This week Governance team members of the Emerging Voices for Global Health (EV4GH) met at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, together with a few “liaisons” from partner institutes and the focal person from the new EV secretariat ( APHRC), Francis. One might ask, why meet during a seemingly unending pandemic, a very worrying geopolitical crisis, an accelerating climate crisis, further racking up carbon footprints etc …. ? And yet – in this time of isolation, uncertainty and with arguably, many of us having acquired quite some “expertise” by now in the multiple “joys” of hybrid meetings and other Zoom platforms (ahum), meeting after two years in-person couldn’t have been a better idea. In fact, it was essential, also because for many of us in the team, it was the first time we actually met face to face. Until recently, travel restrictions and vulnerability to COVID-19 made it difficult to step across our homes and countries. COVID-19 isn’t gone, but we’re vaccinated and that gives us a certain level of immunity and confidence. We don’t feel immortal just yet, but we’re part of the lucky 60% of people across the world to have received two doses, and some of us even belong to the 24% of world population who are fully vaccinated and boosted. We are grateful to live at a time where a vaccine for a virus was developed quickly, yet humbled also by the inequitable access to vaccines in different countries. Getting together to understand the implications of this for ourselves, to plan future EV ventures to build capacity among young health system researchers who we hope will contribute to efforts to build a fairer and more sustainable planet – all this has made this trip worthwhile. Still, it was a “hybrid” meeting, as some didn’t manage to join in person and had to follow sessions virtually.
Zooming in on the governance meeting itself then, discussions focused on EV4GH’s double duty between organizing a biennial venture (especially with the upcoming Medellin/Bogota venture in Colombia later this year) and managing a network, including a thematic working group (TWG) for Health Systems Global – and the delicate dance required in ensuring this fine balance. With a more structurally funded secretariat under the new Framework Agreement V with the Belgian Development Cooperation (DGD), there are hopes for finding this balance through various proposed solutions and potential new funding strategies. Having said that, it’s “crunch time” now for funding the new EV fellowships for 2022, and we hope several donors and actors will help us in this respect, in order to allow a good amount of young health systems researchers and other change agents to go to Colombia, follow the EV training programme, and then get access to a global symposium and health systems community. The Covid pandemic taught us, among many other things, the vital importance of being ‘networked’ in difficult (and ordinary) times.
During the governance meeting, we also reflected on strategies to further expand the participation and democratization of our network. In the following months, we will present to the network a statement of how to restructure the governance board after 7 years of the current “model” – in place since 2015 more or less. Then, we became a HSG thematic working group, with a regionally representative and elected EV governance team, and an EV secretariat based in the Global South. While this model has worked reasonably well, thanks to the hard (and often volunteer!) work of so many EV alumni, governance members and the previous secretariat (IPH Bangalore), the evaluation from last year (on the decade-long journey of EV) did highlight some recurrent challenges, and so the governance team feels it’s time to take the next step, with a view on making the EV initiative and network more sustainable and ‘fit for the next decade’.
In addition, as the new secretariat becomes more and more familiar with the network and all its activities, Francis and team are increasingly “in the driving seat”, at least with respect to the more operational part (including the “numerous” taskforces 😊). With a first visit to APHRC by some governance board members planned for June, the transitional phase is soon expected to come to an end and our new partnership fully consolidated. In recent months, APHRC has also been working on streamlining M&E, and Francis is feeling more and more empowered in his role as manager of the initiative and network. This also implies that the elected governance board members are moving towards a more strategic role and somewhat less operational involvement (which was another recommendation of the evaluation). Arguably, it’s still a ‘work in progress’ (hence also the continued need for governance reform), yet we’re slowly but irresistibly getting there.
All in all, it was great to see everybody here in Antwerp. True, the weather was a bit chilly for some, but on the positive side, the catering was excellent ! “The day after”, we still have trouble to work (and walk) 😊. And now, onwards to EV Colombia 2022, which was obviously another major focus at this meeting. We can’t wait and no doubt, it’s the same for many of you!