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Tag Archive for 'leadership'

And another one…

Too bad…


Hey team,

I’m resigning as a CS Amb.

This hasn’t been an easy decision. Firstly, I really like the people on the LT/AST – how can’t I? They dedicate all their time to a project I deeply love. And this project has introduced me to people who have changed the direction of my life for the better and made me a better person.

But I have realized lately that I’m not an ambassador for but rather an ambassador for hospitality, transparency, communication, fairness, radical inclusion and living life. CouchSurfing for me represented a collective of people who believed in that. People who believed in respect and equal rights and honour and integrity. People who wanted to make positive change in the world and have fun at the same time. I didn’t just want to be a member using a service, I wanted to participate on THAT team.

I don’t believe anymore that CouchSurfing is that nor can it ever be that organization that I dreamt it would. The specific incidents are just symptoms. From the mass exodus of the Tech Team in 2007 to the mass exodus of the Global Ambs this year, we have not learnt from our mistakes. And we are all to blame. From the Ambs who basically say “don’t worry be happy” to the Brainstormers who are bitter and twisted, and everyone in between. We have failed.

I suspect that some of you are like me. Hoping to stay on as a CS Amb so that you can change things “from the inside”. However, I realize now that this is all futile. All I’m doing is being a complicit representative to actions that are against my very nature.

For better or worse, CS is the best hospitality exchange we have right now. I will continue to promote the philosophy of hospitality exchange as a member but I can no longer in good conscience, continue representing this organization as an “ambassador”. All I can hope for is something better comes along before it’s too late.


Remember: All our actions either bring more light or more darkness into the world.

Two measures

“And what is the big deal about CS and its LT?” Two measures, for example. The head of the Ambassadors has two extremely serious negative references for sexual harassment (of former Global Ambassadors) is promoted into the Leadership team.

While someone else’s profile is merely deleted for creating another profile to overcome the issues with the CS group system.

“Mark in the verification icons going away”

A good day for CouchSurfing! Leadership is still listening to members. Gadget made the announcement Ambassador’s Public:

Yes, true! We have listened to your comments on the ? Mark that was in the new verification iconography. We agree that it is not the best way to represent a persons image or character, so we are removing it Monday. We ‘reload’ the site with all the weeks updates every Monday, so you will notice the change then.

John: “Casey’s style: indirect, manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes”

I think almost all of John’s comments deserve to be blog posts on their own. So I’m copying this one over here:


“I think it was Matrixpoint who said that Casey really insists that he is not the true leader of CS…”


Actually, I don’t know that he ever said this. On the contrary, since I first appeared at the Montreal Collective, and during the following year as a volunteer, I found it very difficult to determine the organizational structure of CS and Casey’s role in it.

Everyone knew that the organizational structure was being revamped as part of CS 2.0, but the only public information I could find was an organizational diagram on the website that showed a central box labeled “Admins and Founders” or the like, months after I left Montreal. I was disturbed to see this for two reasons: 1. the complete lack of detail of the internal structure of this box, and 2. it’s central position, which was in conflict with the agreed upon decentralized organizational structure suggested by the tree model (see the logo of this website) that was created during the Montreal Collective.

There was no particular mention anywhere that Casey was the supreme, unaccountable head of CS. He was only included among the list of 4 founders prominently featured on the website. There were no by-laws to be found. The only information available about the Admins was a brief statement that they were volunteers who helped with important administrative duties involved in running the website. No information about how they got their positions or whether there was a term of office, etc. No information about performance reviews, etc.

As someone who had begun volunteering full-time with the intention of working freely on behalf of the hospitality community for years to come, I sought clarification as to who I was actually working for. I made it clear that my intent was to work for the Community, not for Casey and the Admins unless they were in some way accountable to the Community. Why in the world would I (or anyone) work full time so that Casey and his hand-picked buddies could live it up in exotic locations, unless the Community who provided the support for that had some say in it?

I got no meaningful response to two lengthy requests for information from the Admins beginning in December, 2006. That’s when I started reconsidering my commitment to CS and paying attention to such matters as the NDA (another whole story in itself).

