EWB’s “Unknown Knowns”: A Round-Up of Lies, Denial, Manipulation, and Misogyny

*by Chelsey Rhodes

In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld made a silly statement in response to a question on links between Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, that continues to be quoted in business and policy spheres today:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

The concept of “unknown unknowns” is used in strategic planning and project management, and has even been used as an engineering concept, and refers to the unknowable risk factors that you can’t foresee or imagine that could sink a project or lead to catastrophe. This has been shortened to ‘unk unks.’

This has been running through my head a lot lately in relation to Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) and their antics since January.  EWB seems determined to keep serious issues in the ‘unknown unknown’ category– a sort of ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ in relation to pretending that they don’t have an overwhelming crisis on their hands regarding abuses of power, harassment, discrimination, and serious health and safety breaches.

What is really happening, though, when an institution engages in outright denial and defensiveness, ignores serious whistleblowing reports, and retaliates against survivors in order to protect their own image and reputation, is that they create a fourth (and very sinister) category: the Unknown Knowns.

I surmised that this fourth category, the “unknown knowns”, are the things that deep down we know, but pretend we don’t know in order to serve various political or psychological purposes.  In doing a quick google search I found that the philosopher Slavoj Zizek has already pointed out this fourth category, stating that Unknown Knowns are the “disavowed beliefs, suppositions or obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.”

Why do institutions try to pretend away an abuse and harassment crisis? Why do individuals at the helm of those institutions try to distort things, lie, and go into deep, deep denial about basic facts and reality? Do they have Stockholm syndrome? Are they in the throes of a cult-like group delusion?

Taking known facts and trying to force them back into the shadows where they remain unknowable and undiscussable is a central tactic of corrupt, power-hungry, narcissistic, misogynistic leaders around the world. See Trump’s nods to ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, and his constant lies and distortions. The utility of these tactics is that they create psychological exhaustion, an air of plausible deniability, and a fog of confusion in hopeful followers– who would rather not do the work to investigate properly and correct them.  It’s much easier to go back about their business believing everything is ‘fine.’

(I’m already exhausted by writing this post).

EWB has been utilizing these dissembling tactics, aggressively, since January and well before that. This is being led by the executive team and the Board, and their various PR people and lawyers, who are probably individually fine upstanding people who have nevertheless pursued abhorrent, unethical tactics that have been damaging to all on the receiving end (staff, members, stakeholders; and especially, survivors).

Let’s go through the recent lies, half truths, distortions, and general bullshit behaviour carried out by the EWB Board and Executive Team, chiefly by Boris Martin (CEO), Prateek Awasthi (Director of Policy), Shivani Patel (VP Operations), Cameron Charlebois (former Board Chair), David Enriquez (Director of Fellowships), Miriam Hird-Younger (Board member), Rebecca Kresta (new Board Chair), and various other staff members. The leadership team who created this mess and then lied about it from 2011-2013, and onwards, included George Roter (former CEO), Mark Abbott (executive team), Boris Martin (executive team), Mike Kang (my ex-boss), as well as their friend/ lawyer Russell Groves (former Director Overseas Sending):

-In response to my public claims in January, EWB claimed to multiple people that the harassment report I made in 2012 was independently investigated and that it was unbiased and done properly. In fact, the investigation (if I can call it that) was done by Russell Groves, who was Director of Overseas Sending at EWB for 5 years. In the EWB publication “Good Luck and Don’t Have Sex”, Russell is described helping start up EWB, working 40hrs volunteering on top of his day job alongside the founders George Roter and Parker Mitchell. On page 80, it states, “Russ built the backbone of EWB’s overseas selection and training program. Now in law school to pursue a new avenue of working for social justice, Russ looks back on EWB and describes it as magic.” [emphasis mine]

-I’m not sure it’s necessary to point out that someone who helped found an organization, worked there for 5 years in a leadership capacity, and subsequently developed magical thinking about said organization, is not ‘unbiased’ or ‘independent’… Trying to state that Russell Groves was an independent, unbiased investigator was a bald-faced lie told by the executive team who retained him at the time– George Roter, Boris Martin, and Mark Abbott.

-In 2013, George Roter (former CEO), tried to tell me that Russell Groves was experienced in conducting harassment investigations. He was fresh out of law school so I’m not sure how that’s possible, and it fairly quickly became clear that he had no idea what he was doing and zero expertise on sexual harassment or gender discrimination. So, ‘Russell totally knows what he is doing’ was a lie, amongst many lies told by George that continue to this day.

-EWB has recently stated multiple times on the record that I refused to participate in the harassment investigation. That is a lie. In fact, I demanded a competent, independent investigator i.e. not their personal friend who used to work there. EWB refused. Then I demanded written questions as I was traumatized and did not want to speak directly to Russell, or any man at EWB for that matter. They refused to provide written questions, then sent me a letter saying the harassment investigation was complete and had found no harassment. The investigation therefore did not include my testimony and I’m not sure an investigation was done at all or who they spoke to. EWB continues to state this investigation was done fairly and properly– a rather pathetic lie.

