Follow-up from the Board Meetings: Following the EWB Board Meeting on April 29-30th, we have been awaiting decisions on how they will be proceeding on the issues that have been raised. We were told that decisions would be forthcoming immediately following those meetings. However, on the evening of April 30th we were told to wait another 48hrs for news. 48hrs went by and we were then told that the Board had still made no decisions. On Thursday, May 2 we were told they were apparently meeting again this weekend, May 4th and 5th, and would give updates on Sunday (72 hrs later). This process from the board this week echoes the promise of a public statement in support that was supposed to be released within days of our April 6th meeting with the board of directors. The release was continuously pushed back “48hrs” until today (27 days later) still no public statement of support exists. We hope to hear from the board about decisions that have been made tomorrow, but at this point do not feel optimistic. 

Simultaneously, a few other things are unfolding.  EWB chapter members and advocacy team members are at a “leadership retreat” in Ottawa this weekend, May 4-6th.  Also, Junior Fellows (JFs) who are meant to be sent on overseas placements have recently travelled to the EWB National Office in Toronto to undertake their training.

There continues to be a complete lack of coherent or transparent communication from the National Office or Board of Directors regarding what is going on at EWB.  There has been no public acknowledgment or apology for their harmful and damaging responses so far, and no communication on how they plan to address the multitude of issues that have been raised by the Total System Failure team and others.

The continued lack of action by the EWB leadership has led the membership to take matters into their own hands. Today, the McGill University chapter announced via a letter posted on their Facebook page  that it would be boycotting the leadership retreat this weekend, cancelling sending any funds to National Office, and refusing to participate in the upcoming advocacy campaign– and that they would continue their resistance until their demands are met.

The demands are in line with what has been discussed by the Total System Failure team, and are also in line with general best practices for institutional response to sexual harassment and discrimination:

1) Ban Non-Disclosure Agreements within EWB in relation to sexual harassment or discrimination

2) Open an independent investigation on the harassment case which occurred in Malawi in 2011, and any other cases, including:

  • The role of the Board of Directors in dealing with this situation
  • The historical and recent role of EWB employees in regards to this situation
  • The role of CEO, Boris Martin, within this situation

3) Publicly apologize on behalf on the entire organization for the complete failure in dealing with situations of sexual harassment and discrimination

4) Immediately establish a counseling fund which women and survivors on staff have access to.

We hope that others join the McGill chapter in their clear and powerful statement, and continue to hold the organization accountable to its own stated values and standards.

To be clear, the issues that have been communicated to the Board a month ago (we met with them April 6-7th in Montreal) are very serious.  Since then, nothing has been done.  Many reports of EWB organizational abuses were communicated privately to the Total System Failure team through our website and direct communications, and many of those were passed on to the Board while taking care to protect the anonymity of those reporting.  Those reports include: multiple acts of bullying, assault, oppression, and harassment/discrimination on the grounds of sex and race; men in leadership positions targeting interns, students, or subordinates for sexual harassment and sexual abuses of power; assaults and harassment of chapter members both in Canada and overseas; financial misconduct including bribery; serious safety issues and lack of support for overseas workers; institutional retaliations which have included campaigns to silence or malign the character of those who have raised these issues and other important organizational critiques; and institutional cover-up of those issues stretching back years- including the use of NDAs to silence victims.  The effects on those targeted have included traumatic injury, career derailment, and years of recovery.  Some of these reports implicate members of the leadership team of EWB, including current CEO Boris Martin.

The board continues to tell us they do not have authority to make big decisions to remedy this issue without full board meetings and complete buy-in from the team. However, other executive decisions have been made continuously by both the board of directors and staff that have perpetuated harm and involved hiring PR firms and lawyers on quick timelines. In January, the EWB Board commissioned Derek Evans (former Executive Director of CUSO International) to do a review of EWB’s policies and practices, and their response to Chelsey Rhodes’ harassment report in 2013, the process in reaching a settlement with non-disclosure agreement, and their overall treatment of her during her employment.  There are concerns about the independence of this report given Derek Evans’ ties to the current Board Chair, Cameron Charlebois.  The Board has not released this new report to Chelsey nor the original investigation report from 2013, despite both reports being triggered by her disclosures and despite repeated requests to see both reports.  On February 22, 2019 on a call with chapter presidents, Cameron Charlebois said “[this report] will be shared with our stakeholders including you”. They have not made Evans’ report available to the membership or the public, even though it contains information on the safety/ feasibility of the Junior Fellowship program and the overall ability of EWB to fulfill its duty of care to its staff and volunteers.

The JFs who are about to be sent overseas are in the awful position of relying on an organization in chaos to supposedly protect their safety and support them.  Meanwhile, there are ongoing and un-investigated revelations of serious ethical breaches and abuses by the leadership– including serious harms done to their own staff and volunteers which have been denied and covered up.  The JFs (as well as staff, fellows, chapters, overseas partners, funders, and membership) have a right to know the contents of this recent report and make an informed decision about whether to continue in their placements, and whether to continue to engage with or support EWB.  This report should be released to them immediately as well as posted publicly in its entirety.

We will continue to push EWB to do the right thing, and to push the entire sector to address these issues with transparency, courage, and integrity– and to start building cultures and structures of accountability.  These types of abuses of power have been excused and ignored for long enough.

Thanks to all those who are acting in solidarity and pushing for change, and let’s keep going!

What you can do:

Don’t hesitate to reach out at any time,

The Total System Failure Team (Chelsey, Alex, Johnny)