*This post was adapted from an email sent out to supporters and subscribers. Sign up for emails here.
Dear allies and supporters,
We are writing to provide an update on events since our last email.
It has been 15 days since the full Board of Directors of EWB met to discuss the issues of systemic harassment, discrimination, bullying, health and safety issues, and mismanagement. It has been 13 days since we were told we’d get an initial update.
It has been 38 days since the Total System Failure (TSF) team met with several members of the Board of Directors and it has been 115 days since Chelsey Rhodes made known issues of harassment, bullying, and discrimination towards her and many others in EWB. Chelsey also made it clear to the Board that the retaliations toward her by past and present EWB leadership are ongoing and of a very serious nature.
Updates (or…lack thereof)
To date, there have been no apologies and no actions taken by EWB in terms of accountability or repairing harm to its members and community. There has been no independent inquiry put in place with enough scope to address these issues. The report by Derek Evans commissioned in January to look at this issue and EWB’s policies/practices has not been released as promised, even though the Board Chair Cameron Charlebois promised stakeholders it would be released in April.
Just last weekend, an “EWBetter” session was held at the EWB leadership retreat in Ottawa, run by CEO Boris Martin and the executive team. Chapter members and the TSF team raised concerns about his involvement with this session to the Board of Directors in advance of this session, and a Board member promised that Boris would not be involved. Then, it was facilitated as usual with Boris at the helm, even though he is implicated in the very issues he was leading a discussion on.
Director Prateek Awasthi was also a lead organizer and facilitator at the retreat, and at the EWBetter session. His explicit lies and slander towards Chelsey were made known to the board on April 6, and we asked that he be removed from all conversations on this topic.
(In fact we repeatedly asked that both Boris and Prateek are put on leave and properly investigated. This obviously has not happened.)
According to some of those present at the EWBetter session, the executive team continued to perpetuate harm and replicate deflection tactics in an attempt to avoid telling the truth, apologizing, or taking responsibility.
Several of the chapters went on to announce a boycott of the leadership retreat and EWB Canada in general (see below for further information and links to their statements).
We received information that chapter leaders who decided to boycott were the subject of (often misogynistic) backlash by those who remained at the retreat, which underscores the systemic nature of this issue and the organizational culture which has fostered these harmful patterns.
A little bit of progress
This weekend Erica Lee Garcia, founder of “Engineers of Tomorrow” and former EWB Venture Lead wrote a powerful piece on the abusive nature of NDAs in EWB to cover up sexual abuse and harassment. On Mother’s Day, upon learning of the current issues and stance of EWB, the mother of an EWB alumni decided to cancel her long-standing monthly donation to EWB, and posted her email to the organization as an open letter on our website.
Major Safety Concerns & Negligence
As outlined in our most recent post, Derek Evan’s report of the safety of the Junior Fellow (JF) program was due to be delivered to stakeholders (notably, chapter presidents and JFs themselves) in April, before the JFs left. On Friday, May 11, the Junior Fellows left Canada and are now on overseas placement, without having read the contents of this report.
To date, we still continue to receive disclosures and anonymous information about systemic abuses of power, financial mismanagement, and discrimination/ harassment/ abuse within EWB; as well as a general and pervasive fear to raise these issues publicly or with the organization due to an expectation of retaliation (a fear that is not unfounded).
We also believe that, regardless of what is in the report, it has been proven even in the past few months that EWB is not equipped to deal with issues of health and safety or interpersonal harm (especially for overseas staff and volunteers). This inability is exacerbated by the fact that they are currently in crisis and experiencing boycotts by their own members. Given that the Board of Directors was briefed on the seriousness of these issues on April 6th and still no action has been taken, we believe that EWB management and EWB Board of Directors have actively, negligently, and knowingly put Junior Fellows at risk by sending them overseas.
The Broader Picture and #aidtoo
The issues of systemic abuses of power at EWB reflect issues that are present in many supposedly progressive organizations, including the aid/ development sector. The Total System Failure project has always aimed to discuss this broader context of harm and the persistence of institutional violence even by groups ostensibly committed to social change and humanitarianism.
We have seen well-respected organizations like Oxfam and Save the Children deal with similar scandals in the past few years. The thing about whistleblowing and an ensuing scandal is that they are mostly preventable; as someone recently pointed out, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” It’s been rather depressing to watch how EWB has learned nothing from its predecessors, replicating the worst impulses of the powerful and refusing to be transparent or truthful, and refusing to fix the problems. This, more than the original misconduct, is what has destroyed the trust of the community and made them feel unsafe and betrayed.
Positive change cannot come from silence, lies, and cover-up. Change comes from a fearless accounting of the truth, a thorough airing of grievances, a commitment to hear the people harmed and believe them and protect their safety and support their healing (including supporting them in material ways), and an unwavering commitment to tackling the myriad of issues that led such abuses to occur unchecked for so many years.
As practice for our upcoming podcast, Chelsey recorded audio of an essay she had written “Abuse and Men on the so-called ‘Left'”. She wants to make it clear that the harassment she experienced at EWB caused an injury that still impacts her 8 years later, and that EWB’s investigatory findings of her treatment as ‘not harassment’ demonstrates either wilful ignorance or wild incompetence. She also wants to make clear that such incidents are not uncommon, and are suffered disproportionately by those with less power and privilege, who have even less access to justice.
Click below to listen to the piece.
So what do we do now?
The past few months we have seen EWB members (current and past) taking the plunge to stand up to the organization.
We want to reiterate that that’s what’s working. 20 minutes of people standing up for what’s important.
Chelsey has been yelling into the void for almost a decade, and what has made people finally pay attention to this issue is people willing to take a stand and stand in solidarity alongside us. Every alumni, member, president, or chapter that posts a public statement/sends an email/makes a phone call/boycotts/cancels their donation, or lets the head office/board of directors know they’re angry, has had tangible impact. That’s a huge part of the reason why we are where we are today. We need this to continue. Now is the time. We are asking you to talk to EWB (who, yes, are probably your friends) and let them know that what is happening is wrong. The fact that people in this organization are your friends is more reason to tell them you’re disappointed in what’s happening.
Arguably more than we do.
Here’s a few things that you can do right now:
Chapter members across the country are continuing to boycott the organization. Three statements have been posted publicly, and we are aware of 6 more chapter statements of boycott in the works. We encourage other chapters to join those who have bravely led the way:
A template letter to the board of directors has been created and you can send an email to the board & EWB HR, demanding these concerns be taken seriously.
EWB chapter presidents and alumni are drafting a letter for the community to sign on to. We will share that with you later this week.
And, as always, you can:
- Share our posts on facebook + twitter
- Contact others in your EWB network and share this website, and/or send an email to the board.
- If you have a story you’d like to share anonymously, you can submit it through our anonymous form on our website
If you want to do something else or want to do something bigger, but can’t think of what to do/how to leverage your power….Get in touch. We have lots of ideas.
Thanks for your support, and we’ll be in touch soon.
Total System Failure Team