-Cameron Charlebois, former Board Chair, conducted multicontinental phone calls that were recorded, where he stated that the review conducted by Derek Evans and Colleen Dunlop had found that my case was handled properly and fairly, and that the issue was closed and would not be reopened. There are several levels of lying here, but the main issue is that we don’t know what Derek Evans and Colleen Dunlop really concluded because the EWB Board continues to conceal the report including the entire section regarding my case and how it was handled. If it was handled fine, why hide these findings?

-Rebecca Kresta, Board Chair, promised a public apology by EWB within 10 days of our April 6/7th meetings. She also clearly stated in those meetings “I believe you.” No apology has materialized, so that was a lie. It also does not appear that she actually ‘believes me’, which would require believing that I was harassed and that EWB deliberately covered it up. “I believe you” is an empty platitude offered by people who want to believe survivors are telling the truth, but don’t want to believe that anyone did anything wrong (the mental gymnastics required here are quite astounding).

-Rebecca Kresta, Board Chair, is unable to give a reason why she is concealing the report. When pressed about this at our meeting on the weekend and asked why EWB did not release the recommendations made by Derek Evans regarding his review of my case, she said that Derek Evans did not make any recommendations on that portion of his review. This seems a ridiculous assertion and is likely a lie.

-Rebecca Kresta, Board Chair, and Cameron Charlebois, former Board Chair, have recently stated that Boris Martin removed himself from this case. Cameron previously said that Boris removed himself from the case in January (he didn’t), and Rebecca recently said that Boris removed himself from my case in 2012 (he didn’t).  Both of those things are lies. Boris has not only spoken to multiple people about this in closed door meetings and phone calls, he has facilitated sessions about it with the membership in 2013 and again in May. Boris was also named in my original harassment report and was never investigated. Either Boris is lying and the EWB Board is falling for it, or the Board is lying on his behalf.

-In 2013 the EWB executive team refused to provide me the harassment report. They informed me that they had a policy saying that harassment reports are kept in the executive team (which at the time consisted of George Roter, Boris Martin, and Mark Abbott).  When I asked to see that policy they could not produce it, so this was likely a lie– but it would be easy enough for someone internally to look back at the polices from that time. The new leadership of EWB (with Boris now at the helm) continue to refuse to show me the harassment report (if one exists… has anyone honestly ever seen a 500pg harassment report?).

-Boris Martin, in collaboration with his executive team and the lawyer from 2013 (his pal Russell Groves, still apparently helping double down on this mess), presided over an announcement at the AGM in January, read out by Shivani Patel (always get a woman to do your dirty work!) that I “chose not to participate” in the harassment investigation, and that EWB paid me a settlement to “help with my financial troubles and not to compensate the damage done.” Those were outright, insidious lies, and we’ve now obtained an audio recording of Shivani reading out those lies to hundreds of people. First of all, EWB paid me a general damages settlement, and second of all, organizations do not hand out money when their former staff are having unrelated ‘financial troubles’- if they do, I encourage everyone to ask EWB for help with your financial troubles!

Anyway, we know that Russell Groves helped craft this statement because Prateek Awasthi told us in writing.

-The executive team then decided to forbid/block/censor all questions on the topic at the AGM. Probably a good call given their penchant for disgusting (and blatantly defamatory) lies.

-Miriam Hird-Younger, Board member, said in a closed door meeting at xChange conference that I’m saying these things because I’m mentally ill, and ‘she does this.’ A particularly vicious, victim-blaming, ableist, gross, discriminatory, and dangerous lie, that ticks the boxes of: breaching my privacy, attempting to discredit me by citing medical information she has no direct knowledge of, defaming me, suggesting I should not be believed, suggesting people with disabilities should not be believed, and likely constitutes both disability and sex discrimination (as those often intersect- see the ‘crazy/ hysterical woman’ trope that has lasted several millennia).

-Cameron Charlebois, former Board Chair, commissioned his old buddy Derek Evans to do another ‘independent’ review of EWB’s handling of my case, and more generally of their policies and practices (it is not clear how anyone thought the optics of this would be good given the original problem was a bunch of dudes getting their most trusted dude to handle a gender issue they were implicated in). Some cursory googling revealed that Cameron was Board Chair at CUSO when Evans was CEO. When put on the spot, Cameron continued to proclaim Evans was totally independent and that this was not a conflict of interest. These lies are getting tiresome, fellas.

 

Evans and Charlebois, clearly barely knowing each other

 

-Prateek Awasthi and Cameron Charlebois both promised -ON THE RECORD- that Derek Evans’ report would be provided to stakeholders in April. This was a lie. This report continues to be concealed despite repeated demands that it be released publicly, despite EWB’s public committments to ‘transparency’ and ‘Admitting Failure’, and despite sector best practices and basic ethical principles that suggest humanitarian organizations should not be concealing abuse and harassment.

-Shivani Patel and David Enriquez both sent written communications committed to being TRANSPARENT about the findings of Derek Evans’ review– which included a review into how my specific case was handled.  EWB continues to conceal those findings, and will not clearly state why they are withholding them. Shivani and David also both stated in those emails that the investigation was completed in 2013 and “found no employment harassment.” EWB is now in meta-lying territory.