It wasn’t until the following year (in the spring I think) that Casey finally revealed to the developers that he was the sole member of the Board of Directors. (According to Pickwick, Casey’s told a different story to NH government officials).

So, you see, Casey’s style was very indirect. CS 2.0 was supposed to be about members participating in the operation and evolution of CS, and the emphasis was **decentralized** participation. It was “The CouchSurfing Project”, not “Couchsurfing International, Inc., Casey Fenton CEO and sole member of the Board of Directors”. “Do-ocracy” was promoted by at least one of the Admins, and another Admin was generating most of the communication which included a call for member involvement.” No where was it mentioned that these Admins derived all their power from Casey and that he quietly controlled everything with absolute authority. He rarely took a public stand one way or the other, but rather allowed people to form impressions, whether they agreed with his personal agenda or not, that he did nothing to correct.

An example of his indirect style was when he made Chris Burley the new Tech Team leader near the end of the New Zealand Collective. Chris obviously was functioning as Casey’s tool, being used by Casey to shake up the development team (probably due to issues with Joe and Kasper). Chris had very little familiarity with the code or with ongoing initiatives. He only had Casey’s authority backing him up and used it to rule with an iron fist, announcing that no “personal ideologies” would be tolerated and all developer-initiated projects would be put on indefinite hold. (Developers were clearly now to be thought of as order-following employees, but without the pay, not co-participants in a project to make the world a better place.) Casey remained quietly in the background while Chris took most of the heat for Casey’s “house-cleaning”. Chris quietly dropped off the radar by the end of last summer, as if his usefulness as a tool had expired.

What was most disturbing to me about this incident was that not long before this Casey had finally talked with me on the phone (after a 3 month wait) for a few hours and we seemed to have reached a meeting of minds. I explained to him that I would begin no new projects until the NDA was fixed (as he had promised some nine months before). I told him that it was outrageous as it stood. He said nothing in response. But he actually invited me to participate in the formulation of the organizational structure that was in its final stages. I said, yes, I would very much like to be involved. The result of this call was that I felt Casey had heard my concerns and that I now was getting some respect as a full-time volunteer (of more than half a year).

So I was very shocked that Casey appointed Chris, without even consulting me or any of the Tech Team about it, especially since he had the opportunity to discuss it with me on the phone and had given me the impression that he wanted me to be in the loop when it came to organizational issues.

I was even more shocked when I sent him an email saying that although Chris might be a good choice based on his past general contributions (this was before his new personality as a “leader” emerged) but that he didn’t have enough technical knowledge to lead the team, and a least another co-leader who did was needed. Casey never responded to my email.

I was even more shocked when the new organizational structure was announced (completely done in secret), and that what little apparent accountability it seemed to include amounted to nothing.

I was ultimately shocked when the proposed NDA came out (after a year) that was supposed to be the “fixed” version, but it was 10 times worse than the original. It had the feel of the Patriot Act to me. I was utterly uppalled by the mindset that produced it, and by the way this whole drawn-out fiasco was conducted by Casey and his appointed elite.

I certainly felt the trust I had put in Casey as a result of the phone call completely betrayed, and I took the NDA as an indirect message to me that I was no longer wanted as a developer, since I had publicly announced I would no longer begin any new projects if the NDA wasn’t sufficiently fixed.

I would have much preferred that Casey had told me this directly, as I would have preferred that he shake-up the Tech Team himself instead of having a henchman do his dirty work for him.

This is Casey’s style: indirect, manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes, while giving a casual, no-worries, laid-back, often non-committal impression in public: a fun guy to party with.

In case any one is wondering whether Casey might have been justified in “cleaning house”, I can say that the 4 core developers made a huge contribution to CS, much more so than Casey, at least in the technical area, for most of the year following the Montreal Collective. (I suspect it was our very success that scared Casey, and threatened his absolute control.) Speaking for myself, the greatest problems I encountered as a volunteer developer were all caused either directly or indirectly by Casey or the Admins due to their arbitrary assertions of power without understanding the situation, extremely poor communication, and poor judgment. Working with the Community, on the other hand, was delightful and I still have those good memories.


