Once considered the shining, living example of a social enterprise, doing well by doing good, Ushahidi, the crisis reporting platform, is facing serious governance challenges that are eroding its reputation by the minute. Arguably one of Kenya’s most highly rated and globally recognised technology companies, Ushahidi is under pressure from the Kenyan technology ecosystem to fire its CEO and the entire Board of Directors for mismanaging a sexual harassment allegation.
The allegations surfaced early last week, and the blogosphere was immediately set ablaze with speculation, war cries, and pressure for Ushahidi to respond and state what actions have been taken since the Board was made aware of the incidents. As pressure mounted, the Ushahidi Board, through one of the Board members, Juliana Rotich, then released a hastily prepared and unsigned statement informing the tech community of an ongoing internal investigation into the matter and later confirming that the CEO had been sent on a compulsory leave paving the way for investigation.
But at this time, ecosystem players were already up in arms terming the statements and actions “too little, too late” and demanding for the entire Board, led by Erik Hersman the founder of Ushahidi, BRCK, Gearbox, and iHub, to step down for not taking actions in a timely manner, acting in bad faith, and seemingly encouraging the shaming of the victim of the alleged sexual harassment. Recently, the New York Times reported new, similar accusations of sexual harassment against venture capitalists including Lowercase Capital’s Chris Sacca and Dave McClure of 500 Startups. Sacca and McClure both published apologies in light of the Times article. McClure has resigned as a general partner at 500 Startups.
A team of five members (committee) from the Kenya Technology Entrepreneur group led by Ali Hussein, the CEO of Hussein and Associates, was tasked to mediate between the Ushahidi Board of directors, the Ushahidi CEO, and the affected lady who has since resigned from Ushahidi. From a statement received by CIO East Africa, it appears the team did not get a formal response from the Ushahidi Board on the specific questions the ad hoc “committee” posed to the Board.
Below we reproduce the statement verbatim:
The Ushahidi Sexual Harassment issue has now been in the public domain for a number of days. A committee of the Tech Community was formed to address this issue in particular and create a platform to address the same in general within the community.
1. As a preamble, those involved were guided by the following thoughts
- That Justice MUST not only be done but be seen to be done for the aggrieved, but also for the other parties involved.
- That the Community and its integrity and sustainability MUST be protected by all means possible.
- That the value that has been created at Ushahidi should be protected and preserved and,
- That the community should consider this an opportunity to educate itself at a systemic level on the issue.
2. Based on the above, we see ourselves working towards the following: –
- First, we urge the community to focus on the issue at hand, in this case, Sexual Harassment in the community.
- We urge the community to be patient and exercise decorum while discussing this issue.
- In this case, the particular issue of Sexual Harassment at Ushahidi, the alleged perpetrator needs to be requested to step down with immediate effect while investigations are going on, and only to return when cleared. This is the least this community can do. We must eat our own dog food since some of us are at the forefront of urging and pushing for transparency when public officials are accused of wrongdoing.
- That the community, through designated persons/lawyers, psychologically prepares the lady (or ladies) of the adversarial nature of such disputes.
- That the community reaches out to the lady involved with offers of support (especially job placement) at this time. This to be done through this group so as to protect the identity of the lady(s) and ensure as little trauma as possible for her (them).
- We will start the process of enacting a community Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment. This we propose be done through a transparent process, which will take the following form – a draft Code of Conduct will be posted online. Members will be given a timeframe within which to make contributions. This will then culminate in half- day event whose aim will be to deliberate and ratify the document.
3. Dear brothers and sisters, we see that part of our (all of us) role is to hold not only the Ushahidi Board to account but all members of the ecosystem.
To facilitate the above process, we have met with the two protagonists and listened to both of them impartially. After much deliberation and back and forth, we have to come to the following conclusions/requests:
4. That there be an impartial investigation by an independent investigator that will address not only this particular issue but also potentially other alleged cases. This investigator is to be announced publicly so that the community sees that the Board is committed to ensuring an impartial and independent process. We must point out that the lady feels that the current process is not impartial and flawed. This is not, however, necessarily our assertions since we have no visibility currently of how this process is being prosecuted.
5. That the alleged perpetrator be sent on compulsory leave until the above is completed. We are aware that he already has been sent on leave; however, this process needs to be extended until the independent investigation is completed.
6. That the Board announces publicly this new process and thereafter make public the findings and recommendations.
Is Ushahidi under siege? The lack of clear, transparent and effective communication from the board is playing into the inaction allegations leveled against them. These allegations and the case in-front of the Ushahidi Board have exposed the soft under-belly of a once respected brand. With most of its revenue generated from grants and donations, Ushahidi’s sustainability could be affected as well-wishers start asking hard questions and possibly pulling out their funding. Only time will tell.
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