David Enriquez email April 5th

-The findings of Derek Evans’ review were also promised by Board Chair Cameron Charlebois ON THE RECORD to be given to chapters and Junior Fellows (JFs) before the fellows left on their placements in May, since the contents of the review concerns their health and safety. This was a lie. EWB concealed this report from the JFs, including concealing the recommendation that the JF program be suspended altogether. 

-Prateek Awasthi told a worried member that I filed ‘lawsuits’ against EWB. That was a blatant lie and was intended to discredit me.

-Prateek Awasthi said that I had been contacted by Boris Martin (CEO), Cameron Charlebois, and several lawyers in an attempt to engage, and that I refused to speak to any of them. That was a bunch of lies, again an attempt to discredit me. No one from EWB had contacted me or attempted to speak to me.

-Boris Martin has not spoken to me or attempted to contact me since 2011. In response to a request that he attend meetings this past weekend in Toronto (with myself, Alex Fox, EWB Board, and our respective lawyers), Rebecca Kresta (Board Chair) told us that they decided with Boris that he would not attend because the issues did not concern him.  Rebecca also just announced that Boris Martin will now be attending member phone calls tonight and tomorrow, because the issues concern management decisions.

-At the meetings this past weekend, EWB Board representatives Rebecca Kresta, Manissa Patel, and Kaitlyn Gillelan acted like they were hearing the disclosures of nearly a decade of concealed abuses and misconduct at EWB for the first time. Their lawyer literally said ‘this is news to us.’  We actually met with Rebecca Kresta and former Board Chair Cameron Charlebois on April 6/7th in Montreal and told them almost the exact same list of disclosures (with a few added since then), which Cameron described as ‘a powerful act of whistleblowing’ and was so shocked that he remarked ‘I don’t know if this organization deserves to exist.” Cameron and Rebecca promised to pass the info on to the rest of the Board. It is unclear if that happened, if they forgot, or just didn’t care.

-Derek Evans was also present for April 6th meeting in Montreal, at my request. He listened to all of those same disclosures, which he may or may not have included in his report. Leaving those disclosures out would call his own professional ethics and diligence into question. In any case we don’t know because EWB continues to conceal the Evans report.

8 of the 13 Board members resigned subsequent to learning of my disclosures, and receiving the results of Derek Evans’ review. EWB refuses to state the reasons for those resignations, and the resigned Board members have been silent. In a recent phone call, I asked Rebecca Kresta (new Board Chair) why the Board members resigned, and she replied, “for personal reasons.” That was clearly a lie.

-EWB assured us that Boris Martin would not be communicating about these issues to members. In May, he attended a ‘EWBetter’ session at a member retreat, also attended and facilitated by Shivani Patel and Prateek Awasthi.  This was after Rebecca Kresta promised me that Boris and other members of the executive would not be communicating about these issues to the membership- yet another lie.

-Miriam Hird-Younger, Board Member and former EWB staff, in 2013 sent out an email internally (later forwarded to me) and cc’ed my ex-boss who abused me (he had been promoted and was involved in the organizational response to ‘the Chelsey problem’) and called me ‘negative’ and ‘deconstructive’ and insinuated that the issues I was raising were not accurate.

-Rebecca Kresta, the new Board Chair, has tried to tell me repeatedly that Boris Martin had removed himself from my case in 2012. In 2013 Boris Martin facilitated a session at a team retreat with my ex boss who he had promoted, about what to do about ‘the Chelsey problem.’ Since January he has been witnessed telling people that my claims were without merit and that if people knew what really happened they’d see I was lying.

-Shivani Patel, VP Operations, attended that same closed-door meeting in January and said that she had read ‘every word’ of the 500pg harassment investigation report (?!) and my claims were not credible. Prateek Awasthi (Director of Policy) also stated he had read the report. Not sure when they squeezed in that light reading or why they thought that was appropriate to share. EWB has hidden that report from me for 6 years and ongoing, and I’m not sure it exists– how did Russell Groves manage to write 500 pages of findings for an ‘investigation’ in which he never interviewed the complainant i.e. me? Not sure why Shivani and Prateek thought it was okay or appropriate to broadcast the contents of that report to random chapter members. Shivani, Prateek, and the rest of those present: breaking the NDA, breaching my privacy, and lying. Boris Martin (CEO) and Miriam Hird-Younger (Board member- still active) also present for that bunch of lies.

-Despite a veritable shitstorm of traumatizing and retraumatizing behaviour aimed at denying the fact that abuse has been carried out by men in leadership positions and then concealed, EWB continues to proclaim that it is pursuing a ‘survivor-centred’ response. This is a lie, unless they think this means putting the survivors at the centre, pushing them to the ground, and then getting everyone to stomp on them over and over.

-EWB continues to see no conflict between proclaiming their ‘survivor-centred response’, and also that I was not harassed, i.e. did not survive anything.  This is one of many examples of Orwellian doublespeak, which also includes EWB proclaiming themselves respectful (while being constantly disrespectful), transparent (while concealing important information), and following my requests (while refusing to do them). Words do not mean things, apparently.

