From the President: June 2021

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All of us have had to adapt both personally and professionally during the pandemic. For some, there has been a welcome acceleration of the use of technologies. For others, an unwelcome loss of familiar and effective ways of consulting with our patients. Change is rarely straightforward. Our patients have also had to adapt, at a time when they are feeling particularly vulnerable. One of our professional strengths is the continuous relationship we build with our patients over years, and sometimes over generations. New ways of working can sometimes disrupt those relationships.

Our relationships with our colleagues are equally important. As professionals we relish the opportunities to come together to meet and share experiences, to develop our knowledge, to consolidate friendships. We do this locally, nationally and globally. Our WONCA World conferences attract up to 5,000 participants – and at times the interaction during breaks in proceedings can be deafening! So, we obviously have plenty to say to each other.

For the first time in the history of our organization we could not meet in person for our planned World Council and Conference. This was inevitable due to the global pandemic and its continuing effects in many parts of the world. While the absence of our conference was a sad and unwelcome consequence of the pandemic, the work of our organization continued. As with many of our Member Organisations, WONCA World continued to undertake the business designated by our Council. Our Executive continued to meet, virtually, to address the issues of business. Our Chief Executive and the new Secretariat staff established themselves in our new headquarters, albeit mostly remotely.

Because of our inability to meet in person as a Council, we sought legal and technical advice and arranged a virtual Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of Council between 11th and 16th May, to address the challenge of voting in person, as previously required by our Bylaws. We used all means at our disposal to inform our Member Organisations, writing to each one and alerting them through WONCA News about the plans for the EGM.  The process was open and transparent. The EGM provided the platform for Member Organisations to vote, allowing for different times zones, different work patterns and commitments. The EGM was preceded by two live Q&A sessions in March, chaired by me as President and Shabir Moosa as Chair of Bylaws Committee. These sessions provided opportunities for Member Organisations to clarify and question how and why we were undertaking the EGM.

I am delighted to report that, despite the unusual circumstances and the challenges being faced by many of our members, more than the required quorum logged onto the platform to vote on the issue of allowing votes to be held without the need to be together in person. 

According to our Bylaws, any amendment requires ‘ affirmative vote of at least two-thirds (⅔) of the members of Council present and voting’. The resolution to allow electronic voting was passed by a resounding majority of those who voted: 140 valid votes were cast, 130 of which were in favour of the resolution and 10 were against. Our Past Presidents Amanda Howe, Michael Kidd, Rich Roberts and Chris van Weel confirmed the criteria had been met for a WONCA quorum and verified the results as accurate.

In these uncertain times we have had to find ways to continue our work, while ensuring that our Member Organisations have open and transparent participation. Now more than ever, all of us understand the need to reach out to our colleagues and friends globally. Developing innovative ways to connect and continue to work together are important steps in our recovery from such a shocking experience as the pandemic. As members of the WONCA family, please be assured that we continue to work on your behalf. The adoption of this resolution allows us all to participate and have our voices heard, irrespective of challenges we may encounter in meeting face to face. 

In years and generations to come, our Member Organisations may well express bewilderment that this issue was so momentous. For those of us involved in the process, we are glad that we respected our WONCA forebearers and the diligence they invested in preparing and agreeing the way we do business. We are equally glad that our Council members have taken the opportunity to update and evolve the Bylaws to suit a modern and challenging world. We look forward to continuing the work of WONCA into our unknown but hopeful future.