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WordCamp US, scheduled for September 9-11 in San Diego, is trialing a new program that would connect speakers from underrepresented groups with companies that agree to sponsor their travel and lodging.

“To improve diverse representation at WordCamp US (WCUS), our Programming Team has looked into the barriers that hold different groups back, the largest of which is the cost of hotel and airfare/travel,” WCUS organizers wrote.

“While WCUS can’t cover these costs, we can set up a connecting point between these speakers and companies that would like to support them.”

The WordCamp is calling for interested companies to get in touch so they can be matched with speakers who need financial support. The companies will be responsible for setting the qualifications and managing the funds transfer.

Earlier this month, in a post titled Sponsor Inclusion in Tech, WordPress contributor Winstina Hughes called the community to action, specifically to break down financial barriers to attending community events:

Underrepresented/minority groups in society frequently face disparities in income that limit their participation in personally valued activities beyond work activities that earn income. This is mirrored in the WordPress community when contributors forgo participation in community events due to income limitations. Participation in events requires a community member to personally pay for travel and lodging expenses or personally network for sponsorships to cover these expenses.Transparently integrating travel and lodging sponsorships after a Call for Speakers submission selection would breakdown a notable barrier to inclusion that exists for many underrepresented/minority groups around the world – financial costs.

MasterWP editor Rob Howard continued this conversation, referencing Hughes’ call to action, in a recent post that advocates for all speakers and organizers being paid.

“The largest and most obvious barrier to attending and speaking at WordCamp is money,” Howard said. “In order to offer a truly equal opportunity to everyone, the WordPress Foundation needs to set aside enough money to pay for the airfare and lodging of every speaker and organizer, period. Anything less than this privileges people who work for WordPress companies or people who have the disposable income for a random trip to San Diego.”

Howard contends that this approach should not be a separate initiative but “should simply become how WordCamp works.” Yesterday MasterWP announced its own sponsorship program. The team intends to sponsor at least six speakers and organizers to cover the costs of travel, meals, and lodging.

In the meantime, Winstina Hughes worked with the WCUS speaker programming team to make speaker sponsorships a real possibility. Organizers will facilitate the connection between interested companies and selected speakers who are seeking sponsorship.

WordCamp US has also extended its call for speakers. It appears organizers may not have received enough diverse applicants, as they said their purpose in extending the call is “to showcase our community’s variety and diversity.” The updated deadline is Monday, April 25.
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