-The biggest lie of all, of course, is that I was not actually harassed in 2011. EWB continues to double down on this lie, over and over and over. George Roter (former CEO) remains so convinced of the innocence and wonderfulness of my ex-boss Mike Kang, that he not only promoted him at EWB after absolving him of any wrongdoing, he recently hired Mike Kang to work on a gender project at his new company, Mozilla (you cannot even make this shit up). Mike Kang previously included this on his website under ‘portfolio’ and the project title “Strengthening diversity in Mozilla’s open source communities, but appears to have removed it/ made his website private. That’s okay, we have screenshots. Mike now works on peacebuilding and conflict resolution at Reos Partners, because that also makes sense. His current employers have also blocked me- because they are world-class conflict intervenors, and everyone is very mature around here.

Mike Kang has recently made his entire website private

-These men: Boris Martin, Mark Abbott, George Roter, Russell Groves, Mike Kang, Prateek Awasthi (who appear fully grown but without ever actually having grown up) have variously ignored me, insulted me, tried to shut me up with a NDA, blocked me on Twitter, attempted to triangulate people against me, mobilized tens of thousands (or more- probably in the hundreds of thousands) of EWB charitable funds to try to discredit me, hired multiple lawyers and a PR firm, and appear to be in almost complete denial. It appears to be easier for men with misogyny problems to destroy an entire organization, causing collateral damage to everyone around, rather than simply tell the truth and apologize.

-To be continued… there’s more. Lots more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast Episode 2: “Should EWB Exist? (Part II): A System of Abuse”

*Podcast now available on googleplay, iTunes, and podcast apps like Castbox.

Should EWB Exist? (Part II): A System of Abuse

CW: abuse, institutional violence

SUMMARY

As the philosopher Sara Ahmed notes, “The experience of identifying and challenging abuses of power teaches us about power.”

Aakhil Lakhani and Chelsey Rhodes continue their conversation with a discussion of how a culture and system of abuse can emerge in an organization, fostered by self-absorbed leadership, lack of accountability mechanisms, and then enabled and re-inscribed by passive participants and followers (who become complicit in the abuse).

In this conversation they begin to map out the shape of institutional violence at Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), from persistent interpersonal harm and widespread silencing tactics, to issues around over-identification with an institution to the point of developing cult-like dynamics and becoming impervious to important critiques.

Together they begin to point to harassment, discrimination, and bullying as symptoms of deeper structural and ideological failures.

At 20:11 Aakhil hints at this, saying “the theology has been bad from the beginning.”

Guest: Aakhil Lakhani

Hosted by: Chelsey Rhodes

Musical theme: by Buda Bap Beats https://www.instagram.com/budabapbeats/

ÉTS chapter joins boycott of Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB)

 

In response to years of unaddressed harassment and discrimination emanating from the national headquarters of Engineers without Borders Canada (EWB), the student chapter at ÉTS (L’École de technologie supérieure, an engineering school in Montreal) has joined other university chapters across the country in boycotting the organization until they meet certain demands for transparency, apologies, accountability, and restitution to survivors.

Click on the link below to read their letter to the Board of Directors and National Office:

ETS_Open_Letter_EWB

 

 

An Open Letter to EWB’s New Board Chair, Rebecca Kresta

 

*this letter was submitted by Aakhil Lakhani, former EWB chapter president, JF, and office staff

Hi Rebecca,

I was interested to learn that you have taken on the leadership position on the board. I wanted to reach out with a little reminder and encouragement.

I distinctly remember your response and support when I came back from my JF placement after having been assaulted.

I am not here to assume that you haven’t learned and grown in the last 5 years. I am reminding you that every single year since 2013 there have been incidences of grievous harm to JFs. I am letting you know that even though I have distanced myself from the organization, EWBers come to me to disclose harms that have taken place within chapters, on overseas placements, and at national office.

This is a symptom. A symptom of an organization that victim blames its members to such a degree that they cannot find one beacon of safety within the organization.

Rebecca, please please stop protecting an institution at the expense of human beings.

I understand that our own experiences and traumas inform how we navigate the world. I am asking you to step out of your own truth and reality to see this from the perspective of the vulnerable youth whose mental and physical well-being you are exercising power over.

Rebecca, you are more than EWB. You can exist as a good person in the world without EWB. You do not need to hold on to power that is derived from white supremacy and the patriarchy to be valued and worthwhile.

You know what you need to do. Bring the JFs home. Sending you the courage to make the ethical decision.

Aakhil

Dear EWB: I Believe Survivors

 

*This post was submitted by Luna Taguchi, McGill University chapter member and former chapter president

CW: sexual harassment, workplace harassment, institutional retaliation

Hi everyone!

If you are reading this, you are either keen and staying updated with Total System Failure, or are relatively new and hoping to learn more about the situation. Welcome! I hope this short piece will help inform you, and encourage you to engage in the conversation that is happening around the abuse that is taking place in EWB.

Who are you, and why are you writing this?

My name is Luna, and I am a member and a former president at Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), McGill University Chapter. If you happen to know me, you would know how much impact EWB had on me, and how much I love the community I found at EWB.

For that reason, it was a shock to learn about allegations of harassment that EWB is facing, which I became aware of during EWB’s National Conference in January. Many community members raised questions about the situation, and asked what actions the organization would take to directly address the allegations. Despite the demands for transparent communications, EWB continues to stay silent. This has led to many members AND those outside of the organization to misunderstand or be uninformed about the situation.

