Leaving the HOT US Corporation

Posted by sev_osm on 1 December 2017 in English (English)

Here is the letter of resignation that I had sent to the HOT US Inc members on May 5, 2016 (more context can be found in my next diary entry):


I hereby resign from as a HOT US Inc member with immediate effects.

Some recent members may not know me, but I have been active in HOT US Inc, as well as other OSM projects for more than 5 years ago now, both in remote activations, training and field work over more than 20 countries.

My main motivation is that HOT US Inc, despite its storytelling, is not a community driven project, it is a just a very classic Corporation run by a board whose aims are far from openness, truthfulness and respect of differences that should lead an OSM project involved in humanitarian and development fields. And as I do think it even represents a real danger for OpenStreetMap, I do not want to endorse and be in collusion with it. Considering how much I worked to make HOT US Inc successful in some ways, I let this organization totally sickened by what it became. I guess I am not the only one: some huge contributors have already silently stepped out for the exact same reasons.

The triumvirate that quickly emerged within the native English speakers from the 2015 board made the meetings a real pain for a non native EN speaker like me. Talking as fast as they can, which does not allow you to catch everything as you would like or quickly enough to everything that is implied by the decision to make. Not agreeing with them and sometimes opposing their views means disrespectful behaviors being frequently cut when you try to express yourself in their native language, your past contribution totally diminished, your ideas sometimes qualified as ridiculous and every time of the reproach the meetings are unpleasant because of you.

Be really aware of this: you simple members are not informed of the most crucial topics, that are decided and managed backstage. Yes working groups have been really launched in 2014 after 15 members or so cosigned a Manifesto to make things change radically. WG were one of the proposed actions items, but not only. They now do act, but on a limited frame, the one of the Corporation. Nothing that could renew it. And when something is considered as being crucial, comes the incredible point where there is a discussion within the board about how to inform the members the most minimalistic possible way to the point they will not understand what is really at stake. And generally the one and only Corporation adviser so far is requested to provide feedback and rewording on this. Easy to do: since 2014, absolutely no board discussion are opened to anyone outside the board, whatever the matter, the notes are very short to the point you cannot understand well what are all the components at stake and of course, anything that could make react the members (I do not talk about confidential personal matters, but crucial community points) is quickly labeled as confidential. It was really surprising and unpleasant for me to discover that when I have been elected in the board in 2014 that secrecy and lies were core within the board toward the membership.

First example : the HOT trademark. It has been a long time HOT US Inc distorts some basic OSM components, eg with the hot mailing, basically an list that became a corporate list where people can be blacklisted just because their mails (whatever their arguments may have sense or not) could un-please partners of the NGO and not a mailing list depending on the OSMF and ruled by classic mailing rules, this being actually decided by one single person. The HOT Trademark is one big step forward. It has never been discussed or even explained to the members. An initiative of Mikel Maron backed by the majority of the board in 2014. This has not even been presented first to the OSMF, that has been informed when the process was still started. The OSMF has been really upset with it and sent a clear cease letter to the HOT Board. Nonetheless the process has been continued (!), and the majority of the 2015 board confirmed the decision of the 2014 board not to inform the HOT US Inc membership, because it could (obviously, and hopefully!) generate strong reactions. This process has been disclosed only by the OSMF itself on its list inside a thread about HOT US Inc. The people mapping with HOT US Inc tools still do not know they help creating an corporate OSM trademark. With the increase of Hotties in the OSMF board, the tactic seems now to make it adopt from the OSMF itself.

Second example: the budget gap.

If you read the report from the last Membership call you can find these words:

“Found a budget gap in 2015 found, but also note funding gaps are very common and normal, just not ideal”:

It reads as if everything was normal, under control and that the situation would be totally safe for the last and the current years. This is totally typical how HOT US Inc has been building storytellings that do not match the facts. This also does not reflect the current state of HOT US Inc.

Yes the Board had voted a negative budget for 2015, assuming expected grants that would have covered the missing money. But does this have been monitored and under control all along the year? Absolutely not.

On September 11, a big financial issue arose, when basically it has been figured out the org had only a bit of money left in its account, but was supposed to run activities for months with this.

This is not something that can be qualified as “normal”. This is basically, by far far far, the biggest issue HOT US Inc has faced from its beginning. It was totally unexpected, and of course the board was totally freak out and had an exceptional meeting during which two main things were decided:

1 Mitigate the situation as best as possible and drastic cuts have been very quickly decided within paid positions when possible and some expenses canceled. Eg no in person board meeting last year.

2 Inform clearly the membership about the situation. From my experience of how the organization has been communicating with the membership for the last two years, I emphasized that the board should not “hide” it. The triumvirate was almost offended by this word. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened.

Here is the original message that was supposed to be sent:

We are writing to update you on changes and challenges that are facing the community.

We have a significant cash flow problem that the Board and Executive Director are working hard to solve. Unfortunately, this has lead to some very difficult decisions and hard choices. HOT is releasing some of its staff to get on a better financial foundation. We are also investigating other ways to pay for administration needs to continue to support HOT.

No one involved in the process is happy with the situation, we want and expect this to be a temporary situation and look forward to carrying on our important work in 2016 and beyond. Added: we will be asking for your help to build some plans. It is our dream to have a larger HOT Summit in the coming year. While we are focused on the immediate tasks, we are also keep supporting this amazing global community.

But on October 2, the message eventually sent to the membership was the following:

We are writing to update you on changes and challenges that are facing the HOT community and organization.

