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 takes on members of Couchsurfing and Servas, as well as other volunteers for whom BeWelcome is their first hospitality exchange network.
From Hospitality Club to HCvol (2000 – 2006)
Together with his brother Kjell, Veit Kuehne, inspired by other hospitality exchange networks such as SERVAS and SIGHT founds the Hospitality Club (HC).
2002 – 2005
The later founders of “HCvol”/ “BeVolunteer” start volunteering for HC, covering all areas of HC volunteering from programming, spam checking, accepting members, geo adjustment, forum moderation, translation to support for HC members.
Several core volunteers from HC start to question the owner of HC about processes and systems. Important issues raised by volunteers include:
- the absence of any legal status of HC
- the absence of any democratic system for decision making
- the absence of any transparency in the management of finances
- the lack of transparency of HC policies for users of the website
- volunteers feeling manipulated
These shortcomings seem particularly problematic to the later founders of HCvol, because HC is not a start-up anymore but a real project that is growing rapidly. Concerned volunteers feel a responsibility to work on these issues so that HC can 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 feel that work is needed on these issues, so as to address the problems that HC is beginning to face.
After some attempts to push the above issues in personal conversations with the HC founder, a more concerted action by HC volunteers occurrs during December 2005, when a manifesto is sent to the owner of HC requesting him to work with the volunteers on the issues, or they would stop all their volunteer work for HC.
Finally after 2 months of silence, Veit discloses his position: He will not accept that manifesto. HC will not offer transparency about money management, HC will not be managed by a democratic structure, and for the legal status he suggests a company status or something based in the tax heaven St Kitts & Nevis.
25th of February 2006
A meeting in Dresden is arranged for February 25th to discuss the problems and to find a new way of restructuring HC volunteer teams and reworking procedures. Only HC core volunteers are invited. Many attend, with some traveling more than 1000 km to help solve the ever growing problems in HC and to address the lack of motivation after the manifesto was turned down. Two future HCvol founders, Matthias and Marco, take part in the meeting. Two and a half days of heated debate reveal that there is no room for compromise. At the end of the meeting, Veit finally accepts to consider an external audit of the finances. He sets up a board of 5 people chosen by him, over which he will keep a veto right, to make strategic decisions. The board is explicitly not empowered to discuss finances or the possibilities of creating a new legal structure. Anything discussed on the board has to be kept confidential. He considers establishing a legal team to work on defining what would be the best statutes for HC and he talks about creating a page explaining his point of view on HC policy.
For some of the concerned volunteers this is not enough, and is unacceptable basis to solve the issues. For others it is movement in the right direction. Depsite the various reactions, none of the proposals and good intentions are implemented. The five person board has 1 – 2 Skype conferences where nothing is achieved. After six months, the board is officially dissolved. Two future HCvol founders, Pierre-Charles and Marco, have been members of that board.
March – April 2006
A group of highly involved HC volunteers decides to set up HCvol, in order to build a space of communication for volunteers, independent from the owner’s control, as they feel he prevents communication between volunteers. This makes it very difficult to discuss his decisions, and whether they are good or bad for the HC project.
Is HC Veit’s thing?
The fundamental motivation behind the creation of HCvol is to answer the question of whether HC belongs to Veit. The obvious conclusion was that HC shall belong to the volunteers, if not the members. Consequently it is felt that HC shall be governed by a legal non-profit organization composed of those who have built HC. It was felt that the outcome of the current structure means one founder benefited from volunteer labour. Suggestions are made to rebuild trust between the founder and the volunteer base, and create a structure that adds legal protection against HC going for-profit.
HCvol proposes a new transparent and democratic organization to Veit. These proposals are rejected. HCvol founders are threatened with being kicked out from HC, as it is alleged that their only aim is to gain personal power.
It is felt by many in HCvol that an alternative has to be built. Through word of mouth, new volunteers have found their way to HCvol and start to use the forum extensively for all kinds of discussions.