I am still learning how to be a good ally, but I want to help survivors out by being one of the voices speaking up for them AND help others out by helping them feel less lost about the vast amount of information surrounding this issue.

TL; DR? It shouldn’t be a survivor’s job to have to retell their traumatic story and educate every single person they encounter so that people would believe them- they have been through enough. 

So… what happened???

A former member faced abuse by her supervisor during her overseas placement. EWB leadership mishandled the case and continues to do so, while continuously re-traumatizing the survivor.

Read more about the story here: http://www.totalsystemfailure.org/our-story/

What’s next?

The members are trying to hold the EWB leadership accountable, and are making demands to the organization to address the issues. Yet, the leadership have been staying silent for months now. After the xChange Conference that happened mid-January, the University Chapter Presidents did not hear back from the executives until late February, and communications consisted of a PR strategy to suggest the issues happened a long time ago and were resolved.  This was followed by another silence until EWB’s Spring Leadership Retreat that happened early May. Since the Spring Leadership Retreat, no update related to the matter has been released.

EWB refusing to communicate or address issues within its organization has left a disproportionate emotional burden on the members, who are unpaid volunteers, to handle the situation on their own, without having proper support from the organization. This is a clear evasion of responsibility by the leadership of EWB.

The abuse by those in power, the lack of transparency- these are all mere symptoms of larger systemic issues that the organization faces. Multiple people have now come out through this website about their own experience of harassment/ bullying in the organization. However, people don’t feel safe raising criticisms or coming forward with stories of abuse or misconduct publicly, and therefore we’ve asked EWB to put in place an independent inquiry so that people can feel comfortable reporting things.

TL;DR? We must let people who came out as a victim of the system lead the discussion around the systemic abuse/ harassment issues, and hold the leadership accountable for its actions.

How can we help?

While I, along with many in the EWB community, feel deeply disappointed and betrayed by the abuses of power at EWB, I want to make sure to note that EWB’s institutional misconduct DOES NOT speak for the entire EWB members, especially those in the community that are speaking up in allyship with the survivors. Open letters have been published from university chapters, namely at; McGill University, Concordia University, University of Alberta, and McMaster University. If you are a part of a University Chapter, I strongly encourage any other chapter leaders to follow their footsteps.  The organization is essentially bullying survivors systematically, and by actively not taking a stance, you also become complicit in the act.

Any organization is susceptible to institutional misconduct, and speaking up about the misconduct does not have to be an act “against the organization”. EWB can become a better and safer place for everyone if it is willing to confront its problematic qualities, but to do that we must be able to raise criticism about its treatment of people without feeling like it would lead to retaliation from the organization.

Lastly, the biggest support you can provide a survivor is by educating yourself on the issue, and by elevating their voice. Total System Failure is a platform created by a group of former community members who are trying to address the systemic issues I described in this piece. To stay in loop with them, sign up for their email updates and sign the letter of the support.

Thank you for the time you took to read this to be informed, and I hope that people will continue engaging with the matter with an open heart to speak up for the survivors.

Dear EWB: I believe survivors.

 

Why is EWB hiding Derek Evans’ Report?

*Actual photo of Boris Martin, CEO.*

In one of our last posts we included a transcript from a phone call between the EWB Board Chair Cameron Charlebois, EWB Director of Policy & Community Prateek Awasthi, and EWB chapter members.  In that call, both Charlebois and Awasthi assured members that the results of a review into EWB’s policies/ practices would be released to all stakeholders in April.

Despite repeated requests by members of EWB to release the report, EWB continues to conceal the results. They have not communicated with the membership or the public at all, maintaining a wall of silence and a lack of transparency around issues of systemic harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and cover-ups.

Due to extensive and ongoing ethical failures; and outright manipulation, dishonesty, and betrayal of the organization’s core values by the EWB leadership; the EWB chapters have taken the extraordinary step of boycotting the organization.  Discussions are happening across Canada about whether to sever ties with the organization totally.

Shivani Patel, VP Operations & Integration at EWB, wrote the following description of the scope of the review– which was commissioned in February and carried out by Derek Evans, former Executive Director of CUSO International:

“EWB has a responsibility to the members in our community, both past and present. And our approach needs to inspire confidence, as community members dedicate valuable time and effort to the organisation, and we need to prove that we deserve it. The safety and safeguarding of our EWB Fellows, staff and volunteers is of utmost priority. That is why, prompted by the allegations made on social media, the EWB Board of Directors has decided to launch:
  1. An independent legal review into the way EWB responded and investigated the allegations between 2011 and now (this was launched in Feb 2019)
  2. A full independent audit of EWB’s current safeguarding culture, policies and processes. The aim of this audit is to detect any flaws in our culture, processes and policies by examining how we are currently responding to current situations, and how we are safeguarding all those who work and volunteer for EWB. (this was launched in Feb 2019)

Here is the scope of work that the Board of Directors mandated to a third party, this work started at the beginning of Feb 2019. The audit is being led by a well-credentialed executive with experience with similar international organizations, Cuso International and Amnesty International Canada, as well as a partner at a labour and employment legal firm who regularly advises clients on policy development, employment contracts and labour relations. We are trying to understand the root causes, as well as on a systemic level.

