Outrageous Outreach3 min read

KarenSandlerThe Internet being what it is today, being a public figure can be a very dangerous role. For those unaware, Karen Sandler has been under vigorous attacks—hate mail, public slandering, and more—for having been the GNOME Foundation‘s Executive Director from 2011 to 2014. Contrary to what I had hoped, even many months after, the hate has not died down. You still see wretched hives of scum and villainy like this blog post on a regular basis (warning: the comments over there are depressing). Enough is enough, time to set the record straight.
This is the comment I posted (which is effectively censored, since it never made it past moderation, even though I asked nicely):

The premises of this article are entirely false. Karen Sandler did not bankrupt the GNOME Foundation, and the outreach program did not, besides that temporary cash flow problem (that is: sponsoring orgs not paying quickly enough), suck away funds from the foundation. The situation arose because companies paid in variable rates and our accounting did not account for it. After all companies paid their share, the foundation became solvent. This is purely a business accounting issue arising from dealing with rapid growth because the outreach program was so successful.

The GNOME outreach program was structured this way: Company ABC wants to sponsor the program, and funds in an amount that pays for intern XYZ to work on a Free Software project; the GNOME Foundation acted as a coordinator with sponsoring companies, interns and free software projects (or “organizations”); then money comes in from the sponsor and out to the intern, with a small cut to cover GNOME’s administrative expenses. That’s it, that’s all.

It’s unfortunate that you’ve written a post without the facts. I have provided them to you, and as one of the directors of the GNOME Foundation I am happy to answer any questions regarding the situation.

Thing is, two completely unrelated events happened around the same time in the spring of 2014, providing perfect timing/story for those who actively seek conspiracies or a “culprit”:

  1. Karen Sandler stepped down from her role as the GNOME Executive Director, in order to go help another charitable organization in need of her services.
  2. We had trouble getting all the outreach program sponsors’ invoices paid on time to cover the payment to interns, which resulted in the temporary cash-flow problem that got so much attention. This particular situation was not Karen’s fault. She did not know about it until it was too late.

The fix: we enacted a temporary spending freeze to give us time to chase down those invoices, and after months of work we collected every single last one of them. Net financial result: everything balances out now.
Simple business mistake. These things happen. No need to create a gamergate out of it.
While I’m here, it would be worth mentioning the following about the outreach program:

Warning: if you are going to comment on my blog on this particular blog post, stay civil and think thrice about what you’re going to say. And don’t be so quick to pejoratively label me a “SJW” just because I’m personally standing up for someone here: I’m simply a normal guy who broke the silence after getting fed-up seeing an esteemed, long-time contributor of our community get torn apart under false pretenses.


23 responses to “Outrageous Outreach3 min read

  1. Thanks Jeff for the very needed clarification. Hopefully this will put an end to this misunderstanding.

  2. Christoph Avatar

    So that means, the big budget spent in the Outreach program was not Gnome’s budget to begin with? That would be reassuring. However, I still find it disturbing that interns should get their position and funding based on “gender”. I cannot understand how a US middle class female needs more support to play a role in IT than, say, a russian worker class male. Outreach should have been about economical status to begin with. To me the current gender equality train (which is currently purely a women enhancement train, btw.) seems to be a fashionable thing for big enterprise to do nowadays. Putting the money into software development seems like a rational strategy. But that won’t change the society in the long run. Companies will find greener pastures for PR (say, ecology) and tech culture will still be based on a problem-oriented thinking and mathematical foundation, which right now simply does not attract that many females. So if you _really_ want to do some women enhancement, then don’t try to change IT, but teach your daughters to solve problems, show them where the fun is in doing so and don’t be frustrated if they still choose a more process-oriented profession like medicine or teaching. The world is not a better place when every profession has 50% females but when every profession has 100% enthusiasts. (All IMO)

    1. @Cristoph:
      We already have an internship program that is “gender neutral”, GSoC, however the setup actually made it really hard to attract women, the OPW organizers failed to convince Google to add more flexibility to the scheme with regards to discipline (beyond coding) so OPW was created.
      It’s fair to note that these days Outreachy’s mission is not just for woman (that’s why the name changed), but underrepresented social sectors in general. And by the way, it was never targetted to “US middle class females”, and in fact if you check the origin of applicants you’ll see that often they are not from the US and certainly not middle-class by US standards.
      Bottomline is, a supposedly neutral internship program already exists, GSoC, but that program fails to attract large parts of the population in terms of gender, but also in terms of discipline and so many other aspects.

