what you will end up doing as part of your career, but having critical thinking and reasoning skills are important no matter where you end up. Having a broad understanding of the region only emphasizes how the people and cultures that make up the Arab World are incredibly diverse.
By Mary Margaret Ewens
Mary Margaret is a graduate student in the Communications, Culture and Technology program at Georgetown.