Atiya Hakeem (Lady Oscar) received her undergraduate degree in biology from the California Institute of Technology, then went to the University of Hawaii for a PhD in biomedical sciences. After working at Caltech as a neurobiologist studying autism and social cognition for many years, she has recently returned to Hawaii, and currently hangs out with aardvarks as a volunteer at the Honolulu Zoo. She has always turned to fandom as an escape and a creative outlet, with interests including Star Trek, baseball, the age of sail, Hawaii Five-O, and anime, which last led to serving as con staff at Anime Expo and AX New York. She joined the OTW as a volunteer in 2012 with AO3 Support and has since answered some 5,000 user inquiries. Motivated by a desire to be directly involved in keeping the Archive running, she joined AD&T (the Archive’s coding and design committee) as a tester, and is now the Quality Assurance & Testing subcommittee lead. She also has served on the Category Change and Survey workgroups.
1. Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?
After spending the last three and a half years working for the OTW, I have reached the point where I would like to use the experience and knowledge I have gained to help lead it. We are not a generic non-profit organization – our position as an international, virtual, and fandom-oriented group makes us unusual, as does the extremely diverse but inter-related nature of our projects. I believe it is vitally important for the future of the OTW to have a Board that understands the particular characteristics of this Org and its volunteers, and I am in a position to help provide some of that understanding.
2. What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?
First and foremost, I bring my experience in the OTW itself. As a veteran AO3 Support staffer, I have a good feeling for the concerns of our member base, as well as a great deal of experience in dealing with those concerns in a helpful and professional fashion. I have interacted with the fannish public extensively through Support ticket answers, News Post comments, and the AO3 Status twitter. As a member of AD&T, I have experienced the challenges of running a large multi-committee project. While my work has primarily been with AO3, I have also had the opportunity to meet and interact with volunteers from all parts of the Org in the Category Change and Survey workgroups, topical chats, and Org social spaces.
In terms of real life, I have two relevant sources of experience. First, I have spent many years working in an academic lab setting. From this I have gained experience with budgeting, project planning, personnel management, and mentoring and training. Second, I have experience with a number of non-profit organizations both as a member and a donor, and have seen first-hand how many “real world” non-profit practices work or don’t work for them.
3. What goals would you like to achieve during your term?
- Streamline processes such that any inquiry to Board receives a timely response, and that decisions are made promptly
- Bring Board debate and decision-making to open spaces for everything except confidential personnel matters
- Improve fiscal management, including adding predictive budgeting and transparency
- Be part of a Board in which all members work together productively and professionally
4. What is your experience of the OTW’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them? Please include AO3, TWC, Fanlore, our Legal Advocacy work, and Open Doors, though feel free to emphasize particular areas you’re interested in.
My primary experience is with AO3, as both Support and AD&T. As a member of AD&T, I have collaborated with all the Archive’s committees as we work together to maintain and improve the Archive. This includes the Open Doors project, as AD&T assists OD in its work in importing endangered archives to AO3. My experience means that I know intimately and in an ongoing way what the AO3 committees need and do not need in terms of Board assistance and oversight, and I hope to be able to contribute that understanding to the Board as a whole. Because AO3 is both the greatest consumer of the OTW’s financial resources and the highest profile project for attracting donations, I feel it is vitally important that the Board fully understand and support it.
Fanlore is a project that has some of the same technical challenges as the Archive, but with even greater staffing and resource issues. I would like to help them establish stronger underpinnings, allowing staff more freedom to focus on the project’s goals.
TWC and Legal are currently very effective and functional. I have been impressed with the professionalism and competence of their staff as an outside observer, and in my dealings with Legal when referring Support issues. I feel that the best thing I could do for them as Board would be to simply support them as they request.
5. Choose two topics/issues that you think should be high priority for the OTW, both internally and externally. What do these topics mean to you and why do you value them? How will you make them a part of your service?
I think the biggest priority for the OTW right now should be getting our own house in better order. Our financial management needs to be more sustainable: not just one person overseeing all our accounts unaudited, and no more fundraising without concrete spending goals and planned budgets. This is something that the successful “real life” non-profits I have been involved with do well, and I intend to use their work as a model.
Our volunteer environment needs to be healthier: less overwork, better tools, better communication, better information flow from Board and through committees.
Working on AO3, I frequently encountered situations in which our work was made more difficult and the ongoing stability of the Archive was put at risk by a lack of support from Board. Delayed decisions prevented vital equipment purchases from happening when needed, despite the money being available. Policy decisions made without transparency and with insufficient understanding of the issues resulted in loss of volunteer morale and derailment of projects. As a director, those past experiences will guide me in working to improve support for all our projects and volunteers.
6. What do you think the key responsibilities of a/the Board are? Are you familiar with the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors?
I have investigated the legal requirements for a US-based nonprofit board of directors online. Beyond them, however, what we need from a Board is a group that our volunteers can count on to:
- Keep themselves informed about the Org’s projects
- Make transparent, informed and timely decisions
- Provide responsible fiscal oversight
- Publicly represent the OTW
7. How would you balance your Board work with other roles in the OTW, or how do you plan to hand over your current roles to focus on Board work?
It’s important for Board to remain in touch with the day-to-day functioning of the Org’s committees. Thus, I do not intend to entirely step down from my roles. Support has recently recruited a promising set of new staffers, and I intend to focus my involvement there on mentoring and providing a reservoir of knowledge, reducing my time commitment. As QA & Testing lead I intend to recruit a staffer to help with volunteer management tasks; we are also improving our suite of automated tests, reducing the involvement required from me in supervising manual testing.
In the past, I have performed my committee work alongside a full-time job in real life. Currently I am taking some time off to focus on my volunteer work and career development, which should leave me able to devote all the necessary time to my Board commitments.