Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

What if businesses operated like Wikipedia?

  • Print

Thirteen years ago, a small community and I began Wikipedia with a simple belief that there was a real appetite to work together to deliver something to improve our world. Not everyone, of course, shared our view. No shortage of skeptics said that the idea of a free online encyclopedia created through collaboration was unworkable and naive. Thirty million articles in 285 languages — the work of hundreds of thousands of contributors across the world — is a convincing answer to this cynicism.

In hindsight, we were not taking the huge gamble that the pessimists predicted. What we were doing tapped into the same spirit through which, every day, countless people around the world volunteer their time and give money to good causes. Wikipedia’s success rested on finding a modern mechanism to harness this community spirit in a new way for wider public good. I am convinced that the same opportunity exists to unleash consumer power for positive social purposes by developing and expanding new models for business.

Confidence in the old models has rarely been lower. Trust in business has taken a battering. There is disgust at the misbehaviour and gross dishonesty exposed in the financial sector and anger at what it has cost families. This lack of trust has spread well beyond the banks. Consumers in a range of sectors increasingly feel that they, and the values they believe in, are taken for granted.

Businesses deploy a variety of defences against these complaints. They argue, correctly, that the legal requirement of for-profit companies to maximize returns to shareholders limits their behaviour. They point to their funding of corporate social responsibility activities as evidence of their determination to have a positive impact.

But consumers know that in the vast majority of cases only a fraction of profits are diverted to such activities, while the rest are swallowed up in dividends or bonuses. As technology enables information to be accessed and shared more easily, consumers are demanding more from the companies they do business with.

This has led to the rise of a new breed of enterprises that look beyond solely making profits by having social goals wired into their purpose. It’s a movement that excites me, particularly because of my experience with Wikipedia. I see enormous potential in the connectivity and community that social media can build to challenge players across consumer sectors. It is why I have agreed to lead a new and growing cellphone network business founded on the belief that consumer utilities can combine commercial success, a first-rate deal for their customers and support for the good causes they believe in.

The People’s Operator launched in Britain in November 2012. In a market this crowded and competitive, it stands out by paying 10 per cent of each customer’s monthly bill to a charity of his or her choice. It also promises to distribute 25 per cent of profits to good causes through its independently run foundation.

These charitable donations don’t come at the expense of higher bills for consumers. We still offer a very competitive deal because of our decision not to use expensive marketing campaigns to grow the business. Instead, the People’s Operator relies — as Wikipedia does — on personal recommendations and the multiplying power of social networks to spread the word.

This saves a great deal of money, and it is also highly effective. Businesses have long known that nothing is more powerful than a personal recommendation from people consumers trust. But while once consumers could tell only, say, 15 friends about something good they had discovered, through social networks people can now tell hundreds and even thousands.

I am hugely excited about the potential of this business and its model, and I will be leading its expansion globally. Wikipedia grew virally because communities worked together for the common good, and I believe this can do the same. For example, only a small percentage of the four billion cellphone subscribers estimated for 2016 would need to switch for us to make a real difference by raising huge sums for good causes.

I can already hear the cynics protest. They will argue that, particularly when family incomes are being squeezed, consumers care only about the lowest possible price for their calls. But by combining low cost with causes and communities, we can prove them wrong. And I already have 30 million reasons for ignoring the cynics.

Jimmy Wales is co-chair of the People’s Operator and founder of Wikipedia.

—The Washington Post

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Stuart Murray announces musical RightsFest for CMHR opening weekend

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • Ruth Bonneville Winnipeg Free Press January 18, 2011 Local Standup -

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What should the city do with the 102-year-old Arlington Street bridge?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google