  1. Conduct a fair, equitable and transparent inquiry into EWB’s conduct, responses, and practices in relation to the complaint;

  2. Assess the implementation of the recommendations of the 2013 report, and review subsequent relations between EWB and the Complainant;

  3. Review and evaluate the adequacy of EWB’s policy framework and personnel practices in Canada and Africa.

  4. Recommend policy, procedural and other changes that reflect best practices for Canadian and international development charities.

We expect the investigation to be completed by May 2019 and are committed to being transparent about the results. There will be a public statement from EWB providing more information to the community very soon.

Ms. Patel wrote these words in April. She reaffirmed the commitment to transparency that was espoused by Mr. Charlebois and Mr. Awasthi.  None of these people have kept their word.  Meanwhile Boris Martin, CEO, lurks in the background, refusing to come clean on his primary role in creating this sorry state of affairs, refusing to apologize, refusing to step down, preferring instead to have his organization’s charitable funds wasted on NDAs, PR firms, and lawyers.  Rebecca Kresta, who is on the Board of Directors, described the report contents as “scathing.”  Could this be why EWB is hiding it?  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even an engineer) to figure out what’s going on here.  For an organization that has spent its entire existence admonishing others in the sector to be transparent and “admit failures”, this is the height of hypocrisy.  This might be what the end of EWB looks like.

McMaster University Chapter Joins Boycott of EWB

*Link to original letter here

TO : Engineers Without Borders Canada Board of Directors

FROM : Engineers Without Borders McMaster Chapter

DATE : May 21, 2019

RE : Sexual violence within Engineers Without Borders Canada

We, as presidents and chapter executives, are dissatisfied with the response provided by the Board of Directors and National Office in response to the harassment cases, including but not limited to the sexual violence cases within the organization. Part of being with the organization and its mandate is to create change within the world that we currently live in.

Due to the recent upsetting news in regards to Engineers Without Borders Canada (“EWB Canada”) and the mishandling of sexual violence cases within the organization, the McMaster Chapter has decided to boycott against EWB Canada, which involves:

1) Refraining from sending any funds to National Office; and
2) Refraining from participating in the upcoming advocacy campaign; and
3) Refraining from sending a Junior Fellow to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Based on our knowledge of EWB, the Non-Profit Organizations (“NGO”) has a mission to create systems change in society. We have found our voices with the involvement of this organization and have felt empowered to do good, to create radical impact, and to have our voices heard. We have attended the first two days of the Spring Leadership Retreat (“SLR”) and are not impressed with the leadership of National Office in handling the tension and questions of the community members in regards to how EWB is handling the accusations of sexual violence against the organization. We echo the sentiments of the McGill Chapter, as outlined by their letter, “However, in relation to your misogynistic response to those in your organization who have had traumatic experiences tied to sexual violence and discrimination and have subsequently sought justice (but instead experienced backlash), we could not feel more disappointed and betrayed by you. What we have learned from EWB is that we cannot stand idly by when injustices are taking place, and that is the very attitude we are enacting in response to this case.” (McGill’s letter, May 4th, 2019)

The failure does not end there. Indeed, we have been recently made aware that one of your employees has faced sexual violence accusations that remain unaddressed and have not been investigated. Other reports of harassment and bullying have not been investigated and the people making these reports have been silenced, ignored, or pushed out of the organization. This is completely unacceptable, and frankly, illegal. (McGill’s letter, May 4th, 2019)

We are a student-led organization that is made up of extraordinary leaders that have values, beliefs, and integrity. By continuously dismissing and silencing individuals who face sexual harassment, bullying, intimidation, aggression, and abuse, EWB Canada is sending an awful, inappropriate message to survivors; those who speak out against injustice will face retaliation by the organization, including being ignored and disbelieved. Instances of this include the incident with Ms. Chelsey Rhodes and the Spring Leadership Retreat (“SLR”) which are discussed as follows.

In January 2019, Ms. Chelsey Rhodes, a survivor of sexual assault and harassment, came forward on Twitter asking the Board of Directors (“BOD”) of National Office to take action regarding the allegations and to do an external investigation, as well as lift her NDA and provide counselling. Shortly following the sexual violence allegations expressed by Ms. Rhodes, chapter presidents of 2018-2019 had a debrief with CEO of EWB Boris Martin, Director of Community Prateek Awasthi, and Board member Miriam Hird-Younger to discuss the issue after the Annual General Meeting. In the Annual General Meeting that occured in Montreal, Quebec of this year, the Board of Directors addressed the issue and reassured members of Engineers Without Borders (“EWB”) nationally that they will be committed to resolving the issue.