How many employees?

I’m getting more and more confused. From the Policy FAQ:

Who is currently on the CouchSurfing payroll? (updated)
Casey Fenton, starting midway through 2005.  Jim Stone and Mattthew Brauer starting in the summer of 2007.  Their roles are Volunteer Coordinator and General Manger, respectively.  Casey has now taken on the role of CIO and Tech Team Coordinator.  No one else is on the payroll.  A new developer may be contracted full-time in November or December of 2007.

From the general manager,  10/04/07 5:51 am, in the private Ambassador group:

I’m the General Manager and one of CouchSurfing’s four paid employees.  I’ve started maintaining a blog, and I invite you to read it if you’re interested in learning more about what I do and what the Leadership Team does.  I hope this will allow you to be more informed and better connected.

I’ll spare you the link to the blog…

CS organisational policies vs the risk of litigation

As posted in the politics and policy group

As Norbert points out here, the LT’s apparent unwillingness to make haste with the 501c3 application for tax exempt status, as well as their unwillingness to publish corporate bylaws or make drafts of these available for discussion, may well be construed as an (attempt at) fraud, because donations and services are and have been obtained under the (currently false) pretense that CS is a charity.

Needless to say, this renders CS extremely vulnerable to all sorts of liability suits, interestingly of the kind that is likely not to be covered by the ToA. Basically, any user who has donated volunteer work or money (besides the verification fee) to CS can claim that he has been the victim of this fraud; add to this the easy access to legal representation in the US (due to no cure, no pay) and Norbert’s prediction that liability is likely to extend to all natural persons working in, and owning CS, and you can easily grasp the size of the time bomb Casey’s currently sitting on.

And how do you reckon that Casey, Jim and Mattthew were to produce the funds needed for compensation if this happens? Precisely, from the sale of CS to a commercial third party, which is entirely within Casey’s right…

Valeri on Project Management Improvement and Communication

Valeri on Project Management Improvement and Communication.

I’m removing this text, since it’s slightly out of context. You can find it through clicking on the link though. — Kasper, September 13th 2007

Constructive process / intentional destruction?

Hi, (in reply to [0],… for “proper threading”)

guess what, I was one of those people only wanting to discuss ideas for a long time [1]. At some point of a full year of volunteering as a coder[2] and trying to make sure the very ideas from this group actually got somewhere [3], it became evident that in order to get those constructive ideas heard and implemented, improvements would need to be made. So I and others whose input you’re so willing to discard tried our best, sadly many of our suggestions and constructive efforts often went ignored by the LT [3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. Also, the “critical” tone is all too easy to obtain when valid questions and due criticism [8] repeatedly go unanswered.

I feel it’s important to let others here know what exactly they are dealing with. I feel it’s a bit silly being all positive and hoping ideas somehow will get heard, when there are still no decent mechanisms to make that happen and no apparent willingness (historically) to actually listen to people who provide ideas to deal with the situation EVEN when they are the ones actively working on the improvements.

Besides, I feel the not-so-gentle wish of yours of all of “us” to take a hike with all the criticism based on EXPERIENCE (the case for me, Kasper, and the ones who already moved on) of dealing with the CS organization is just another form of censorship, albeit softer than simple deletion all of the “negative” posts. If asking questions and telling the truth is deemed as unconstructive and evil, I sincerely think CS is headed the wrong way.

FYI: the leadership team is far more willing to bring in “fresh” people than to keep around the old ones (who were actually doing a sizeable chunk of the actual work [9, 10, see especially contributions by Kasper and Matrixpoint] instead of just talking, and were respected by their volunteer-peers if not by the admins/leaders), once they start getting “difficult” – so beware, a year from now the situation for many of the new enthusiasts could well best be described as “told you so”. An actual quote from some leaders: “The coders are just whiners, so let’s just get new ones” – culture of appreciation [11], anyone?