    2. Shaun McCance Avatar
      Shaun McCance

      I support Outreachy *and* I teach my daughter to solve problems and think logically. It’s not an xor proposition.

  3. I cannot understand how a US middle class female needs more support to play a role in IT than, say, a russian worker class male.

    It doesn’t. I guess people simply had to start somewhere, and the people who setup the project were more expert about gender inequalities than other subjects, and following the do-ocratic floss principle of “scratch your own itch” they started from there. This does not mean that they are against extending coverage: Jeff’s post explictly says that expanding the target is planned, I guess they could use some extra help *hint* *hint* 🙂
    Note that Outreachy already worked with http://ascendproject.org/ which more or less does what you suggested.

  4. jimbo2 Avatar

    You’re right that the accusations are not fair.
    You’re wrong that this equates to “hate mail” or “slander”, and you’re not helping the conversation by throwing that language around willy-nilly. That’s the kind of behavior that encourages people to label you an SJW (which I’m not doing, to be clear).
    You post two statements in defense of Karen that need examination.

    Thing is, two completely unrelated events happened around the same time

    How much personal and certain information do you have on this? That may be the story you were given, but do you actually know for sure? It’s *always* “unrelated” when a key figure steps down after a public controversy breaks out. Always. But it would be silly for us to believe that to be the case just because that’s what we’re told.
    A better response would be: “Karen claims that her stepping down is totally unrelated. This may or may not be true.”

    This particular situation was not Karen’s fault. She did not know about it until it was too late.

    This seems silly. It was HER program, HER baby. SHE was in charge. It is her JOB to know, and her JOB to manage things better. The program was poorly implemented — there were no caps and no oversight to make sure the program stayed within its bounds. That is certainly SOMEBODY’s fault, and if it was Karen’s baby and Karen was in charge, then why do you say it wasn’t her fault?
    Of course she didn’t know about it until it was too late. But that’s like saying you racked up 25 million in credit card debt and it’s not your fault because you didn’t know about it until it was too late. What kind of person is so reckless as to not pay any attention to their spending? “Not my fault, I didn’t know how much I’d spent until I got my credit card statement a month later.”
    The OPW is controversial, and so our conversations about it need to be careful and nuanced. I don’t think the accusations against Karen are fair, but neither do I think your defense of her is.

    1. Shaun McCance Avatar
      Shaun McCance

      Jeff is on the board of directors. This is hardly secondhand information.
      Also, while Karen has certainly helped with the OPW, and seems to be taking an even more active role with Outreachy, OPW is hardly her program or her baby. The Foundation couldn’t have possibly known there was a problem until after the deadline for sponsors to pay had passed, and even then it would not have been clear how hard it would be to get those payments.
      Tracking every payment in and out of the Foundation is not the Executive Director’s job. The Executive Director typically only gets involved with those matters after companies are delinquent. Otherwise, the Director of Operations and Treasurer handles the finances.
      The simple fact is that GNOME is not set up to be a fiscal sponsor for such a large project. While we do serve as the fiscal sponsor for a few open source projects with minimal administrative demands, the OPW had grown beyond what we could handle with our infrastructure and our level of staffing. That’s it. Nobody did a bad job. Nobody is corrupt. The GNOME Foundation just doesn’t have the resources to administer a project like OPW/Outreachy.

    2. Sriram Ramkrishna Avatar
      Sriram Ramkrishna

      Jimbo – the ED serves at the pleasure of the board of directors. The ED cannot spend any money without the approval of the board. So, if there are cash flow issues, the people culpable are the directors.
      If you holding Karen accountable, then I suggest you also acknowledge that Karen (and Marina) is also the reason for its success. Both Karen, Marina and Sarah Sharp have received awards for working on these outreach programs. The success of OPW stands on its own. The very fact that so many companies jumped in all at once such that our financial process not only not scaled to meet demand, but we had to change it ultimately because it required following up with all these companies to get the money we were owed. We used our own finances to cover while we did that, but there was just too many companies involved to make this work.
      So in summary, Karen conceived of a highly successful program that not only brought name recognition to GNOME, but is recognized universally as making a difference in outreach.
      Happy to answer anymore questions.
      (I was a Director of the GNOME Foundation during that period, and also privy to all discussions, and votes)

