From the President: December 2020 - End of an Era

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December 2020 marks the end of an era for WONCA – and the beginning of a new era. At the end of the month, Garth Manning will retire as WONCA CEO after more than eight years in post. I have worked with Garth throughout that time and was on the panel which appointed him. Garth’s first day in post was the first day of a three-day WONCA Executive meeting, in London, in 2012. He was thrown in at the deep end!

When Garth arrived as CEO he had come from a career as a Wing Commander and family doctor in the UK’s Royal Air Force where, latterly, he was responsible for aeromedical evacuation. (see more in his 2017 featured doctor profile). He then became a consultant in global primary care and family medicine development, both as a team member and international team leader. He combined this with his part-time role as Director for International Development for the UK’s RCGP. Luckily for WONCA, he was used to creating calm out of chaos!

When Garth became CEO, WONCA had experienced a number of financially disappointing years: anticipated revenue from sponsorships did not materialize; income from Member Organization (MO)  levies was reducing due to the changing nature of family medicine careers (MOs pay a levy only for those in full time employment; not for part time or retired members). It became clear very early in Garth’s tenure that he would not allow Executive to continue with the ‘aspirational’ budgets which had been previously agreed and he insisted on realistic, conservative, budgets being set. The financial concerns were real: in his first two months in post, the WONCA account could not even afford to pay Garth’s salary. After a forensic review of the financial situation, revised budget projections were brought to Executive by the Honorary Treasurer and the CEO. That set the tone for future budget projections and regular revisions, to ensure that Executive was kept completely up to date with how the financial situation was playing out.

 Photo: Garth at WONCA Europe in Vienna in 2012

We are grateful to Garth for a number of things. Not least, we appreciate his turning our financial situation from one of serious jeopardy into a much more stable and predictable situation. He developed the WONCA accreditation schemes (both for practice accreditation and residency training programme accreditation) which offer countries which do not yet have clear national standards for primary care and family medicine the opportunity to be assessed and accredited by a respected organisation. He worked diligently with Karen Flegg, then Member at Large for Bylaws and Regulations, to review, revise and rewrite many of the dated articles and clauses. He steered the agenda through sometimes fraught Council meetings by offering sage advice and reminding representatives of their responsibilities and previous decisions. He ensured that successive Executives, despite only meeting face to face twice a year, had opportunities to get to know each other better so that the work could be achieved in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding.

Garth represented WONCA at many global and national events and ensured that WONCA’s name and values were recognised and acknowledged, in a way it never had been before. He supported successive Presidents and Presidents Elect – myself included – at numerous events, conferences and meetings; ensuring we were well briefed; that we knew who the key people were in regions or countries we hadn’t previously visited, that we knew at least some of the local customs; and that we didn’t need to worry about logistics, because he had those well under control.

Photo: WONCA News, July 2017 - At the World Health Assembly with Donald Li, Amanda Howe and Vivi Martinez Bianchi.

One of the things all of the Presidents, Presidents-Elect and Executives appreciated about Garth was his ability to deal with issues diplomatically, listening and facilitating a way through some difficult situations in countries or regions, using his experience and appreciation of different cultures to resolve issues. His earlier career undertaking global primary care consultancy certainly paid off!

On a personal note, I want to acknowledge and thank Garth for his work and his friendship. I have been on every Executive Garth has worked with. I know how much time, energy and determination he has put into making WONCA what it is today. I want to thank him for staying on as CEO after he had indicated his intention to retire – I knew my Presidency would be easier if I was working with someone I had got to know and respect. So, thank you Garth. WONCA and all of us have benefited greatly from your leadership.r

Photo: Donald and Garth enjoy time together in Hong Kong

During all this time, Dr Nongluck Suwisith has worked as CAO of WONCA. Nongluck is a really strong supporter of family medicine and an even bigger supporter of WONCA. She has provided administrative continuity for the organisation with her great organisational skills and her friendliness to our members right across the world. To many, Nongluck is the smiling face of the WONCA Secretariat. At conferences all around the world, people would flock to the WONCA stand, making sure that they could meet Nongluck in person, after having many email communications with her about membership or WONCA protocols or other issues. Nongluck has built up a historical knowledge of the organisation which no-one else can claim. We thank Nongluck for her commitment and her support to all of us.

Photo: In the beginning in 2012, Garth and Nongluck setting up the new secretariat office in Bangkok.

Given that we cannot hold our global WONCA conference this year, we must wait until 2021 to provide the proper farewell to both Garth and Nongluck. We will ensure that they both get a good send-off! And we welcome the new era with Harris as CEO and the Secretariat in Brussels.

Good luck!

Donald Li