In May 2019, the Spring Leadership Retreat (“SLR”) held in Ottawa, Ontario encompasses Chapter Presidents, as well as Riding Captains. Three members of the McMaster Chapter attended this retreat as representatives. During the Retreat, many members of the community noticed that National Office was not being transparent in the way it was dealing with the situation, including but not limited to addressing the sexual assault allegations and creating a safe and welcoming environment for community members to address and speak about their concerns and opinions regarding this particular issue. Furthermore, on May 4, 2019, the McGill Chapter addressed these allegations and decided to boycott National Office. On May 6, 2019, during the SLR, there was a breakout session that was called EWBetter, organized by National Office, in which was supposed to be a safe space where members of the community are able to raise questions about the issue during the January 2019 conference regarding the sexual violence allegations. The CEO of EWB attended this session, without attending any of the previous sessions throughout the SLR. Following EWBetter, chapter presidents had a meeting later that night to discuss how to move forward with National Office and BOD.

The McMaster Chapter attending National Conference will be reviewed on a case-by case basis annually.

The decisions to attend or not to attend national conference decisions will be based on but not limited to:

1) Meaningful way to advance EWB, it’s goals and mandate; and
2) Meaningful way to reform policies, procedures, that relate to the general community, which include survivors and individuals who faced systematic human rights violation; and
3) Aligns with our values, beliefs, and integrity; and
4) An opportunity to harbour and engage in meaningful discussions amongst chapters with what is most concerning to us; and
5) Reviewing the actions taken by NO towards achieving the demands in the letter(s).

During national conference, there is the annual general meeting (“AGM”), being held where members of the community are able to provide agendas and things that are most concerning to them, and members of the community are able to vote accordingly on issues that impact them and their chapters.

The decision to attend or not to attend national conference will not be taken lightly, but the decision would be taken with the utmost fairness, thoroughness and will be communicated in writing to chapter executives and Engineers Without Borders Canada as soon as the information is readily and reasonably available.

The McMaster Chapter wholeheartedly commits towards building a more inclusive community, striving towards changing the world, addressing systemic issues, and creating systemic change in our society. The McMaster Chapter will continue to do such work in our local community, but will refuse to stay silent and compromise our beliefs, values, and integrity. The McMaster Chapter will continue to reach the goal of building an all-inclusive community, free of discrimination, sexual harassment, silencing tactics (i.e. the use of NDAs), mental health abuse, and human right violations.

The McMaster Chapter has six demands and once NO meets these demands will we then resume supporting EWB Canada.

1) Lift all existing NDAs between EWB and the survivors in relation to sexual harassment or discrimination and inhibit their use in the future.
2) Start an external independent investigation into:
a) Harassment case that occured in Malawi, Sub-Saharan Africa in 2011.
b) The role of CEO Boris Martin in regards to the sexual harassment allegations and what actions the CEO proposed NO to make.
c) Health and safety policies regarding the Junior Fellows and other overseas workers.
3) Provide a system to support survivors, including but not limited to:
a) Immediately establishing a counselling fund for survivors of any form of human rights violation, including but not limited to sexual harassment, discrimination, and mental health abuse as applicable by the Human Rights Code.
b) Appropriate reporting methods regarding sexual harassment, discrimination, and human rights violation as applicable by the Human Rights Code, which may include a confidential panel where complaints are risen and an investigation is made as applicable to the Human Rights Code.
c) Immediate counselling for survivors of any form of human rights violation, including but not limited to sexual harassment, discrimination, and mental health abuse as applicable by the Human Rights Code.
d) Start an external independent review of all current policies, which include but are not limited to sexual harassment, discrimination, and Junior Fellows.
4) Letter of assurance where EWB Canada states that it will not commit further breaches of the Human Rights Code.
5) Reform sexual violence, harassment and discrimination policies with input from survivors and reform Junior Fellow policies with input from current and past Junior Fellows.
6) Implement human rights training on accessibility, ableism, discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment to all NO Staff and volunteers on an annual basis.

Please be in touch if you require further information.

Cc: Engineers Without Borders McGill Chapter May 4, 2019, letter
Sarah Gonder, Co-President 2019-2020
Sana Ali, Co-President 2019-2020
Mohammad Abdulhussain, VP Community 2019-2020
Fabiola González Rios, Co-VP Leadership Development 2019-2020
Martina Amova, Co-VP Sustainability 2019-2020
Christine Suvaina, Co-VP Fundraising 2019-2020
Paul Tran, Co-VP International Advocacy 2019-2020
Almen Ng, Co-VP Global Engineering Conference 2019-2020
Satvik Bajaj, VP Finance 2019-2020
Kyle Fernandes, Co-VP Fundraising 2019-2020
Anonymous, McMaster Chapter Executive 2019-2020

Resources and Support:

We deeply appreciate that this process can be stressful and in consideration of this, I would like to remind everyone of the services that are available to you if you are experiencing a crisis:

Good2Talk: 1-866-925-5454 (free professional and confidential support for all students in Ontario)

Student Assistance Plan: 1-877-234-5327 (for Undergraduate Students, online, phone, or in-person support through counselling or consultation)

Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 to speak to a registered nurse (free professional and confidential support)

EWB Continues to Fail at Everything

*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. 

This is totally unacceptable. 

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.

You have a lot of power here.
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:

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

On Mother’s Day, a Long-Time Supporter of EWB Cancels Her Donation

 

*Letter submitted by an Anonymous donor 

Dear EWB,

While catching up with my daughter this mother’s day, I learned of EWB’s use of a non disclosure agreement and payment to silence a survivor of sexual harassment from their EWB supervisor while overseas. I also learned that EWB has retained the services of a PR firm to help communicate and message to membership about these issues that are now “resurfacing”.

