History of Be Volunteer
From Hospitality Club to HCvol (2000 -2006)
The history of BeVolunteer is a long and winding road through the wonderful world of hospitality exchange. Started by a group of volunteers from Hospitality Club, the organisation later took on members of Couchsurfing and Servas, as well as other volunteers for whom BeWelcome was their first hospitality exchange network.
Together with his brother Kjell, Veit Kuehne, inspired by other hospitality exchange networks such as SERVAS and SIGHT founded the Hospitality Club (HC).
2002 till 2005
The later founders of the future "HCvol"/"BeVolunteer" started volunteering for HC, covering all areas of HC volunteering from programming, spam checking, accepting members, geo adjustment, forum moderation, translation to service for HC members.
Some of the core volunteers from HC, started to question the owner ofHC owner about some processes and systems. Important issues brought up by volunteers included:
- the absence of any legal status for HC,
- the absence of any democratic system in the way of taking decisions,
- the absence of any transparency in the management of finances,
- the lack of transparency on HC policies for users of the website,
- a feeling of manipulation of the volunteers
Those shortcomings seemed particularly problematic to the founders of HCvol, because HC was not a start-up anymore but a real project that was growing rapidly. Concerned volunteers felt a responsibility to work on these issues so that HC could evolve and, with some time and effort, be implemented in HC over time to create a more democratic foundation for further growth. The concerned volunteers felt that that work was needed on these issues, so as to to address the problems that HC was beginning to face as it evolved.
However, Veit retained a lot of personal control. He refused to debate and chose neither to involve nor to inform even the most committed volunteers on those issues. After many attempts to push the above mentioned issues in personal conversations with the HC founder, a more concerted action by HC volunteers occured during December 2005, when a manifesto was sent to the owner of HC requesting him to work with the concerned volunteers on the issues, or those volunteers would stop all their volunteer work for HC. Regardless of that threat of action, those volunteers were - and still are - in love with HC project, and never stopped working. However, their motivation was decreasing.
After many futile and highly frustrating attempts to push the above mentioned issues further in personal conversations, the time was there for more concerted action. A "manifest" was sent to Veit requesting him to work with the concerned volunteers on the mentioned points, or those volunteers would stop all their work for HC. Regardless of that action, those volunteers were - and still are - totally in love with HC, and never stopped working, but motivation was decreasing.
Finally after 2 months of silence, Veit disclosed his position: NO WAY would he accept that manifest. It was clear for him: never would HC offer transparency about money management, never would HC be managed by a democratic structure, and for the legal status he suggested a company status or even worse, something based in the shady tax heaven St Kitts & Nevis.
25th of february 2006
A meeting in Dresden was arranged for February 25th to discuss the problems and to find a new way of re-structuring HC volunteer teams and reworking procedures. Only HC core volunteers were invited. Many attended, with some travelling from over 1000 km away to help solve the ever growing problems in HC and to address the lack of motivation after the manifesto was turned down. Two HCvol founders, Matthias and Marco, took part in the meeting. Two and a half days of heated debate revealed that there was no room for compromise from Veitï¿½s side, as he did not give in on any topic. At the end of the meeting, Veit finally accepted to consider an external audit of the finances. He set up a board of 5 people chosen by him, over which he would keep a veto right, to make strategical decisions. The board was explicitly not empowered to discuss finances or the possibilities of creating a new legal structure. Anything discussed in the board was to be kept confidential. He considered establishing a legal team to work on defining what would be the best statutes for HC and he talked about creating a page explaining his point of view on HC policy.
For some of the concerned volunteers this was not enough, and was unacceptable basis to solve the issues. For others it was movement in the right direction. Depsite the various reactions, none of the proposals and good intentions were implemented. The five person board had 1-2 skype conferences where nothing was achieved. After six months, the board was officially dissolved. Two future HCvol founders, Pierre-Charles and Marco, had been members of that board.
But there was still the hope that HC could evolve to become the organization that is worth its incredible members!
A group of highly involved HC volunteers decided to set up HCvol, in order to build a space of communication for volunteers, independent from the owner's control, as they felt he prevented communication between volunteers. This made it very difficult to discuss his decisions, and whether they were good or bad for the HC project. The founders of HCvol considered it unacceptable that Veit had blocked many issues for so long, despite whole teams disagreeing with his vision.
Is HC Veit's thing?
The fundamental motivation behind the creation of HCvol was to answer the question of whether HC belonged to Veit. The obvious conclusion was that HCshould belong to the volunteers it was felt that ownership, if not the members. Consequently it was felt that HC should be governed by a legal non-profit organization composed of thosewho built HC. It was felt that the outcome of the current structure meant one founder benefiited from volunteer labour. Suggestions were made to rebuild trust between the founder and the volunteer base, and create a structure that added legal protection aginst HC going for-profit.
HCvol proposals a new transperent and democratic organization to Veit. These proposals were rejected. HCvol founders were threatened with being kicked out from HC, as it was alleged that their only aim was to gain personal power.
