Meet Wikipedia's 'benevolent dictator'

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been announced as co-chair of The People's Operator (TPO), an 'ethical' mobile network, which is embedding philanthropic goals into a commercial business model.

For the man who engineered one of the strongest online communties on the Web, there is a difference between social change and social innovation – only one can be driven by a sense of fun. Isabelle de Grave caught up with Wales over the phone, and found out which.

Jimmy Wales is about as savvy as you can get when it comes to growing strong online communities. But, he’s also an anomaly in the world of Internet entrepreneurs. 
He has earned a reputation as ‘a benevolent dictator’ for eschewing advertising on Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” and handing over the reigns to an 80,000 strong community of unpaid editors.
And, it is these characteristics that make him the web celeb of choice for ‘ethical’ mobile network The People’s Operator, and many others looking for help with innovative business ideas.
“My expertise is in organising people online for a cause they believe in,” he told Pioneers Post, and this is what he will use to boost TPO’s global growth.
Wales effectively presides over the 6th largest digital territory in the world, with a position at the epicenter of Internet freedom, free speech and open source movements.
Wiki has become a virtual synonym for sharing, openness inclusion and trust, pegged onto radical movements like Wikileaks and open source projects including Wikihouse an "open source construction set" designed to let those with little or no building experience construct sturdy, long-lasting homes.
But Wales claims no world-changing pedestal for his personal pursuit of social innovation. “I’m driven by a sense of fun, and I like to get involved with things that interest me”.
In fact he warns against arbitrarily claiming you’ll save the world with a new business idea.
Responding to a call for help on a start-up idea on the question and answer website Quora, he derides the virtuous label – “‘A world-changing next-generation platform for Gen Z blah blah blah’ — yuck,” he wrote.
When a project has social goals, it needs a practical model if Wales is going to have any personal engagement with it. Indeed, he has a strong sense that social entrepreneurship is gaining momentum and increasingly spreading into the ranks of the business community for this very reason.
“I get pitched to a lot, and a lot of projects have great noble goals, but they don’t have a practical plan to achieve those goals, and are hoping I’ve got some sort of magic ability.”
For Wales the concept of social entrepreneurship tells businesses there’s good reason to build a social purpose into a company because it’s meaningful to consumers.
“It’s not necessarily saying that businesses should cap their profits, or give back or it's wrong to make money. 
But it is saying that it’s a good business decision to build a product that people are really passionate about and if that involves appealing to what they value, then that’s all the better”
He sees this as a trend that young people are also helping to drive. “Young entrepreneurs in particular see a lot of new opportunities. You shouldn’t have to face the choice of going into some high-paying job that you hate or doing charity work that’s fulfilling and you can’t make any money.”
“We should be able to have a holistic approach to life where you can do both”
Wales supports a range of commercial and social projects but what gets him excited and where he feels he can be of use is in a space where projects seek to combine the two. 
“TPO was inspirational because I saw both the opportunity to raise a huge amount of money for great causes but also it’s a business model that works,” he said. 
TPO, is a for profit business, that passes 10% of each customer’s bill directly to causes chosen by the customer. 
25% of the Company’s profits will go to the TPO Foundation, which will distribute them to charity partners including ChildLine, Emerge, Trinity Hospice, the NSPCC and the Big Issue Foundation.
Though Wales will be getting people behind The People’s Operator, he's also a strong advocate of a a good work life balance, which for him, often comes down to an ability to turn off your mobile phone.
“My advice is always turn off your cell phone and play with your kid”
There may be Ohio car dealers with a higher net worth than Wales. But it's not work worries that keep him up at night, or get him out of bed in the morning, “It’s my 5 month old son,” he said, on both counts, with a chuckle highly suggestive of a 'holistic' approach to life.