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Monday, December 6, 2021

Abhishek Suryawanshi: ‘It is about Ideas, Language is Just a Medium’

Roshan Bhondekar interviews Indian-American Entrepreneur, Abhishek Suryawanshi- Founder of TEDxPune, Director at Wikipedia (SWASTHA)

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Divya Dhadd
Divya Dhadd
Journalist

UNITED STATES: In a new episode of the 360-degrees live show, Abhishek Suryawanshi from California, United States, enlightens us on Wikipedia and shares his journey while in conversation with the CEO/Founder of Transcontinental Times, Roshan Bhondekar.

Suryawanshi is the Founder of TEDx, Pune, also the Director at Wikipedia (SWASTHA), a mission he is working on currently. Previously, Suryawanshi worked with the United Nations, representing and implementing policies. Not only that, but he also worked as a media advisor for Consulate General in New York.

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“Wikipedia has no staff that gets paid to write. It is entirely managed by the people, for the people. And that is the beauty of it,” said Suryawanshi in the interview.

Busting misconceptions about Wikipedia

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Wikipedia is the fifth biggest website in the world. All the other big tech companies have 10,000+ staff to monitor their content. However, Wikipedia being a community neither has staff who gets paid to write content nor does it charge anybody to use or distribute its content, it is freely accessible to everybody.

Anyone can edit on Wikipedia, but not anything can be edited on Wikipedia. The content must be notable, with references and citations. If the content gets approved by the community then it goes live. An editor on Wikipedia cannot be biased, their facts need to be backed up with references. Wikipedia is about the content and not the person. So be it a 10-year-old or a PhD professor, what matters is – Do they have anything to contribute to society? Is it authentic and verified? If these questions are answered, then Wikipedia accepts the information.

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People should not believe anything written on Wikipedia, or the internet in general. Suryawanshi urged that credibility can be determined with references attributed to a Wikipedia website. 

"Wikipedia was started 20 years back with a simple mission that knowledge should be free, and I truly believe in that mission."

About SWASTHA

When talking about healthcare information, according to recent statistics, the page view statistics of Wikipedia during the pandemic was 10 times more than WHO, CDC or the Government of India’s health ministry. This means people rely on Wikipedia, but with healthcare, the problem is a lack of authentic information, because to write on this sector, expertise is required. 

We need healthcare professionals to write in simple language because common people wouldn’t understand scientific terms. That is when we started SWASTHA, a community initiative of healthcare workers and local language experts, where the content is local, authentic and verified.

“If someone in a rural area is googling healthcare information, and Wikipedia is the first website to come up, then I think it is our responsibility to make sure that that information is available to them, not just in English, but also in their mother tongue. This is our mission at SWASTHA.”

Doing away with language barriers

Coming from a Marathi medium school, Suryawansi learnt at an early stage that rural communities feel inferior to English speaking students.

With first-hand experience of being a victim of language discrimination, Suryawanshi said, “Language is just a medium, if you have something powerful to say, people will work around and help translate.”

He started his TEDx journey in 2019. He noticed that TEDx conferences were primarily conducted in English so for TED talks to reach rural areas of India, language is a barrier. To bridge this gap, Suryawanshi started with a pilot project and translated TED talks in Marathi.

“On weekends, we went to small communities with a projector to transmit the TED programs in the local language and thankfully Gates foundation sponsored for this purpose. We hosted 60+ events with TEDxPune for underprivileged communities.”

TEDx or Wikipedia, Suryawanshi’s goal has been the same, to disseminate information to local people in their language.

When asked how students from rural areas can work on a global level with organisations like the UN – speaking in Marathi to reach his local audience, Suryawanshi said that people coming from any kind of language background could reach out to organisations that have like-minded goals and express their ideas. Some organisations know the right places and people to connect you with for you to propagate your thoughts.

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