The history of the company

For its first 14 years, there was very little central organisation of WSDC between the individual tournaments – imagine the Olympics with no IOC (which might be a good thing).  The only central body that existed (in the later years of that period) was an Appeals Committee of past, present and next Convenor, who decided on issues referred to them.

In 2002 the ‘Executive Committee’ was created in order to involve more people, elected by the World Council of participating nations.  The members of the Executive were charged with taking central decisions for the benefit of WSDC and developing the tournament through working groups of volunteers, which looked at issues like hosting, the draw, motion setting, EFL/ESL status, judging standards, online activities and so on.  One of those working groups was the Finance Group, tasked with exploring fundraising on a central, global basis.  All of the people involved were volunteers and there was no legal status to the organisation.

In 2007/2008, an Executive working group chaired by James Probert looked into the possibility of incorporating WSDC as a registered company.  A postal ballot was held for the members of the World Council to vote on incorporation.  The announcement of the ballot, with accompanying documents explaining the arguments in favour, can be seen here in Mark Gabriel’s message to the mailing list of 10th April 2008: (*)

29 countries voted in favour of incorporation;  0 against.  WSDC was then incorporated as a not-for-profit limited company in the United Kingdom (chosen as the country with the highest concentration of WSDC alumni) on 6 August 2008.

The purpose of WSDC Ltd

Andrea Coomber wrote this summary of the reasons for incorporation, in October 2010:

It is important to bear in mind that the charity – WSDC Ltd. – is a legal body that has been established to meet the long-term objectives of our community. Its purpose is emphatically not to tinker with the rules of a debating competition: to discuss whether we should have power pairing, to set guidelines for judging, etc. These responsibilities remain with the Council and the Executive. Rather, it has three stated objectives as outlined in the Memoranda and Articles of Association of WSDC Ltd. (attached to this message):

  1. to encourage and advance the education of young people in communication skills through conducting debating events;
  2. to achieve excellence in debating by young people through annually conducting the World Schools Debating Championships;
  3. to promote international understanding and free speech through debating to help young people develop their capabilities that they may grow to full maturity as individuals and members of society.

When our community decided to create an incorporated body to advance these objectives it did so not to create a bureaucracy that would control all the activities of the WSDC.  It is important to note that WSDC Ltd. plays no role in the annual organization of the championships, has no interest in the rules of debate, the management of the tournament, the eligibility of nations, etc. Under the Rules the Council and the Executive address these. While it is very early days, ultimately the WSDC Ltd. will act as a business engine for financing, expanding and profiling schools’ debating internationally.
The first directors were Michael Birshan (former England debater and coach), Andrea Coomber (former Australian coach) and Yuri Romanenkov (former Lithuanian debater).  A full board was elected shortly afterwards.

The new company was a membership association and countries were invited to apply to become members at no cost.  All participating countries in 2008 were granted membership, and likewise in 2009 any new countries were welcomed as new members.

Reform of governance

In June 2010, James Probert circulated a paper on proposed reforms to the new structure of WSDC.  You can read the initial email and paper here:

There was a fair amount of discussion on the main WSDC (Netpals) mailing list in following months which can be read in the archives.  The reform paper including specific proposals was then formally submitted to the AGM held in February 2011, of which the minutes are here:

As you can see, a number of distinct votes were held to reform the WSDC organisation, the results of which are minuted.  Some of the key proposals included:

  • Creation of the Tournament Committee to clarify the role of adults attending a tournament, who vote for the elected Tournament Executive Committee
  • Division of the current rules into “bye laws” (to be deliberated online by the membership) and the “tournament rules” (to be voted on in person by attendees at the tournaments)
  • Introduction of membership fees (with a view to raising the £5,000 a year annual income required for charitable status in the UK)
  • Widening of membership to multiple individuals and organisations per country

The governance reforms were adopted by 21 votes (countries) to 3.

The parts of WSDC Ltd

These are listed in the bye laws and include:

  • The Board of Directors – the legally required board of a limited company
  • The Members – paying members of the company
  • The Tournament Committee – one representative per nation attending WSDC tournaments, who vote in the annual TC meeting
  • The Tournament Executive Committee – elected by the Tournament Committee
  • The Development Board – disbanded through lack of activity – was intended to manage the company on a day-to-day basis
  • The Competitors Advisory Board – was created with a view to involving current student participants to a greater degree, but disbanded

Paid membership

Since the ratification of membership fees, applications have been solicited via our standalone membership website:

This is powered by the WildApricot membership system which handles payments, membership records, mailouts, events and restricted content including forums.  (This is why we couldn’t just put it on our main website although it has always been promoted there.)

The call for members is expressed as follows:

Have you enjoyed and benefited from your attendance at the World Schools Debating Championships in the past?  Then please become a member and help us widen access to future tournaments.  Our aims are to:

  1. Help new countries to attend.
  2. Help existing countries to trial more students for their teams.
  3. Ease the financial burden on future hosts.
  4. Lower registration fees for all participants.
  5. Develop training materials for new teams.
  6. Connect alumni and share memories and opportunities.

WSDC Ltd is a company registered in the UK and run by alumni of the competition.  We need a certain amount of funding to become a charity, and then qualify for grants and corporate sponsorship not currently available to us.  We hope our alumni will help us get to that first target.

The goals of WSDC Ltd

As of 2011, our main goals were to:

  • Use membership fees to raise an annual income of more than £5000 a year
  • Once that income was demonstrated, apply for charitable status in the UK
  • Then, approach large corporations to make charitable donations to WSDC Ltd
  • Use those funds to help hosts, new teams, teams in need of funding and the publication of WSDC resources

The future

In January 2015, the Board of Directors is inviting volunteers to join a review panel to consider future organisational changes to WSDC Ltd.