Re: Debian-Women and SPI
On 2005-07-20, Hanna M. Wallach <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>> I'm interested in any feedback people might have. Some starting
>> questions might be:
>> * Why do you think there are few women participating in SPI?
> Good question. I've been thinking about SPI a lot lately, and have
> been also been wondering about why there are so few women
> participating in SPI. The conclusion I came to is that the situation
> is largely one of perception.
[ snip ]
> at that point that I would very much enjoy getting more involved in
> SPI, but had always assumed that it just wasn't an option because I
> wasn't one of the people who'd got involved in free software way back
> when. I think this perception largely stems from the fact that when I
> think of SPI, I tend to think of a group of people all of whom have
> years of experience and a great deal of knowledge relating to free
> software. In constrast, the majority of women who participate in the
Good observation, and this is possibly one of SPI's problems,
> Thinking about this further, and now having read your mail, I realise
> that my perception of SPI is probably wrong, but I wonder how many
> other women involved in the free software also see it as such. Perhaps
> trying to address this perception would encourage more women to
> participate in SPI?
OK. I'll just toss out a few thoughts here and maybe at some point I
can boil it down to something more coherent to post on the website.
First off, just a bit of background. Some years back, Debian realized
that it ought to have some sort of legal presence to do useful things
like own machines and copyrights. So, Software in the Public Interest,
Inc. was created. SPI is a registered US non-profit organization, which
means, among other things, that American donors can receive deductions
from their taxes for giving money.
SPI was envisioned as an organization that wouldn't be Debian-specific,
but could also help out with other projects. In its early days, SPI was
involved with Gnome, among other things.
So what does SPI do? Most of our time is spent handling financial
matters. All monetary donations to Debian go through SPI and are
managed by SPI. The Debian project has control over how they are spent,
but SPI officers manage the bank accounts and sign the checks (cheques
for you non-us folks). SPI also has to take care of various legal
items, such as maintaining our non-profit status, filing appropriate
legal documents, etc.
SPI also is involved with working with the Debian trademarks. We
occasionally have been involved when someone has misappropriated a
Debian trademark. We are also involved with registering the Debian
trademarks in different jurisdictions worldwide.
Debian isn't the only project that SPI works with, though it is by far
the largest and most time-consuming. Let me just pick a few other
examples and describe how SPI works with them. The OFTC IRC network
(www.oftc.net) is a SPI member project. OFTC has no cashflow, but their
constitution mandates that SPI run their elections to ensure fairness,
and (if memory serves), SPI would arbitrate in any serious leadership
Drupal (popular web portal/blog software) and wxWidgets (cross-platform
GUI toolkit) have both recently joined SPI. We haven't had much
interaction with them to date, though we did handle the banking aspects
of a recent wxWidgets fund drive.
So, what does it take to participate in SPI?
First, perhaps I should say what you do *not* need to have to
participate in SPI.
You don't need to be a Debian developer, a programmer, or even to have
an association with Debian. (SPI's secretary, David Graham, isn't a
programmer and doesn't really work with Debian much). You don't even
need to be involved with any SPI member project, though it helps.
You don't need to have a great deal of computer science experience,
though most people will expect SPI participants to be able to handle
e-mail, web, and at least understand what ssh and a command-lines are
So you'll notice that most current SPI members have all these
unnecessary qualities in abundance ;-)
What we *do* need are people that:
* Are responsible, dedicated, and detail-oriented
* Value Free Software and want to see it continue to succeed
Extra plusses, for people that wish to be on committees or the board,
would include time to devote to SPI on a regular basis. Any legal or
accounting knowledge is extremely helpful to us, as very few of us have
any such background. (Though it's obviously not required).
So what are SPI's weaknesses?
Anyone that wants to participate in SPI should know a bit about SPI's
history, which is rather checkered.
SPI's main problem through the years, and even up to today, has been
lack of volunteer time. We just don't have enough people willing to
spend enough time with SPI. We are in a much better position now than
even 1 year ago, and far better than 3 years ago, but there is still
need for more help in many areas.
At various times in SPI's history, it had trouble even getting enough
board members together to hold regular board meetings. Several years
ago, there was a very public dispute with OSI over the Open Source
trademark, resulting in several SPI board members resigning and moving
to the OSI board. Up until just recently, we've had a series of
treasurers that were very slow or even just completely uncommunicative
for long periods of time. It often feels that, even though SPI has been
around for about 8 years, it's just now learning how to walk. We're
still recovering from the consequences of the past, particularly in the
financial area. (We were never defrauded, but there is a huge backlog
of paperwork that needs to be processed.) We've finally mustered the
support to hire professional help in this area.
How do you get involved with SPI?
Similar to other Free Software projects -- find something that interests
you and start working on it. Here are some examples:
* Interested in research and facts? We have a number of tasks in this
area, such as making sure all past resolutions enacted by the board
are listed on the website, noting which clauses in old resolutions
have been superceded by later ones, figuring out exactly who is on
our different committees and why, etc.
* HTML work? Our website needs updating in several areas. Many things
are just out of date.
* Translation? We try to make the website (www.spi-inc.org) available
in as many languages as possible.
* Procedure or policy? Our bylaws have a number of problems. We've
got a draft of suggestions to fix them, but haven't had anyone to stick
with it and shepherd the changes through the process. (At least not
in the past year or so). This is a good job for any analytical mind
(a lot of programmers or debian-legal participants would do well
* Bookkeeping? Our financial folks are *always* looking for help.
Branden is still our deputy treasurer, mainly because nobody else has
* Recruitment? Our membership committee has never really done this.
* Working with different people/groups? We don't really have good
communication with most of our smaller member projects. Somebody
that volunteers to keep in contact them, and relay information in
both directions, would be great.
* Management of a non-profit? Our next scheduled Board elections will
be in July 2006. There's nothing to say that you must be involved
with SPI before running for the Board, but most recent people to be
elected to the Board have come on that way (myself included).
So there's the "quick" overview :-) Feel free to ask if you have any