NGOs often have times when there are funds to raise and plans to change. HOT is no different. We are working to improve our financial oversight and organizational development. And, we are making some changes to our policies and practices to build a more sustainable organization. Over the past 5 years, HOT has been primarily a project funded organization with no very limited unrestricted funds. This pattern and HOT’s operating costs have made it difficult to grow as quickly as we would like. We have drafted some initial plans on this front, which we hope you will help guide.

This makes quite a difference, isn't it? Significant cash flow problem […] HOT is releasing some of its staff to get on a better financial foundation VS improve our financial oversight and organizational development.

Since, the Operations budget gap has been being mitigated by drastic cuts + the fundraising, that has purposely been made to fill the gap, not for future projects and has never been presented as such. Once the Operation budget mitigation improved, figures have been eventually shared with the membership through the 2016 Operations Budget, along the story it was not ideal but normal, and supposedly everything was under control.

Is the situation safe now? Not really.

Apart the Operations budget, everyone should know that there are also grants for each donor funded tech or field project, and actually this is where the financial gap is the largest. End of September 2015, HOT US Inc should still have approximately USD152,000 for activities still to be done or to be returned for one large multiple years project, while the bank account was around only USD10K. As a former Senior Project Manager for 5 funded projects for HOT US Inc (STM020 in Haiti, EUROSHA in Central and Eastern Africa, CAP103 in Haiti, UB_ICT4D in Mongolia and Lower Shire Community Mapping in Malawi), it will remain amazing for me how such a budget swift may have occurred, representing almost 25% of the total grant. A USD33,000 planned payment by the donor on last November allowed to postpone the cash flow issue and temporarily hide the situation, but as the project will come to its end on October 31 this year, this is obviously a huge issue.

The membership has never been informed about this situation and I guessed it would not be even the case for this board elections,

This is totally unfair and harmful to distort the reality and hide such issues to the membership, because:

1 you do not build common knowledge and experience so that this kind of situation is avoided in the future. Over 2 years the people from the board can completely change and an Executive Director can leave in only two months. And the same lack of minimal financial oversight can occur again. As well, some skilled members could have helped to mitigate the situation (as suggested in the initial informing draft) but the organization lost this potential support.

2 you do not inform the future board candidates about a hard situation they will discover only once after being elected and have to deal with and solve.

3 basically the O of HOT comes from OpenStreetMap that includes Open, seems that many forget this, and completely distort the facts are certainly far from this.

Of course, being involved in such lies has been a real pain for me. Of course, I was in strong disagreement with the way these topics were handled, from the moment I figured out that what was not supposed to be hidden would actually be. But the fast speaking majority imposes its views and you are due to shut your mouth. Otherwise you are wrong, and you are basically a bad person, just because it was a majority board decision, whatever it can be harmful for the OSM project from people with little experience or concern about openness or OSM, that does not matter at all. At all.

You can imagine the dilemma for someone who campaigned very clearly about openness transparency to be involved in such practices. Retrospectively, I would like to have reacted differently, to organize immediately special meetings to make this known immediately.

I eventually reacted this way when I disclosed to someone unaware of a complaint made towards him by the Board president because of concerns made about many Hotties running for the OSMF election and having his case being processed without even being informed of this complaint, in the most amateur, Kafka style way I would never have been able to foresee. This was the motive immediately used by the triumvirate to ask for me being put off the board. I do not regret this disclosure at all, on the contrary I am proud of it: on a personal side, at last I acted as I should have done regarding my declaration when candidate, whatever it costs me; on a community side, this could show to some members how this board violently reacts when its bad behaviors are pointed out. This is just the beginning: the reinforcement of the code of conduct will provide easier possibilities to hammer some discording voices and let the “awesome” storytelling and the big business goes on. So, for whoever would like to renew or simply improve it, good luck. Other tried, and did not manage it, like myself. You will figure out a small group of people with loooong agendas actually run this organization. And they bite hard.

But hopefully HOT US Inc is not the only way to trigger OSM in the humanitarian and development fields. It has actually even quite reduced its potential over the three last years. And basically OSM is a sum of small initiatives. It does not need a mogul Corporation to be effective. Fly with your own wings.



Comment from jonwit on 1 December 2017 at 17:35

ooooo we got a leaker. Sorry to hear about your frustrations, hopefully these can be addressed.

I enjoy all that HOT does and they pale in comparison of dirt other non-profits do with money: IKEA, Susan G Komen Foundation .

As the official food of mapathons here is trump eating pizza.
Trump eating pizza

Comment from gorn on 2 December 2017 at 08:31

sev_osm thanks for sharing this. I can imagine the pains you had to cone through and difgiculties you faced. I've went through similar ecperience elsewhere.

HOT was always very mysterious to me and I always felt that beeing it such a wonderful idea it should have achieved much more during years. I feel its potential is not achieved. Basicaly (and I am enthusiastic OSM mapper) the only visible thing for me is Tasking manager - the rest of the story - how the maps are then used for Humanitarian purposes is a big question. Maybe its time to set up small meaningful alternative to HOT. Pethaps around one single meaningful project and grow from there.

One more thing - you write you regret you did not act earlier and differently. I understand that fully. I had similar experience and the only thing I can tell is - do not do another mistake. Now when you are finally out you must see big relief personally. You wrote this blog - your "comingout" - so the situation is resrlved for you personally and you may have a wish to put all this behind you and forget it. Pkease do not. Speak about it repeatedly, talk to anyone who will listen, tell the story again and again, give more examples and real names. It will prolong the pain for some time, but eventually it will come back in a good way when enough people will start to think about it. Do not let it go away as single shout into darkness.

All the best

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