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, and is now strengthened by volunteers who have always called BeWelcome their main hospitality exchange network.
From Hospitality Club to HCvol (2000 -2006)
The beginnings of BeVolunteer can only be told alongside a history of Hospitality Club, since this is where all the founders started and learned to love the idea of hospitality exchange.
Together with his brother Kjell, Veit Kühne founded the Hospitality Club (HC), inspired by other hospitality exchange networks like SERVAS.
2002 – 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 adjustments, forum moderation, translation to services for HC members.
Some of the core volunteers from HC – the ones who had been working so closely with the HC owner for years – started to question him about some processes which were obviously missing in HC. Important topics were:
- the absence of any legal status for HC,
- the absence of any democratic system in the way of taking decisions, and
- the absence of any transparency in the management of finances.
Other aspects were pointed out too: a feeling of manipulation of the volunteers, a lack of transparency on HC policies for members, etc.
Those shortcomings became even more problematic to the founders of HCvol since HC could not be considered a baby anymore but a real project that was actually growing very fast. Concerned volunteers felt the responsibility to work on these topics so they could evolve and, with some time and efforts, be implemented in HC.
However, Veit never focused on these problems but tried to make volunteers stick to concrete work instead. He refused to debate and chose neither to involve nor to inform even the most committed volunteers on those issues.
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 manifesto was sent to the owner of HC, 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 manifesto. 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 & Nieves.
25th of February 2006
A meeting in Dresden was arranged to discuss the problems and to find a new way of structuring HC volunteer teams and rework procedures. Only an inner circle of HC core volunteers was invited. Many attended, some coming from 1000 km of distance, to help solving these ever growing problems in HC and to address the big lack of motivation after the manifesto was turned down. Two later 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 Veit’s side, as he did not give in on any topic. At the end of the meeting, Veit finally accepted to consider an external audit for finances inspection. He set a board of 5 persons chosen by him, and in which he would keep a veto right, to take strategical decisions – but which was explicitly not empowered to discuss finances and the possibilities of creating a legal organization. Anything discussed in that board was to be kept secret. 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 still not enough, and so unacceptable.
For others it was already a good evolution, even if not enough.
The problem, however, was that none of the good intentions have ever been implemented. The board had one or two 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.
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. They felt that he tried to prevent real communication between volunteers. This made it very difficult to discuss about his decisions, whether they were good or bad. The founders of HCvol considered it unacceptable that Veit had blocked many issues for so long even though whole teams didn’t agree with his vision.
Who does HC belong to?
The fundamental idea of HCvol was the question whether HC belongs to Veit. The obvious conclusion was that HC rather belongs to the volunteers, if not the members. Consequently HC should be owned by a legal non-profit organization composed of the ones who build HC everyday: the volunteers. It is true that Veit invented HC and there is no denying that he did great things for it. But great inventions transcend their inventor.
The mere thought of all the volunteer work being used in the future for one man’s interest was unbearable for the founders of HCvol. Trusting the owner was not enough. Building a future for HC was ensuring that the possibility of HC being sold or used in a commercial way could never come true. This seemed more important than improving HC website or accepting more members.
HCvol was introduced to Veit. There were many hopes that he would accept that proposal of a new organization, or at least evolve in that direction. But his radical answer soon destroyed those new hopes: never!
Never democracy, never transparency.
Some of the HCvol founders who had given so much of these last years for HC were even threatened to be kicked out from HC and it was alleged that their only aim was to gain personal power.
Since nothing was moving in HC, it was felt that a real counter-power had to be built. It was evident that having a place for the volunteers to work away from Veit’s control can only be a very productive thing. Only by word of mouth many volunteers had found their way to HCvol and started to use the forum extensively for all kinds of discussions.
Since October 2006, HCvol was an official organization, 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 an organization as basis for work in HCvol. Eight of them constituted the first “Board of Directors” (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.
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 which included the HC members? So the BoD suggested to Veit that HCvol starts developing a project on a new website but that the HC database be shared. In exchange HCvol members would help to maintan the HC site for a limited period of time. The HCvol site would have been like a test site, a new site, which HC members could have used if they wanted. It would have been difficult technically, but possible. After lots of hours of discussions one of the HCvol BoD members told Veit about that idea. Well, we understand why he refused but we are sure that for the members of HC it would have been a good compromise.
Some of the main volunteers met in Heidelberg to discuss Travelbook, the source code that would serve as basis for our first blog, gallery and forum. Bigger discussions revolved around whether BeVolunteer needed a great leader or a strong community.
BeVolunteer and its project BeWelcome (2007 – open end)
HCvol is renamed to BeVolunteer and is totally dedicated to its new project, BeWelcome.
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.
The project BeWelcome is launched in a beta phase and the first members start signing up.
The first General Assembly is held in Brussels, Belgium after an online preparation. 24 volunteers approve the new statutes.
Olivier from Marseille, France, joins 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 online. The forum and search pages show major improvements.
The 1st BeWelcome Volunteer UnConference is held in Antwerp, Belgium.
28 members from 6 countries join, including members of the Board of Directors of BeVolunteer as well as newer and old-school volunteers alike. Workshops are organized, friendships are made and a splendid time was guaranteed for all. Recent changes within Couchsurfing attract CS volunteers as well.
In the meanwhile, the 2,400th member of BeWelcome is accepted.
The second General Assembly is held at the Linux Hotel in Essen. What better place to work on an Open Source project than surrounded by like-minded people. Afterwards the Unperfekthaus served as setting for an Open Hospex Party.
BeWelcome gets a new start page and a guided tour for newcomers.
Interview with Felix, a software developer who talks about Sokrates who almost made BW crash!
In Amsterdam BeVolunteer members attend the Amsterdam BeWelcome Collective (ABC) and the Sustainable Hospitality Exchange (SHE) Meeting, organised by Robino.
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 Cafés (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
September – 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.