From the President: August - September 2023

For the Common Good

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”
– Author Unknown

I receive no payment for my work as President of WONCA.

Did you know that? Everyone in the non-profit organization of WONCA works as a volunteer, except those doing the Secretariat functions. WONCA depends on volunteers to take on the elected positions, to work on the professional development of our discipline, to run our meetings, to plan and run our conferences, etc. All of this is carried out in addition to - or after- our day jobs, the ones that bring home the bacon, or the falafel if you prefer.

Some people are shocked to hear this, particularly when they realize how much work our positions entail. Some have even seemed suspicious of me, as if I must be up to something.

Well, I am. I earn a lot from my WONCA work – not in the currency of money but in meaning. The Latin term used when offering services without remuneration – pro bono – translates to: “for the common good.” Thus, it’s for my own good as well. We are all in this together.


Here is Wehner & Mieg’s 2022 definition of volunteer work:
…non-profit activity including unpaid, self-organized or institutionally organized, socially oriented work… a personal, non-profit commitment that is connected with a regular, project- or event-related expenditure of time.

As with all non-profits, WONCA’s financial resources are limited. WONCA must nonetheless be represented, in person, at a wide range of arenas around the globe. As one of WONCA’s leaders I can tell you how frustrating it is to search for funds to cover travel and accommodation expenses for members willing to represent our global community at meetings and summits. Volunteers don’t get paid, but nor should we expect them to empty their pockets to do the work. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve put the developing of income streams and the sustaining of WONCA`s finances among the main objectives of the Strategic Plan we’ll present to the WONCA World Council in October.

Volunteering Glitters, Only Not Like Gold

WONCA’s finances may be limited, but our human resources are vast – we’re more than half a million Family Doctors, spread over seven regions covering much of the globe. You might call that our social capital.

I won't deny wishing WONCA and I had bigger budgets! I’ve known that my 24/7 volunteer WONCA Presidency cuts into my Oslo G.P. practice income, and that my traveling takes me from my patients, family, and friends. Yet I continue to choose to volunteer because the work has value that goes beyond and outside what we think of when we evaluate in terms of money, as we do in the ordinary job market.

T. Schnell has a good overview of volunteering as meaningful work in the 2020 book, The Psychology of Meaning in Life. It is significant – impacting on the action (or inaction) characterizing our life choices. It helps reveal purpose – “serving as a compass…[when] making decisions and choosing goals.” It adds a quality of coherence – helping us make sense of our choices. It heightens our sense of belonging – seeing ourselves as “…part of something larger than the self, as having a place in this world.”

To the list of pleasures that volunteer work can offer, Mehner & Mieg add increased autonomy – having control over the timing and pace of our attention. And it is deeply social – an aspect of what one writer described as “the paradox of meaningful work” because it’s a way of being with others that helps us reach more deeply into ourselves.

Volunteering Can Also “Enrich” your Day Job

In short, volunteer work is different from paid work – a freer, more autonomous, independent activity. Yet its meaning and value are not limited to these intrinsic benefits.

The coordination of volunteer work with gainful employment is no trivial pursuit. Many WONCA members who hold posts as elected officers, as well as those who are active in Working Parties and Special Interest Groups, also hold academic posts. Their WONCA work overlaps with and often enhances the professional interests they hold within their own fields – that is, in their day jobs. That can make volunteering a win-win-win situation for all three parties: the individual, the employer, and for WONCA.

Until We Meet Again

Let me thank all of you who put yourselves forward, investing your time and energy in the development of Family Medicine. Many of you have full or part time jobs in academia, and some are also engaged in work within other organizations. While we who wear the WONCA hat are committed to WONCA, we appreciate the synergies that develop as we work with other stakeholders toward the shared aim of promoting and developing Family Medicine and Primary Care.

The WONCA World Council is coming soon, with elections of new (volunteer!) officers at both the global and regional levels. Officers will be appointed to the Statutory Committees of Membership, By-laws, Finances, and Organizational Equity. Chairs and Convenors of Working Groups will take office.

Until then, please give some thought to:
• What do we learn from work in general, and from volunteering specifically vs. working within a system of paid employment?
• Volunteer work constitutes a non-profit system that adds value to society, for example as social capital. What terms that aren’t tied to “monetizing” might explain and communicate this?
• Volunteer work is a meaningful activity. What are your personal, underlying motivations for engaging in it?
• What roles in WONCA might you want to volunteer for?

Let`s continue developing our culture of volunteering together. It’s a privilege to work with colleagues pro bono – for the greater good. The esprit de corps that often emerges is exhilarating – and contagious!

Dr Anna Stavdal
WONCA President