      1. jimbo2 Avatar

        I do have a question, although I’m not sure you’re willing to answer it:
        This is *someone’s* fault. Perhaps it isn’t Karen’s. But someone is responsible for oversight of the OPW, someone is responsible for implementing the program. That someone/those someones utterly failed in their management of OPW.
        So who IS to blame? If Karen had nothing to do with the implementation or running of OPW, fine. Who did? Who can we say, “You messed up” to?
        To have so many people insist that *no one* is to blame makes it seem that they’re just protecting the people who really are to blame. This happens often in organizations — leadership, the board, trustees, etc all deny that anyone is to blame for the huge messes that occur. But obviously someone is.
        So that’s the question: Who is to blame?
        PS: Thanks for taking the time to engage with the community and explain things from your perspective. Communication is very important and often neglected.

        1. Sriram Ramkrishna Avatar
          Sriram Ramkrishna

          Well, the 7 directors are to blame. They manage the finances of the foundation, it was their (our) financial process that was put in place that failed and wasn’t scalable. Simple as that. I think I’ve said that pretty consistently in most of my messages.
          The problems have been fixed. As you can see, our finances are once again in the black. Crisis over. (It was over last year)
          Any other questions I can answer for you?

        2. Shaun McCance Avatar
          Shaun McCance

          Frankly, I don’t understand why people are treating this as such a big deal. The GNOME Foundation is a non-profit with minimal cash reserves. When it wants to spend money, it sources money from sponsors. Sponsors almost never pay immediately. That’s just the nature of big corporations. You use your cash reserves to absorb delays in income. Every non-profit I’ve ever been involved with works that way.
          The Foundation was not bankrupted. Our directors recognized that sponsor money was late, so they implemented a spending freeze and worked to collect that money. They did this before we depleted all our cash reserves. They handled that situation exactly as they should have.
          The only thing the directors did wrong was to fail to move OPW to another fiscal sponsor sooner. I’ll take some of that blame, because we were already talking about this during my first tenure on the board, ending in 2013. We knew OPW was outgrowing what our foundation could handle. We knew eventually we would need to find it a new fiscal sponsor or spin it off into its own organization. There just wasn’t much urgency to act on it at the time.

  5. Jonathan Wilkes Avatar
    Jonathan Wilkes

    The blog posts I’ve read regarding OPW tend to show a respect for outsiders and non-technical users, explore usability issues by analysing how people actually interact with their computers, and discuss how to provide hooks for newcomers to become part of the technical community.
    I’m very interested to hear from the Gnome people here how they think the Gnome development community stacks up against the spirit of the OPW. For example– suppose a feature gets dropped due to a lack of resources for addressing bugs in its implementation. If a new developer expresses interest in fixing the implementation in order to retain the feature, would you say member of the Gnome community are as apt to welcome and encourage that newcomer as OPW is?

  6. Peter Sommer Avatar
    Peter Sommer

    Karen Sandler has been under vigorous attacks […] for having been the GNOME Foundation‘s Executive Director from 2011 to 2014.

    With respect, that statement is nonsense. It’s the same as saying “George W. Bush has been criticised for having been President of the United States from 2001 to 2009”. She is being criticised for what happened during her tenure, not for having held a position.

    This particular situation was not Karen’s fault. She did not know about it until it was too late.

    In every hierarchical organization I’ve ever heard of, the person in charge is “at fault” (i.e. responsible) for whatever happens in that organization *by default,* by virtue of their office. Ignorance of critical events related to the organization does not absolve of that responsibility, and gives room for doubt about that person’s competence to put it mildly.
    That being said, I find personal attacks as unacceptable as you do. Your post as it stands, however, serves as a very poor defence of Karen Sandler, because it uses strawman arguments to discredit critics instead of “setting the record straight” as claimed.

