Sue Gardner

We have to fight to keep the Internet democratic—a public space for all.

Former Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation

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Sue Gardner | Former Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

The former Executive Director of Wikimedia (which runs Wikipedia), Sue Gardner is one of a few women who has headed up a top ten website. A formidable speaker on new media, she looks to the future of collaboration on the web. How will the new knowledge economy—where content is free, and everyone's a contributor—affect our education, our journalism, and our democracy? 

Sue Gardner is the former Director of and now special advisor to Wikipedia. She’s also the only Canadian to make it onto Forbes’ The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list. At Wikipedia, Gardner introduced major initiatives focused on organizational maturity, long-term sustainability, and increased participation, reach, and quality of the Foundation’s free-knowledge projects. She was formerly head of CBC.CA, the internet platform for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Canada’s radio, TV, and new media public broadcaster and the nation’s largest journalistic organization. Under her leadership, CBC.CA experienced a historic audience surge and launched many new major multimedia technologies, including podcasting, breaking news alerts, live event blogging, and many forms of user interaction.


“Under her watch, Wikipedia is now bigger and more stable than ever.”

Fast Company

In March 2013, Gardner announced she would be stepping down from Wikimedia. She wrote: “The movement and the Wikimedia Foundation are in a strong place now . . . I feel that although we’re in good shape, with a promising future, the same is not true for the Internet itself . . . Increasingly, I’m finding myself uncomfortable about how the Internet’s developing, who’s influencing its development, and who is not . . . There are many organizations and individuals advocating for the public interest online—what’s good for ordinary people—but other interests are more numerous and powerful than they are. I want that to change. And that’s what I want to do next.”


Since beginning her career in 1990 at the now-classic radio program As It Happens, Gardner has worked in all forms of media to create high-quality, award-winning programming. As a journalist, she specialized in pop culture, social issues and media analysis, covering stories such as manipulation of the news media during the first Gulf War, the rise of gated communities in California, the racial implications of the return of the death penalty to New York, changing feminist attitudes towards pornography, the dawn of interactive media, and the rise and fall of rave culture in the UK.

Gardner is a member of the Online News Association, the Society for News Design, Women in Film and Television, the Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian Women In Communications.    


“Sue was absolutely fantastic! Warm, funny, engaged and engaging, she read the audience perfectly, allowed as much time for questions as she did for her talk, and she even made time to have lunch with the students in our Women in Computer Science group. Really, in my 26 years at Penn, I have never met anyone who fit in so seamlessly and left everyone loving her! I've had over 30 thank you emails from STUDENTS (yes, our students are polite, but still, this is unheard of ;-) as well as at least 5 faculty members, and our Dean and the donor who funded the program proclaimed her to be ‘delightful,’ which she is! I can't thank you enough—she was the perfect choice, and if there is anything I can do to help sing her praises, please count me in—she truly is a lovely person and I am grateful to have met her! You and she are wonderful, and I thank you!”

University of Pennsylvania

Speech Topics

The Future of the Internet

The internet used to be a Wild West, in which corporations, well-funded start-ups, and amateurs competed for user attention, with the amateurs often winning. The net gave ordinary people access to the means of production—a billion blogs, self-hosted sites, and proto-social networking sites were born! That was great, Sue Gardner contends, because the internet should be like a city, with shoe stores and banks and restaurants, but also with parks and libraries and schools. Today, though, the internet has matured. It is increasingly corporatized and commercialized, and ordinary people’s open participation has declined. We participate in narrower, simpler ways than we used to, such as “liking” something on Facebook, or republishing other people’s posts on Tumblr. In this state-of-the-union talk, delivered at a crucial moment, Sue Gardner looks to the future of the net, and examines the implications for democracy, journalism, education, free speech, creativity, openness—and much more. If we want an Internet that allows for healthy public spaces, she says, we are going to need to course-correct, including figuring out ways to pay for what we want. Otherwise, we risk ordinary people being flipped from creators into consumers, exactly like what happened with television 50 years ago. Bringing extraordinary insight to the net’s growth so far, Gardner paints a realistic (and hopeful) picture of the ways we can still positively shape the greatest communications phenomenon we've ever known. 

Corporate Culture
What We Can Learn from Wikipedia The New Workplace

What can organizations and workplaces learn from the success of one of the world's most invaluable web communities? The fundamental premise of Wikipedia is that if you create a space where people are encouraged to share and help each other, they will do it. In the decade-plus since Wikipedia's launch, that's been proven to be true. In this talk, Sue Gardner looks at how the site’s model has many lessons that can be applied to the workplace, to increase collaboration and creativity. We’re moving from top-down, carefully controlled environments into more transparent organizations in which decentralized work groups have a high degree of autonomy, Gardner reminds us, and Wikipedia was a forerunner in this kind of participatory engagement. 

The Future of Leadership

Work is changing, and Silicon Valley cultures are at the forefront. We’re moving from formal, command-and-control, bureaucratic organizations into workplaces that
are agile, often decentralized, and in which teams have a high degree of autonomy and authority. In those contexts, Sue Gardner argues, leadership is changing too. Increasingly, in order to be effective, leaders are going to need to be flexible and collaborative, highly transparent, and non-authoritarian. Drawing on her years heading up the Wikimedia foundation—a period of substantial and much-heralded organizational growth—Gardner takes a look at the new leadership models that have emerged, and how they apply to your own company.