In October 2006, HCvol becomes an official organisation, committed to democracy and transparency. A group of nine volunteers (claudiaab, coroa, gotte, hkroger, jeanyves, junglerover, matthias, pietshah and thorgal67) works hard to set up HCvol as an organization. Eight of them constitute the first Board of Directors (BoD), whose role it is to meet weekly in order to take any needed decisions, to organize HCvol so that volunteers can work well, and to make sure no abuse takes place. As soon as HCvol will be a larger group of volunteers, there will be a General Assembly and a BoD will be elected by HCvol members. The statutes are similar those 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, which took place in July 2005.
In the middle of the month, there is a last big hesitation. Isn’t the whole project a huge waste? Isn’t there any way to work on a really new project with HCvol, but including HC members? The BoD suggests to Veit that HCvol develops a project on a new website using the pre-existing HC database. In return, the HCvol members will 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 refuses any idea of sharing the database.
Core volunteers meet in Heidelberg, Germany to discuss Travelbook, the source code that will serve as basis for the first BeWelcome (BW) blog, gallery and forum.
BeVolunteer and its project BeWelcome (2007 – open end)
HCvol is renamed to BeVolunteer, 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. The main tools are the wiki and a discussion forum. The majority of the topics touching the creation of that new platform are discussed among 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. BeWelcome is the first non-profit travel/ hospitality website based entirely on open source software.
The first General Assembly, is held in Brussels/ Belgium, after online preparation. On May 5th, 24 volunteers approve the new statutes of BeVolunteer as a French association under the law of 1901. Volunteers enjoy hospitality and developing the BeWelcome project. May 17th, 2007 the statutes of the association are registered at the prefecture of Rennes/ France.
The website Open Couchsurfing is started. Similar to HCvol the idea is to have a platform for discussions and to initiate a change within the organization running Couchsurfing (CS). Main reasons for the platform are the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which all CS volunteers have to sign, but also that the code is not released with open source licence and some problems within the organisational structure of CS. The NDA contains a non-compete clause instead of only asking for a license on the work produced by volunteers. But all these efforts don’t lead to any result and in 2012 the site will be archived. Some of the founders and participants of Open Couchsurfing later on join BeWelcome and BeVolunteer. So from early on BeVolunteer is a mixture of former HC and CS volunteers.
Olivier from Marseille, France, joins BeWelcome as our 1.000th member.
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 attend, including members of the BoD as well as old and new volunteers. Workshops are organised and friendships are made. It is noted during the event that membership surpassed 2.400 members.
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 redesigned startup 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, organized 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 to Esperanto.
Volunteer cafes (virtual chat conferences) become a major tool for BW member empowerment.
The website gets a new look. Community news are introduced, so now the people making the project possible can inform the community about the ongoings behind the scenes. The community news are some kind of blog.
Member subaculture introduces PledgeBank to raise money and awareness for BeWelcome.
The 3rd General Assembly is held in Grimbergen (near Brussels), Belgium.
Groups are introduced on BW which boosts the forum participation.
During early 2010, BW struggles with really low volunteer activity with doubt over the medium to long term future of the project. Couchsurfing had launched as a non-profit, with most active volunteers in the hospitality exchange scene preferring to volunteer for Couchsurfing. A call from the BoD for donations and for volunteer contributions has some success and shows that a role for BW still exisits in January 2010.
Member tgoorden organises another Unconference in Antwerp, Belgium.
BeWelcome offers its members the possibility of creating wiki pages. A BeWelcome Shop is also set up.
A collaboration between Servas and BeWelcome is explored. Whilst several meetings are organised, a September meeting sees coordinators from both sides seeking a compromise on how to work together, given Servas was a paper based hospitality system and BW an online one. Unfortunately, the cooperation never becomes a reality.
The 4th General Assembly is held in Rennes, France, where Bevolunteer is registered.
Another meet-up for BW volunteers in Antwerp, Belgium.
An interview with the Executive (Thomas Goorden), is produced and published.
The forum and the wiki of the BeVolunteer website get moved to the BeWelcome website. Volunteering can now be organized within the bewelcome.org platform by using the groups and the wiki. bevolunteer.org now forwards to the BW website.
