Milena Popova has had an on-again/off-again relationship with fandom for well over two decades (don’t do the maths!). After fanfic thoroughly ruined their ability to enjoy mainstream popular culture beyond the “price of entry” into fandom, Milena decided to make a career of this and is currently completing their PhD research into representations of sexual consent in fanfiction. In a past life they were a technology/project manager at a large multinational, and they also have a large amount of past and current volunteering experience up to and including serving on the boards of two UK non-profits. Within the OTW, they have been a tag wrangling volunteer for two and half years, and more recently a Comms staffer on the Fanhackers project. Milena is thoroughly owned by a cat named Chili (also known as Cultural Theorist Cat), with whom they live in the south-west England.
1. Why did you decide to run for election to the Board?
Fandom in general and the OTW in particular has given me so much joy in my life, and it’s a community I want to give something back to. In that spirit, I have been a supporter and member of the OTW for a while now, a tag wrangling volunteer for 2.5 years, and more recently I have become a Fanhackers staffer on the Communications Committee. I have a range of skills and experiences which I believe would be valuable beyond those roles. Having come out of the 2015 crisis and with the implementation of the strategic plan now firmly underway, the OTW is going through a consolidation phase where I believe my skills can genuinely make a positive contribution to the organisation. I have a passion and aptitude for creating and working towards compelling long-term visions, and supporting them through building sustainable organisational structures and establishing solid work processes, which I think would be an asset to the org at this time.
2. What skills and/or experience would you bring to the Board?
I have been on the boards of two UK-based non-profits where I have both been responsible for overall direction setting and financial governance of the organisation, and led specific projects and improvement initiatives. From these roles I have gained as much insight into what can go wrong in non-profits as into how to fix it and run organisations responsibly and sustainably. I also have an appreciation of the vital role volunteers play in non-profits, particularly in the OTW where all of us, regardless of whether we have a “staffer” title or not are ultimately volunteers. I have extensive volunteer management experience both from my roles on the boards of other non-profits and from being a regional volunteer co-ordinator for a political campaign, and I am passionate about creating environments where volunteers feel valued and appreciated, as well as having the opportunity to develop and grow. In addition to this, I have a decade of large-scale project management experience in the private sector. I also have experience of working in a global, multi-cultural environment, collaborating across borders, time zones, languages and cultures. I have a collaborative approach to my work, seeking to build alliances and find win-win solutions. More recently I have also been a student representative on several committees at my university and achieved some significant improvements in the student experience. I feel at home navigating large, complex organisations, considering others’ needs, and finding compromises.
3. Choose one or two goals for the OTW that are important to you and that you would be interested in working on during your term. Why do you value these goals? How would you work with others to achieve them?
I think board accountability has massively improved over the last couple of years, but equally there are more things we could do on that front, and that would be a priority for me. We now get much better updates on what board does on a day to day basis but it would be great to have regular, bite-sized update on what the bigger picture looks like: where are we with the strategic plan, how’s our spending in comparison to our fundraising and budget, etc. I would also support the proposed elimination of the volunteer/staff distinction and would propose a change to our structure that would allow active volunteers to vote in elections regardless of paid membership status: our volunteers give up an enormous amount of their time to keep the org running and should have a say in how it is run regardless of financial means. Finally, I would look to improve our external accountability to the wider fan community: while we will never be able to make everyone happy, there is also legitimate feedback out there that we can constructively engage with, and I would like to find ways to do that.
4. What is your experience with the OTW’s projects and how would you collaborate with the relevant committees to support and strengthen them? Try to include a range of projects, though feel free to emphasize particular ones you have experience with.
My most direct experience is with the AO3 as a tag wrangler and with the Communications Committee as a Fanhackers staffer. As a Fan Studies scholar I have also submitted research to Transformative Works and Cultures. Having said that, I have broad awareness and appreciation of the importance of the other projects, including Legal, Fanlore and Open Doors. With another hat on, I am a digital rights activist, and feel that Legal’s work on the transformative nature and copyright status of fan works is vital for fandom and beyond. As a fan and Fan Studies scholar, I am passionate about preserving fandom’s history, identity, and creativity through projects like Fanlore and Open Doors.
In my current position within the org, I don’t necessarily have insight into the detailed workings of all the projects and committees. As a first priority therefore, I would want to understand from the relevant committees what it is they need from the board and how we can best support them. I have a hunch that in a few areas we are understaffed and running in firefighting mode on a day to day basis – it’s difficult when you’re in that position to start thinking strategically and putting in place the necessary structures for sustainability. I would like to work with those committees and projects on ways to get to a more sustainable place. I have some ideas on how this could be achieved: improvements in recruitment, training and retention, a pool of “flow to the work” staffers with transferable skills such as graphics, and/or strengthening our project management capability. Not all of these are necessarily going to work everywhere, but these are the kinds of discussions I’d like to have with projects and committees to see what works where.
5. 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?
Depending on the exact time commitments required I would potentially look to reduce some of my tag wrangling work, starting with fandoms which already have co-wranglers. I would look to retain my role on Fanhackers, and don’t foresee any issues with that as there is a fair amount of overlap between that and my “day job” as a Fan Studies scholar.
Edited June 29 to remove a link from the Bio, with candidate permission.