Sexual harassment is widespread throughout our society. And I suspect it must still be occurring at EWB since there is no indication that you have established and committed to an appropriate policy to support survivors.

In 2008 I trusted that you had my daughter’s best interest at heart when she was a Junior Fellow and it is sickening to think she was at even more risk than I thought, especially when she was in such a vulnerable place physically and emotionally. She and her classmates invested and committed so much donated time as student chapter members in their hopes to make this world a better place for all. They didn’t know that these investments were inadvertently enabling the opposite – an organization that stifles survivors and supports abusers.

I’m cancelling my monthly donations to EWB because of your lack of appropriate reaction to these issues.

How many NDAs has EWB encouraged/ forced people to sign over the years?

 

*This post was submitted by Erica Lee Garcia, founder of “Engineers of Tomorrow” and former EWB Venture Lead

I’ve signed NDAs in relation to my consulting work.  They are meant to protect Intellectual Property and ensure that proprietary technology and trade secrets (i.e. non-public business information) do not end up becoming public, thereby destroying or reducing their ability to make a profit. An NDA prevents me from enriching myself unjustly. In that context, an NDA makes sense. They help ensure I do not profit off of information which is not mine to share; I only happened upon it in the course of my work but I do not own it. It belongs to the company because they developed it. It’s not mine to give away, so I agree not to.

There is no personal cost to me as the contracted consultant of a manufacturer for example, to keep the copies of their process documentation and other protected information to myself.  It’s the just thing to do. It’s something I can do comfortably. Sure, I am losing out on the ability to make a quick dollar from sharing someone else’s information, but such gains would be ill-gotten and suspect both in a legal and moral sense. To hold back from doing that, no harm is caused to me. You could even say it keeps me from doing harm to the company, which is doing what it should by profiting off the value of its own IP. My mind is at ease in keeping these secrets.

In the context of a whistleblower and the misdeeds of a company or volunteer organization (such as their failure to deal with sexual harassment, bullying, and retaliation against those who report) there is a VERY high cost to keeping that information ‘secret’.

Whether an NDA is meant to stop the public from finding out about the original misconduct, the organization’s response (or lack thereof) or the NDA itself, the psychological price that the survivor/whistleblower pays to keep these secrets is massive.

Why?  It’s the very abdication of the truth.  It’s the denial of the experience of the self, to the self. That is their story, and they cannot tell it. Sometimes they can’t even tell it to themselves. And because they cannot tell it, they cannot heal. It is lonely and mind-bending. Devastating.

Also, where the survivor speaks out not for her/himself but for the good of others, to prevent them from future harm and the same experiences for others, they have massive guilt for not being able to protect those others. This is not just. It props up an organization that is now profiting off of silence, and a dishonest silence at that because there is so much to say. The rest of the organization is now at a disadvantage as well, propagating something they have no idea about.

Purchased silence is a pretty shitty business model, when you think about it. You think university students who want to change the world donate their free time and invest their personal reputation in associating with an organization that stays viable by stifling the truth about how they deal with their own people, in their most vulnerable moments? How they not only do not help them but actively isolate them, hush them with NDAs, treat them like the problem when they report a wrong that’s been done to them?

Those university students, those gutsy and principled members boycotting EWB as we speak, are the ones who get just how messed up it is. Maybe the rest of us are numb and have accepted this ‘common practice’. But you know what?

TL; DR:  NDAs are bullshit in the context of sexual assault/harassment reporting.

EWB especially whose DNA reflects the spirit of openness, transparency, learning from mistakes must ban them immediately, issue a statement apologizing to anyone who has signed an NDA with them. I know of one but who knows how many more there are out there? This makes me shudder. By definition we do not know!

EWB must lift all NDAs effective immediately and allow all who signed them to tell their story, to seek the healing and support they need. And apologize to the community for this massive error in judgment when it comes to protecting their safety. There’s probably more but that’s just the basic corrective stuff, the minimum.

Imagine if companies were allowed to keep their worker safety records secret, and forced anyone who sprained their ankle or broke their leg or fell off a ladder on the job was told they had to sign a paper saying they’d never talk about what happened? Ridiculous right? And the problem that injured that worker in the first place would never be fixed, and many many others can get hurt under this secrecy… are getting hurt, to this day, until something changes.

My questions:  How many NDAs has EWB encouraged/forced people to sign over the years?  Did they do it with the intention of intimidating them into silence? Whose idea was the first NDA? Was it introduced as the default way to deal with situations like this, an expedient cleanup for a messy ‘problem’, by an outsider? Or did it come from someone I know?

Did anyone in the EWB leadership at the time question it, thinking hey, this is pretty sketchy and does not uphold our values of transparency or justice? Were they aware of how harmful it would be? Were they worried about the truth coming out, and how callous and basically evil they would look? Or did they just figure it was their right to shut up anyone who was generating a narrative about their organization that they found inconvenient, or maybe even threatening, and not give it another thought?

Maybe they were deeply in denial and really thought they were justified in their actions. Yuck. But that was then. When you know better, you do better.

What are they prepared to do about it now?