The 5th General Assembly is held in Grimbergen, Belgium.
Seek the Duck is a BW event in Toulouse, people from all around France and even from other countries gather in Toulouse for 5 days. A lot of common activities are organized like wine tasting, picnics, hiking and much more.
September – October 2012
The 6th General Assembly is held in two parts: one online part and a real-life meeting in Halle/ Saale (Germany). The BoD receives a mandate to launch a yearly donation campaign to support selected BeWelcome activities; it is invented to support local activities. This campaign (and the subsequent distribution of the collected money) is called “Be Active”. The first BeActive campaign has been budgeted with a value of 500 Euro.
BeWelcome releases a major update to the website, dropping Google Maps as default map provider in favor of free and open source OpenStreetMap. The 30.000th member joins BW.
There are 50 BV members, consisting of about 50% original members and 50% new members. 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.
The wordpress site on bevolunteer.org goes live. The site gives information about the association BeVolunteer and is there to explain the association to people who are new to the project. While discussions around BeVolunteer and volunteering still happen on bewelcome.org.
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 and groups and to introduce a decision making system. Besides a focus of the unconference is also on coding, especially on the planned new code base called Welen.
Bamberg Unconference: It was mainly discussed how to introduce the New Members BeWelcome Team.
The activity feature is added to the website. Now there is a special tool to organise activities, meetings and events. People can sign up for activities and there is an overview for all activities, even including a map.
After long discussions about the structure of forum and groups, a new layout is introduced to the website. “Discussions” unite both groups and forum. On one page it’s possible to see all activities in “my groups” and in the “forum”, so the discussion page is some sort of newsfeed.
The BW decision making process undergoes a lot of changes. A new suggestion system is launched, and has a very visible presence on the website. A new suggestion team takes care of the process. The aim is to get BW members more involved in decision making and to shorten forum discussions, so as to make better and quicker decisions. The first version of this suggestion system was fully launched in October.
The website also gains a new “Safety” button on the menu bar to make it easier for members to report safety issues. Now there is direct link to the safety team.
BeWelcome welcomes its 50.000th member. The New Member BeWelcome Team starts working. Members of this team send a greeting message to every new member signing up for BeWelcome. The members of the NMBW team are available for questions of the new members.
Florence unconference: Topics are mainly the low activity on the website (e.g. in the groups) and improvements to the hosting experience; for example by introducing a hosting request and a reply rate.
October – November 2013
The 7th General Assembly is held in two parts: one online part and a real-life meeting in Fuerth (Germany). It’s a big GA with high hopes. 12 BV members take part in the GA in Fuerth, besides that 18 BV members follow the GA online. In the end a BoD of 7 members is elected, for 5 of them it’s the first time in the BoD. 2 years earler Couchsurfing had turned from a non-profit corporation into a for-profit company. Already a lot of CS members made a profile on BW. So during the GA there are discussions on how to be prepared for even bigger influx of CS members. The budget gets adapted to have more money for potentially needed extra servers.
Donations for BeVolunteer/ BeWelcome can now be made with Bitcoin as well. To enable Bitcoin donations the vice-treasurer creates an account with Bitpay. Now members can donate by money transfer, Paypal, credit card and by Bitpay. A hackathon takes place in Lisbon, Portugal. Developers and designers meet to work on the website, mainly on the new platform for the codebase called Welen.
January – March 2014
2014 does not start well for BeVolunteer and BeWelcome: The conflict in January is mainly about communication within the BoD and between BoD and teams, especially about the way of working of the development team.
The development and the design team are struggling with two enormous tasks at the same time: Developing a completely new software (Welen) and maintaining the complicated old software that our BeWelcome site currently runs on (Rox). So inoffically there is a new team structure with a Rox-team and a Welen-team.
So the big conflict within BoD, the Rox and the Welen team is mainly about different ideas and concepts and the way of communicating about this. It seems impossible to get back to a normal way of communication. Additionally, the Welen team is disappointed about the results of the hackathon in Lisbon and the resignation of 3 BoD members, who were supporters of the new codebase (Welen).