    1. Sriram Ramkrishna Avatar
      Sriram Ramkrishna

      Right, and in the hierarchical organization of the GNOME Foundation, it is the Directors that is at the top, not the ED. The ED represents the GNOME Foundation and is charge of fundraising and representing GNOME at conferences, and to other organizations.
      You need understand, the ED is an employee of the Foundation who reports to the board.
      The seven directors run the GNOME Foundation. We are the ones for instance that approve raises, who manages the employees of the Foundation.
      You may look through the by-laws if you wish:
      You’re focusing on Karen Sandler because she is the visible person of the GNOME Foundation, as per her job position, but she can’t make any decisions without our approval. She can’t even print out fliers without our approval. We are collectively her boss. The OPW program was approved by the Board. The Board holds all responsibility for the program regardless who the public figure is.

      1. Sriram Ramkrishna Avatar
        Sriram Ramkrishna

        Actually one minor correction, regarding the flier comment. The foundation does allow for expenses up to a certain amount without approval. Just wanted to make that clear.

  7. Ok, all of this money spent on attracting women to GNOME development. Does any one have any statistics on how many new women actually were attracted? It would be interesting to see a dollars per woman attracted ratio to see how effective the program was.

    1. jimbo2 Avatar

      This would be highly relevant information. We’re told that OPW was “successful”, but “success” was never defined for us.

    2. Sriram Ramkrishna Avatar
      Sriram Ramkrishna

      The original complaint was that the foundation was bankrupt become of some mismanagement. I have given you documentation and evidence that the directors of the GNOME Foundation were culpable because they make the financial decisions. As far as i’m concerned, we have addressed the issue. Unless you have more questions in regards to this specific complaint about finances that I can answer?
      But I’ll be a good sport, here is the wiki page:
      Follow each round through the years, you will see that the number of participants started off as all GNOME and then watch as more and more organizations started joining. That’s success. When a program grows rapidly and has enthusiastic supporters, and is consistent from year to year that is the definition of success. If it was a failure, there would not be a demand.
      Anymore questions?

  8. David Holmes Avatar
    David Holmes

    While your correction is valuable, I found it curious that you responded to Vox Day as though you expected him to be reasonable, which makes me suspect that you weren’t familiar with him or his history. Most of the communities who have encountered this guy seem to take more of a “don’t feed the troll” approach.
    This is the person who (in spite of his vehement Islamophobia) once described the Taliban’s shooting of Malala Yousafzai as “perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable” (because she advocated educating girls, something he opposes).
    This is the person who got kicked out of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for using their official Twitter feed to disseminate a racist, sexist diatribe targeting a black female colleague in which he defended the rights of white people to shoot black people “.. like her, who are half-savages engaged in attacking them”.
    There will always be a lunatic extremist fringe like him. By all means refute them and correct the record, but I don’t think you need to take him or his fans too seriously.

    1. Sriram Ramkrishna Avatar
      Sriram Ramkrishna

      I think it is important that there is written evidence of push back. Even if we know people like vox are crazy. My intention is to make sure that blame falls on us as is right and proper. I have not waivered from that message. I’m not trying to address SJW issues. I’m not trying to embroil myself in that.

  9. You could prevent the rumors by being more open sooner. I think this by default secret nonsense is what really causes more people without an agenda to suddenly look and then they see only what people who dislike your goals are saying.
    It’s like Hilary and the email server, they have allowed others to make up their own narrative while they where silent about it.

    1. It was already all out there for everybody to see, but some chose to twist statements or make associations where there are none. We’re already open and proactive, and this blog post and the comments are proof of it, just like our meeting minutes published regularly. We just can’t be writing lengthy articles everywhere about everything from day one due to time constraints (remember how we had to spend months fending off Groupon? That ate a lot of our time and energy). The Annual Report is a good opportunity to do such elaborate summary articles, and this is part of what I’ve been working on with the engagement team in recent weeks.
      You see, a problem that comes with doing board work is that you have so much on your plate already that you have little time left to do anything else. See my previous report to have a glimpse of what this means. I used to blog every month or so, and now I barely have time to read a fraction of the great posts that other people are writing on Planet GNOME.
      I have a backlog of at least 15-20 articles I should be writing on this blog (I’m not kidding); about Pitivi, about the Foundation, about lifehacks and interesting discoveries… and I can’t find the time to get through them because I’m always dealing with more pressing matters. C’est la vie!

  10. Alright, no further comments have been posted, seems like all the questions have been answered. Thankfully discussion was kept civil so I did not have to moderate comments.
    This post’s discussion thread will be automatically closed to new comments as a spam-prevention measure.