From the CEO's desk: June 2020

Photo: WONCA Executive's recent video meeting

Countries in lockdown. Borders closed. Populations physically distancing. It seems like a mad, mad world – and yet the work of the organization must go on as best it can. I’d like to start this CEO column with my thanks to Dr Nongluck and her small team for their wonderful efforts to keep the Secretariat functioning, even as Bangkok was in significant shutdown.

WONCA Webinars

Last month I highlighted a series of WONCA webinars which had been initiated in an effort to replace at least some of the cancelled and postponed WONCA events. These have proved very popular, and we have been gratified by the attendance and active participation in the various programmes. We have been especially pleased to welcome many WHO colleagues to take part in the events.

After over two months of weekly broadcasts we are taking a bit of a break, but hope to be back soon with some more webinars in the series, so watch this space and the regular e-updates for details. In the meantime if you missed any of the webinars and/or want to view them again they can be accessed online at the links below.
Webinars on YouTubeWebinars on Youku

WONCA Executive meeting

WONCA Executive had agreed that their May meeting would take place in Belfast, my home town, as a gift to me for my 8 years in office. Unfortunately COVID-19 intervened, and we had to resort to a virtual meeting on Zoom instead.

Given the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in, teleconference platforms such as Zoom offer an opportunity to see each other and chat. However there are inevitable drawbacks. Connectivity may be poor, and even when it is good there is a short delay between sound and vision, which can be disconcerting. Real face to face meetings are hugely facilitated by informal discussions taking place at coffee breaks, lunches and other social events, when much of the work can be done and issues resolved, and those chances were greatly missed on this occasion.

Nevertheless Executive gave it their all in trying to cover the key issues on the agenda. As usual, reports from regions and statutory committees had to be considered, along with reports from Working Parties, Special Interest Groups and Young Doctors’ Movements. Key issues for consideration at this meeting included:

- Bylaws – the Bylaws and Governance Committee had proposed a number of Bylaws revisions. Executive duly considered each one in turn before determining which would go before the next World Council for consideration. This was a particularly taxing item to have to deal with virtually.

- Plans for the new Secretariat were also presented and discussed. The CEO-designate, Dr Harris Lygidakis, attended this Executive meeting and presented the plans to Executive to appraise them of the hard work that has been undertake to date. The plan is to move the WONCA Secretariat to Brussels, which will be convenient for EU headquarters and also quite convenient for short hops to Geneva and WHO HQ. A number of legal and administrative steps are still in progress but the hope is to transition by the end of 2020.

- Possibly the most challenging item for discussion was a significant budget revision. With the cancellation of so many conferences, WONCA income from conference levies will be much reduced in 2020. In addition, and partly related, renewals of Direct and Academic Memberships are down, with consequent reduction in income. Of course, travel has been drastically curtailed, and so some savings will be possible on these budget lines, along with the WHO and Executive budgets. Nevertheless the overall picture is one of a potential additional deficit. Hon Treasurer, Prof Val Wass, working with the CEO, had drawn up a revised budget for Executive to consider, and it was reassuring that Executive ultimately agreed and endorsed the revisions as proposed.

Many other issues were also covered – issues such as: work with WHO; Communications Strategy; and a proposal from the young doctors (happily endorsed by Executive) to establish a “Rising Star award for young doctors, along the lines of the Five Star Doctor Award. Executive also considered a report from the Nominating and Awards Committee, recommending a number of WONCA Fellowship and Hon Life Direct Member awards. Members of Executive had also drawn up a list of possible awardees, all of whom were agreed by Executive. All award winners have been notified, so that they can make plans to attend in person to collect their awards in Abu Dhabi, but the names are embargoed for now, pending final endorsement by Council. All will be revealed in due course!!

WONCA World in Abu Dhabi

The final major issue which Executive discussed was the feasibility of going ahead with Council and conference in Abu Dhabi in November. President, President-elect, CEO-designate and I have been in discussions for some time with the Host Organizing Committee (HOC) and the Professional Conference Organizers (PCO) as well as with our governance adviser, Professor Rich Roberts. Discussions are also ongoing with the HOC for Sydney 2022.

Many options have been appraised but it’s fair to say that no single solution has emerged, as most solutions were contrary to one or more bylaws. We have, however, managed to narrow the options down to two:
• Option 1 - Proceed on schedule in November 2020 with hybrid virtual Council and conference (for most)
• Option 2 - Postponement of Council and conference to October/November 2021 in Abu Dhabi, with postponement of 2022 event in Sydney by 12 months to October 2023.

Executive views have been very valuable so far, though most confirmed that they would be unable to attend Abu Dhabi in person in November 2020, for a variety of reasons. We have now gone out to further formal consultation with Executive, spelling out the two key options. We have also sought the views of our Member Organizations to advise them of what we have been doing so far and we will continue to discuss with them. We are aware that a decision will need to be made soon – and certainly no later than the end of June – to allow for the many revisions and reorganizations that will be needed.

These are extraordinary and exceptional times, but members should be assured that Executive is working hard on your behalf to find the optimal solution under these trying circumstances. We will, of course, keep you all advised and informed as best we can.

Garth Manning, CEO