Some BoD and some BV members start a call for an extraordinatry GA (eGA). At the same time the conflicts within the BoD about communication styles, strategy and volunteer resources lead to the resignation of most BoD members.
An eGA is called to address these problems. The eGA is held online only and in 2 separate meetings, one in February and one in March. When the eGA starts the former 7-person-BoD consists only of 2 members. A lot of BV members, who have been inactive in the past come back and take part in the eGA. During the eGA BV has 34 active members, that is around 10 more than normally. They are worried about the future of BV and about the future of BeWelcome. After one week of forum online discussions a chat session is held to clear the air. Among other results, escalation paths for conflicts within BeVolunteer and the BoD are defined, and a consultative member to the BoD is appointed to help resolve the issues within the development team.
In the 2nd session of the eGA in March a new BoD is elected.
The whole Welen team stops working, the project for a new codebase of BW is dead.
The Lyon unconference takes palce over 3 days. The event for dedicated volunteers discusses issues such as local volunteering, e.g. if there should be new tools for organising local BW meetings.
October – November 2014
The 9th General Assembly is held in two parts during late October and early November. One part is online and another part is a real-life meeting in Grimbergen (Belgium). The new BoD, consists of 4 members, 3 of them join the BoD for the first time. New ideas emerge such as a proposal for a site redesign and improving the decision making processes.
A review of the suggestion system takes place. After controversial debates several changes to the suggestion system are agreed. Unfortunately these changes will not be implemented. The future of the suggestion system is unclear and it will be abandoned soon.
BeWelcome gets accepted as non-profit by Paypal, leading to reduced paypal fees for incoming donations.
One former member of the Welen team and 2 former BoD members found a new hospitality exchange platform called Trustroots.
October – November 2015
The 10th General Assembly is held in two parts: one online part and a real-life meeting in Duesseldorf (Germany) in late October/ early November. Topics of the GA are mostly about decision making and leadership within the current structures (BeVolunteer, BoD, volunteer teams) and about goals for the volunteer teams or how to better motivate volunteers and keep them motivated. Besides that a new ombusdsperson is elected. The new BoD consists of 5 members. The position of volunteer coordinator gets reintroduced and for the first time there is a volunteer recruiter within the BoD.
Inspired by the Seek the Duck meeting people in Lyon create another big BW event. Around 20 persons meet and get to know each other in Lyon, the event lasts for 3 days.
There are 2 applications for the BeActive campaign, from the BW events called Seek the Duck (Toulouse) and Seek the Pig (Lyon). The 500 Euro were collected in 2013.
Seek the Duck happens for the 5th (!) time. So this is the most famous BW event. For 3 days and a lot of common activities people gather in Toulouse.
BeVolunteer gets accepted by the Google Adword program. So from now on it’s possible to advertise BeWelcome for free on Google.
The French BW community is really active and creates another event on local level in Marseille, entitled “In Cod We trust”.
October – November 2016
The 11th General Assembly is held in two parts: one online part and a real-life meeting in Venice (Italy) in late October/ early November. The GA decides to work on new statutes for BeVolunteer.
There are 49 BV members, consisting of about 45% original members and 55% newcomers. Most of them come from Europe, but Sammiekong for example is from China and active in the BoD and as translation coordinator.
Around 1st of May 2017 a BW meeting happens in Berlin for the celebration of 10th anniversary of BeWelcome.
BeWelcome welcomes its 100.000th member.
Seek the Duck happens for the 6th time. There are rumors it is the last Seek the Duck meeting.
The results of the first BW member survey are available.
In Cod we trust happens for the 2nd time in Marseille.
October – November 2017
The 12th General Assembly is held in two parts: one online part and a real-life meeting in Lille (France) in late October/ November. To be more precise there are 2 GA’s. The ordinary GA deals with the normal business and with the election of the new BoD. The extraordianary GA deals with the new statutes. These statutes were prepared by a dedicated working group and now the eGA makes the last adaptations. Finally during the online voting the new statutes get approved.