Changes in FSFE: Time to pass on the torch

Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) was conceived in early 2000, pregnancy took about a year, and in early 2001 my decision to make the creation and success of Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) my first and foremost priority in life was clear. This was eight years, six months, and a couple of days ago, and the organisation has meanwhile survived birth, infancy, childhood and adolescence – in particular thanks to the great people that have been part of FSFE over the years.

The founding group consisted of people from Germany, France and Sweden, with Italy joining during the first General Assembly in 2001. There has been a healthy fluctuation of people and positions over the years. Of the seven initial founders four are still members in the association, and two have had four entire two-year terms in their positions. The other positions were typically held for 3-5 years, which is long enough to build up and pass on experience, but not so long that the organisation needs to be concerned about dictators for life.

This was a design principle for FSFE from the start. Our goal was to build an organisation that will survive every individual member. We wanted an organisation that was strong on principle and would be able to protect this set of principles for the future but at the same time incorporated the best of the European experience and culture, including the capability to translate these principles to a changing world.

That is why FSFE has always worked hard to redefine and improve itself. The culture in FSFE has evolved into one that embraces development and change, to give it our best shot, and then see what we could have done better. It has always been a privilege to work with so many people who are capable of carrying such an environment forward.

But in order for FSFE to truly embrace change on all levels, to experience it as something normal regardless of the person concerned, it was necessary to give the organisation practical experience with change on all positions, the President included.

That is why during the 2008 General Assembly in Zürich I informed my colleagues in the Assembly that for the upcoming election during the 2009 General Assembly I would no longer be available as President.

The choice of timing seemed logical, because FSFE will never be more prepared for this step. It is a grown up international organisation incorporating some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The financial situation is sufficiently stable, internal process is working smoothly, the organisation has an excellent track record and built significant political capital and contacts over the years, and the waters in which FSFE is currently sailing are as smooth as they will ever be.

The last year was spent preparing this change, preparing the organisation, its volunteers, and finding the right people to take FSFE to the next level. Looking at the new team I do not believe that we could have found a better group of people.

Karsten Gerloff, FSFE’s new President, spent the past years at the UNU-MERIT, working with people such as Rishab Ghosh to provide the scientific basis for the political change around Free Software. Before that he was an intern at FSFE, working with me at the United Nations, specifically the World Intellectual property Organisation (WIPO), he is familiar with FSFE’s policy work and I have no doubt that he will be able to represent Free Software effectively on all levels.

Fernanda Weiden, FSFE’s new Vice-President, has been an active part of the Latin American and European Free Software community for many years. As a co-organiser of the Free Software Forum in Porto Alegre, organiser of the world’s first conference on women in Free Software and an active part of the Free Software Foundation Network for many years, she combines exceptional technical skills with a passion for Free Software and many years of coordinative experience.

Christian Holz, FSFE’s new Executive Director, is a Fellow turned Executive Director. His classic business background, among others with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), give him the skills and experience needed to manage FSFE’s daily operations. He had decided to become involved with Free Software and work with FSFE through the Fellowship when the Executive Director position was announced. We found him pragmatic, focussed and a good social fit for FSFE.

Adriaan de Groot, FSFE’s designated FTF Coordinator, is known to many people in the Free Software community from his work as a KDE e.V. and NLUUG board member, and has been involved in FSFE’s Freedom Task Force for some time now. His experience and skills make him uniquely skilled to be our next FTF Coordinator.

Matthias Kirschner, FSFE’s new Germany and Fellowship coordinator, has been with FSFE for several years now, starting his career as FSFE’s first-ever intern, contributing to the set-up of the Fellowship. Over time he has become a valued member of the General Assembly, and after his studies in politics and management are now finished, he is also taking over as FSFE’s German representative.

These five people were the group with which I worked intensively to prepare the 2009 General Assembly, define the strategic planning and milestones. Working together was a great pleasure and almost made me regret that I won’t get to be part of this new and powerful team for FSFE. But you should know that their plans are also my plans, and they have my fullest support.

So these are the changes in FSFE’s structure, but of course there is also plenty of continuity. Reinhard Müller has kindly agreed to stay on as FSFE’s Financial Officer, overseeing the work of the new Executive Team as a kind of “internal auditor.” Cristian Rigamonti will continue to work on FSFE’s systems, and Giacomo Poderi will continue to work on FSFE’s newsletter.

FSFE will continue to have my full commitment as a volunteer and member of the General Assembly to participate in the strategic planning of the organisation. So this change does not reduce the experience available within the organisation. It increases it by adding the impressive background of the new Executive Team.

As my parting request, I would like to ask all of you to give this new team your support.

If you are not yet a Fellow, please join now.

If you have thought about getting involved, please do..

And if you see any of them around, please seize the opportunity to get to know them – it’s worth it.

P.S. And should you be wondering what my plans are, please do read on.

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