From the President: December 2019

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It is not unusual to look back on the year that is coming to an end, to reflect on how things have changed and set in place plans for the year to come. When Executive held their meeting at the end of November 2019 it was almost exactly one year since the new Executive had been formed. An appropriate time for reflection.

The members of the Executive came together at the end of the WONCA World Council meeting in Seoul, in November 2018. Some of them had known each other for many years, having collaborated in Working Parties and Special Interest Groups and knowing each other through academic or clinical interests. Some others had never met each other.

The group was made up of me, as President, the Immediate Past president, the President-Elect, the CEO, seven region presidents representing each WONCA region and three very recently elected Members at Large.

When we first met, we knew there was much work to be done. We had big ideas about improving our global visibility. We wanted WONCA to be at the forefront of achieving Universal Health Coverage through delivery of quality primary care services; and we were all very conscious of our responsibilities to our respective constituencies.

WONCA finances and our ‘day-job’ commitments mean that we meet by teleconference once a month. But WONCA Executive only meets face to face twice a year. With the new 2-year WONCA cycle, this means that each Executive only meets face to face four times. We need to make each meeting matter. We had to start our work as soon as we were established: no waiting around, no getting used to our new roles. We needed to find a way to work constructively and productively together, right from the outset.

So, a year into office, we met face to face recently in Bangkok. (This month’s CEO column provides some background to the issues we covered). We gathered for an informal dinner the evening before the business began, to give everyone a chance to get to know their Executive colleagues a bit better. The group were joined by Prof Ruth Wilson and Prof Job Metsemakers who were in Bangkok as members of the CEO Search Committee (more about that later). Both had been members of the last Executive. There was no shortage of chat, much laughter and not a few surprises. People discovered they had friends in common; others realized that they had worked in close proximity to each other at one point in their careers; others still took the chance to compare family medicine on the ground in their respective countries.

As the pictures show, the level of interaction, the sense of camaraderie, along with the knowledge that we have serious business to be getting on with, really typifies the WONCA family. We are collegial. And as colleagues we can be so much more effective when we are talking and working face to face than we can be when constrained by the bandwidth of an internet connection.

The Executive agenda had some challenging issues to address. It usually does. Our work was collaborative, sometimes with strong views expressed and with some people inevitably disappointed with some collective decisions and happier with others. We work as a democratic team, dealing with the issues facing us, respecting our colleagues’ right to disagree with our own opinion, listening to concerns, building consensus, agreeing on our core values.

So, as the first year of this Executive comes to an end – the half-way point – I want to reassure the members in every region, those who voted for your Members at Large and for your President and President-Elect: your Executive is working well on your behalf. We continue to work using the technology available on a month by month basis. But nothing compares to sitting around a table face to face, discussing, explaining, persuading, negotiating, revising, reviewing, building our platforms for disseminating the messages that are important to WONCA members. We are not complacent. We know how much work there is still to do and we welcome it. And we are all honoured to be your Executive.

Donald Li