The past year has been one of upheaval for the Bitcoin Foundation. In February, it held a contentious election, fraught with technical difficulties. Last week, the two new individual members who earned seats in that election, Jim Harper and Olivier Janssens, were compelled to give up those seats.
On December 22, the Foundation announced the formation of three new board seats. Michael Perklin, who ran in the last election and received the most votes from the membership after Harper and Janssens, was appointed as an individual board member. Bruce Fenton, who finished in fourth, declined to fill a second seat since he helped to propose the initiative; thus, Francis Pouliot was appointed to the position. Vinny Lingham, co-founder and CEO of Gyft, who previously ran for an industry seat, was appointed to fill a third seat as an International Member.
At the same meeting, the Foundation proposed a draft outline of the new 2016 Bitcoin Foundation Mission Statement, which is now open to member comment on Github. Key components of the draft mission statement are familiar — to foster core development, to further education and adoption and to work to limit harmful regulations and encourage technical rather than regulatory solutions — but include a broader scope than the previously narrowed “pivot” mission, which saw a nearly exclusive focus on core development.
Since the ousting of Harper and Janssens, there has been discussion within the Bitcoin community questioning the continued necessity for and relevance of the Bitcoin Foundation, with some calling for its dissolution.
“Just wind it up. Dissolve it. Get the books done,” said Bitcoin investor and pundit Trace Mayer in an video interview on The Bitcoin Report, echoing other comments on various social media platforms.
The Foundation, however, reaffirmed its commitment to continue in a unanimous vote held at the meeting. As board member Bobby Lee stated in a Reddit post on December 20, “The world benefits from having a strong Bitcoin Foundation, and the foundation will continue playing an important role in promoting bitcoin as long as there are those of us who believe in bitcoin… We still need strong leadership and direction. In spite of the recent changes in the board composition of the Bitcoin Foundation, we remain eager and motivated to turn things around.”
New board member, Michael Perklin echoed this optimism. “After my first board meeting, I can tell that every one of us on the call has a clear vision for what we want to accomplish in 2016 and how we can do it, and from what I’m told this is the first time such consensus has been reached in nearly a year.”
Perklin’s optimism extended to another issue that has haunted the Foundation lately: diminishing funds. After complaints of mismanagement and a leadership in crisis, the Foundation has been struggling to stay in the black.
With the Board’s new leadership and a redefined mission, Perklin expressed his hope that a “unified front in leadership should remove many of the hesitations that Foundation industry and individual members may have had when deciding whether to offer financial support.”
Similarly, Fenton told BTCMANAGER, “We have cut expenses a good deal, so [we] only need to raise 10% of what the peak operating budget was. We hope that corporate members will support this new vision and the foundation and that as we show positive results we gain more support.”
The Bitcoin community will be looking for more than new leaders and mission statements from the Foundation, however, if it is going to garner support. As Mayer stated, the Foundation needs to be “rehabilitated.”
“I completely agree,” Perklin told BTCMANAGER. Both he and Fenton listed three issues that have eroded the community’s faith in the Foundation:
- Former board members were either convicted of crimes, or arrested due to charges of committing crimes
- Poor leadership led to the squandering of a significant amount of funds rather than careful planning and effective spending
- Their previous activities were not focused, leading to doing “too many things” – none of which were done effectively.
“Today, none of those things are true,” said Perklin. “While the reputation from the past persists, the board is made up of people who are equally as passionate about Bitcoin as I am. They’ve pledged their free time to help focus the Foundation on core values: fostering core development, training and educating new developers, and educating government/regulatory bodies to hopefully prevent restrictive regulations.”
Furthermore, the board has taken steps to become more global and less U.S-centered. None of the three new members are American, for starters.
“One of the key differentiators and advantages of the foundation relative to other groups [like Coin Center and the Digital Currency Council, for example] is its global reach,” Fenton said. “We have had about 16 global chapters and this week the board voted to eliminate the membership fee and profit sharing plan for international affiliates because we’d like to increase and strengthen this global base. There are many clubs, groups and meetups that might be stronger if we all banded together…”
So, is the Bitcoin Foundation still relevant?
“I absolutely think so,” said Perklin. “Those 3 core missions are still needed and it does not matter if they’re carried out by myself, Bruce Fenton, or John Smith. What the Bitcoin Foundation still has is a very large membership of Bitcoin enthusiasts that believe in those core values, and I know that many hands make work much easier. Working with these members for this common goal is a lot smarter than trying to effect change on my own.”
“If we look back at the last year or so, really one main challenge has been in public perception,” said Fenton. “This, in turn, has been based mostly on public board conflict. One drawback of being a highly transparent organization is that disagreements are aired in public. But if people look fairly at what this current administration has actually done, we don’t see much criticism. We’ve radically cut spending and our main activities have been things like the DevCore event which was a universal success.”
“Like Bitcoin itself, the foundation has had its fair share of heavy winds. We can’t change the past. I ask people to judge the foundation based on the present and what the current administration is doing or has done. When fairly examined through that lens i think it’s a positive story,” Fenton added.
“I’m going to work with my fellow board members to get my head around these issues,” new board member Vinny Lingham added, “and work to help rebuild the organization into a meaningful body that would positively represent and reinforce the value that Bitcoin can bring to society as a whole.”
Note: This post was edited to include comments from Bruce Fenton.