Actually, there’s nothing new under the sun, has anyone ever wondered what happened to COSMIC GIRL, DANI! (former admins), CAIRONA (European Collective 2006 co-organizer) or Aparna (Former CS Country Ambassador for India)?

FYI 2: Blast from the past [12], many issues were questioned more than a year ago, yet we STILL don’t have all the answers. Make your own conclusions?


[1] (list of my public, CS-related group posts)

[12] Money and Such:

how many %why?:

2,450 (!) words about: MONEY, MONEY, MONEY…

Financial transparency

Where is CS going?


…two months after resigning as a CS volunteer, in the form of responses to two calls for an egalitarian CS community in the CS Brainstorm group.

Hello Abrahim,

I appreciate your efforts to bring this issue to the attention of the community again. You obviously put a lot of thought into your post and recognize the critical importance of this to a community which shares the values that we do. I hope I’m proven wrong, but I feel certain that the kind of movement you are proposing would end up going nowhere in CS.

Just over a year ago, there was an excellent opportunity to redirect the course of the CS community away from being under the control of a small elite group, unaccountable and unanswerable to the community at large. This opportunity coincided with a major crash of the servers followed by Casey‘s termination of the CouchSurfing Project. For most of the last year since the community-led rebuilding effort, some volunteers worked towards an egalitarian community, which they thought was consistent with the stated CS 2.0 goal of decentralized participation, while the former administrators of the website redefined themselves in secret. A few months ago, the elite group re-emerged in the form of the “Leadership Team”. These self-appointed leaders are really rulers (if you consider CS as a community) or managers (if you consider CS as a corporation). Leaders generally lead by consent of the led. Rulers need no consent.

Since the Leadership Team members were each chosen (or at least endorsed) by Casey, the owner of the Corporation, and by extension felt entitled to govern the community that has formed around the web site as they saw fit, some of us who hoped for a different CS realized that our cause was lost and moved on, in some cases to alternative hospitality organizations which do have an egalitarian community.

The Leadership Team has clearly taken a stand against democracy. They have taken upon themselves the role of guardians of the CS mission, as they define it. Their “constitution” is as much about protecting their power as it is about protecting the mission. They don’t seem to be aware of the hazards of this stance. It is an easy mistake to make, since they are generally good people with good intentions and a noble mission. But the structure itself is inherently flawed and prone to abuse and corruption. This has happened countless times throughout human history whenever too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few people, even in organizations started by the best people with the best intentions.

As one example of how easy it is for a self-reinforcing group with no accountability to the people they claim to serve, consider the mission of intercultural understanding that they purport to promote and protect. The very essence of intercultural understanding is respect for diversity. Yet, the structure of the leadership team requires unanimous agreement among themselves to make important changes. The implication is that, knowing that one person could bring the effectiveness of the Leadership Team to a complete halt, extreme care will be used to select only those people that will not disrupt the consensus; in other words, people who will not create “divisiveness” or “conflict”, but conform to the established groupthink. This is perhaps the worst possible environment for promoting diversity of values, opinions and ideas, cultural or otherwise. Yet it seems they consider themselves to have a special insight and virtue which entitles them to be the guardians of the CS mission.

I have already seen cases where extremely valuable volunteers have been blacklisted because of what seems to me are mostly cultural or gender differences, or because they had an ideology not in sufficient conformity with the elite’s ideology.

Besides being inconsistent with the CS mission, the LT policies are inherently non-viable according to the lessons of nature, where diversity is the primary guarantee of adaptability and survivability in the face of changing environmental conditions and random events.

Another inconsistency: in a community which is as much about freely giving as anything, truly built upon the generosity of people willing to give without expecting a financial return, how is it that the owner, who should be exemplifying the spirit of the community, is the only one getting financial benefit for his contributions? If someone is to be granted an exception to the otherwise universal policy (so far) of voluntary work, voluntary donations and voluntary hosting, shouldn’t the community, who provides the money used to operate the infrastructure, have a say in this? I’ve heard all the counterarguments to this, but nevertheless I’m certain that CS could be run entirely by volunteers. The fact that it isn’t has not been a community decision.

