We’re kicking off a project to figure out what it will take to create a non-profit organization in the UK to support the work of the volunteers who have been organizing events and teaching Ruby, Clojure, Go, Scala and Haskell! Even though a San Francisco RailsBridge workshop is more like a Brighton RailsBridge than a San Francisco Women Who Go meetup, from a legal perspective Brighton and San Francisco are completely different.
Bridge Foundry started in 2009 with a simple hypothesis that a local in-person workshop to teach other women Ruby would cause more women to want to code in Ruby. In less than 6 months, the San Francisco Ruby meetup went from 2% to 18% women. The agile, open source approach spread across the US… across languages, hosted by many different companies and organizations. Now nearly a decade later there have been more than 500 events in 19 countries. Across the UK, volunteers have hosted workshops and meetup events using our open source materials and have contributed new curriculum, along with building diverse communities.
Even though the movement is bigger globally than in the United States, it was in the US that we were threatened multiple times with legal action, and US-based philanthropists who first asked for a tax deductible donation. In 2017, we created a new US corp and the IRS approved 501c3 designation as a charitable organization. We found an excellent law firm with international offices and created a corporate structure to support the grassroots communities – we can still offer open source materials and online resources to anyone, but there are limitations about the support we can give to volunteers outside the US. Since London is an active hub with multiple different bridge communities, and there are local volunteers willing to take point with the legal team, we are now investing in figuring out how to make a UK-based non-profit – and from there, a generalized country kit to help volunteers across the world.
Building resilient organizations is no small challenge, but we have a good track record on starting small and iterating to reach a big goal. In addition to being able to raise tax deductible funds, process expense reports and award grants, there are more complex questions around the legal support for our code of conduct – the UK is likely to have protections for our work. In the longer term, we need to consider how we will support volunteers where there aren’t legal protections and support for the idea that everyone should have equal access to technology, be treated with respect, and the opportunity to learn to code.