It was felt by many in HCvol that an alternative had to be built. Through word of mouth, new volunteers had found their way to HCvol and started to use the forum extensively for all kinds of discussions.
In October 2006, HCvol became an official organisation, committed to democracy and transparency. A group of nine volunteers (claudiaab, coroa, gotte, hkroger, jeanyves, junglerover, matthias, pietshah and thorgal67) worked hard to set up HCvol as an organization. Eight of them constituted the first ï¿½Board of Directorsï¿½ (BoD), whose role it was to meet weekly in order to take any needed decisions, to organize HCvol so that volunteers could work well, and to make sure no abuse took place. As soon as HCvol will contain a bigger group of volunteers, there will be a General Assembly and a BoD will be elected by HCvol members. The statutes were similar to the ones of the european association Hospitality Club. The european association Hospitality Club was founded in December 2004 and was a basis for the organisation of the hospitality exchange camp in Monnai, that happened in July 2005.
In the middle of the month, there was a (last?) big hesitation. Wasn't the whole project a huge waste? Wasn't there any way to work on a really new project with HCvol, but including HC members? The BoD suggested to Veit that HCvol develop a project on a new website using the pre-existing HC database. In return, the HCvol members would to maintain the HC site for a limited period of time. The HCvol site would have acted like a test site which HC members could use. Veit refused any idea of sharing the database.
Core volunteers met in Heidelberg, Germany to discuss Travelbook, the source code that would serve as basis for the first BW blog, gallery and forum.
BeVolunteer and its project BeWelcome (2007 ï¿½ open end)
HCvol is renamed as BeVolunteer (www.bevolunteer.org), the non-profit organization dedicated to its new project, BeWelcome. The former HCvol website is still in use, but now called BeVolunteer. The website is used to organise the volunteering around the project BeWelcome, main tools are the wiki and a discussion forum. The majority of the topics touching the creation of that new platform are being discussed among the volunteers, decisions are taken and all the teams and routines are set.
Our first project BeWelcome is launched in a bï¿½ta phase and the first members start signing up.
The first General Assembly is held in Brussels, Belgium. 24 volunteers approved the new statutes
Olivier from Marseille, France, joined BeWelcome as our 1,000th member
BeWelcome has become the first non-profit travel/hospitality website based entirely on open source software.
A new version of BeWelcome is on-line. the Forum and Search pages show major improvements
The 1st BeWelcome Volunteer (un)Conference is held in Antwerp, Belgium.
28 members from 6 countries joined, including members of the Board of Directors of BeVolunteer as well as newer and old-school volunteers alike. Workshops were organized, friendships were made and a splendid time was guaranteed for all The Volunteer Blog has more info, including a video http://blogs.bevolunteer.org/
In the meanwhile, the 2400th members of BeWelcome was accepted ;-)
Autumn 2008Interview with Felix
In France one of the first guidebooks dedicated to Hospitality Exchange is published. It is called "VOYAGER presque GRATUIT" and contains a couple of pages about BeWelcome. One BeVolunteer member, thorgal67, even contributed a funny article about stereotypical Hospex Travelers.
BeWelcome is available in 29 languages and 50% of the site is translated in Esperanto.
Volunteer Cafï¿½s (virtual chat conferences) become a major tool for BW member empowerment.
The 3rd General Assembly is held in Grimbergen (near Brussels), Belgium.
The website gets a new look and member Subaculture introduces Pledgebank to raise money and awareness for BeWelcome.
Groups are introduced on BW which boosts the forum participation.
Member tgoorden organises another Unconference in Antwerp, Belgium, and BeWelcome offers its members the possibility to create wiki pages. A BeWelcome Shop is also set up.
A collaboration between Servas and BeWelcome is explored. Over the next months several meetings are organized but no formal agreement is reached.
The 4th General Assembly is held online in Rennes, France, where BeVolunteer has its official seat.
Another meet-up for BW volunteers in Antwerp, Belgium.
The 5th General Assembly is held in Grimbergen, Belgium Intense discussions on the first day of BeVolunteer General Assembly 2012 in Halle, Germany
Intense discussions on the first day of BeVolunteer General Assembly 2012 in Halle, Germany
September to October 2012
The 6th General Assembly is held in two parts: one online part and another real-life meeting in Halle/Saale (Germany).
At present, Bewelcome is very much alive and kicking. With its non-profit, democratic and transparant approach it has been attracting many members from other hospitality networks who may have been disillusioned with the direction their community is taking.
At present (March 2013) there are 50 BV members, consisting of about 50% original members and 50% newcomers. In the past most of them came from Europe, but that is rapidly changing. Pablobd for example is from Argentina and works on the BoD and is translation coordinator. Another new member is Jsfan, located in Australia and very active as both a developer and a forum moderator.
At the request of BW members the tradition of Unconferences is picked up again. Guaka hosts the first Brussels Unconference and important decisions are taken to improve the forum, groups and decision system.
As of March 2013 BeWelcome is the 3rd largest hospex community with more than 35,000 members and a website that is, with varying degrees of translation, available in over 40 languages.