Without going into details now, there is now doubt in my mind that the lack of participation and responsiveness of many of the so-called leaders in many areas at many times is a symptom of the structural problem (lack of accountability to the community) and the attitude it fosters. (For example: over a year and counting and still no acceptable NDA, something of such grave importance to several volunteers that they stopped volunteering because of this fiasco). Likewise, the chronic server problems and the slow response to member requests for bug fixes and feature enhancements are also traceable to the same problem.

The only possibility I see for CS to become an egalitarian community is for the community to obtain ownership of the Corporation. In other words, buy out Casey. But I don’t think this is realistic considering that perhaps 99% of the users of the CS website are reasonably happy with the free service that it provides. The number of members actively involved in the community (beyond hosting and surfing) are a small percentage of the total membership and of those, only small percentage of us are really concerned with such philosophical and political matters as we’re discussing. There are some other hospitality communities where self-government is considered as important an objective as intercultural understanding, and inextricably linked to it. For me, it is more efficient to start over with one of those communities. Indeed, I was given no choice. Casey himself stated that if we don’t like the way CS is run, then leave and come back later [after all the structural changes now being implemented are locked in - he has veto power over any proposed structural change in the future]. Don’t get me wrong, I like a strong, assertive leader, and even encouraged Casey that way, but any leader without accountability to those led is a dictator, even if a benevolent dictator.

I recommend you think of CS in terms of the Western culture notion of “corporate entity” and all the concepts of ownership and entitlement that go with that, rather than a diverse community of equals with shared values. That may save you a lot of heartache. For me, it is best to think of the new CS as a social website like Myspace combined with a travel website like Expedia. Then, Casey is just a entrepreneur carefully protecting his investment and his personal vision and getting his just reward financially. No problem with that if you’re a fan of Western corporate culture! (Just be clear about it to potential volunteers: your free work and ideas are welcome, but Casey is the only one who financially benefits from them, and you have no say in that.) We are all free to use what the CS Corporation offers and to go elsewhere if we object to the way it is managed. Thankfully. Just the mere fact that this post will not be censored is a credit to the LT — they ARE doing some things well!



Responding to David Lee Frazer’s commentary on the “Wolf Pack Psychology” of the LT in another thread:

Hi David:

The following is meant to be taken partly in jest.

I don’t think “Wolfpack” is the best analogy to descibe the LT, although it’s imaginative. I just don’t see Casey as the alpha male of the pack. Brute force is not his means of holding power.

“Monarchy” is a better analogy: King Casey and the Lords and Ladies of CouchSurfing. But most monarchies do not justify their entitlement to power as virtuous protectors of a noble mission. It is enough for them to claim hereditary entitlement, or royal blood, in many cases, or else “might makes right”.

“Religion” is an even better analogy. Pope Casey the First and the College of Cardinals. The Global Ambassadors would be the Bishops, from whom the Cardinals are chosen. The other ambassadors complete the priesthood, and the rest of us are the bleating flock, who are shepherded by the wise and learned Bishops. Very good description, actually. Can you imagine an election for the Pope by the flock ever happening?

Those of use who resigned as volunteers could be thought of as the Protestants and have gone on to find a more tolerant and open cultural milieu. Among other things, we didn’t like the idea of the CS Corporation claiming custody of our creative ideas like a Church claiming custody of our souls. We even had a heretic among us, who was shunned after enormous contributions (Kasper).

The Roman Church began with a noble mission but which over time, due to the inherent structure it shares with CS, erred in many ways. The leaders acquired an attitude of condescension and hubris, thinking themselves infallible, not needing checks and balances. They became enamored of their wealth and power, drifting far astray from the example of Jesus, who wanted neither. Protecting their power became more important than the original mission. Anyone who is ignorant of this danger of concentrated power, or thinks themselves immune to it, is surely vulnerable.

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree. — James Madison

If I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know. — Kansas

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. — Mark 10:42-43