Katherine Maher, the former boss of Wikipedia, has been appointed as CEO of the leading European technology conference Web Summit.
Her appointment comes after Paddy Cosgrave, a co-founder of Web Summit, stepped down following a backlash over his accusations that Israel is committing “war crimes” and breaching international law.
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Web Summit said in a statement Maher was selected by the board to lead the company through the transition period and added that she has “the ability to bridge the worlds of technology, humanity, and dialogue”.
Maher, 40, led the Wikimedia Foundation, the global nonprofit behind Wikipedia, for five years and is also chair of messaging platform Signal Messenger.
“I am excited to join Web Summit, because I believe in Web Summit’s mission to connect people and ideas that change the world,” Maher said, according to the company’s statement.
She will lead this year’s Web Summit conference, scheduled from November 13 to 16 in Lisbon, Portugal.
The annual conference attracts many of the tech world’s top names. But following Cosgrave’s comments on the Israel-Gaza war, some companies withdrew their participation.
Cosgrave, an Irish entrepreneur who founded Web Summit in 2009, took to the social media platform X a few days after Hamas’s unprecedented attacks on Israel, saying: “I’m shocked at the rhetoric and actions of so many Western leaders & governments, with the exception in particular of Ireland’s government, who for once are doing the right thing.”
“War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are.”
David Marcus, the CEO of tech company Lightspark, lashed out at Cosgrave on X, saying he was “saddened” by Cosgrave’s “ill-informed stance”.
“You could’ve taken a more nuanced one, condemning these atrocities and calling for restraint. That would’ve been acceptable. You chose to support terrorists. As such I’ll never attend/sponsor/speak at any of your events again,” Marcus said.
Saddened by your ill-informed stance. You could’ve taken a more nuanced one, condemning these atrocities and calling for restraint. That would’ve been acceptable. You chose to support terrorists. As such I’ll never attend/sponsor/speak at any of your events again.
— David Marcus (@davidmarcus) October 15, 2023
Multinational companies like Siemens, Intel, Meta and Google also said they will not attend this year’s summit.
Cosgrave’s resignation came as many students and professionals face blowback for their public views on the Israel-Hamas war.
Rights advocates say much of the corporate response has minimised the suffering in Gaza and created an atmosphere of fear for workers who want to express support for Palestinians.
But Maher is keen to ensure the focus “returns to what Web Summit does best: delivering dialogue among all those connected with technological advancement”.
“In recent weeks Web Summit has been at the centre of the conversation, rather than the host. Its purpose was overshadowed by the personal comments of the event’s founder and former CEO, Paddy Cosgrave,” Maher said.
“Today Web Summit is entering its next phase,” she added.