2014 was ITM’s first year under the new statutes and under the newly composed Board of Governors that was installed in October 2013. Besides important legal updates, the 2013 statutes provide ITM with a modern governance model that clearly divides powers, checks and balances between the Board (as “body of governance”) and the director (as “body of daily management”), and between the director and the new internal line management (department heads, general manager). The Board, and particularly the Bureau, will become more closely involved in the strategic planning and supervision of the institute, rather than concentrating on control as in the past. The new dynamics became immediately apparent: the Board and Bureau had no less than nine full meetings in 2014, as opposed to four in previous years. While the search for a new balance was not always easy, the board as well as the management became more than ever convinced that a robust and responsive governance model is crucial to lead ITM into an ever more rapidly changing world.
Firstly, the rollout of the new statutes resulted in the completion of the Board. We were very pleased to welcome Baron Ajit Shetty, former CEO and Chairman of Janssens Pharmaceuticals, and Dr. Elies van Belle, Medical Director of the NGO Memisa, as co-opted members. We were joined by two new statutory appointees, Mr. Fons Duchateau, Antwerp City Alderman for Social Affairs, and Mr. Chris Vander Auwera, former Administrator-General of the Flemish Ministry of Welfare. The four new members bring vital and diverse expertise to the Board, reflecting the complex but coherent variety of ITM’s fields of activity.
A second, more difficult task was the translation of the new governance model into updated bylaws and internal regulations. The legal format of the ITM is a Foundation of Public Utility, governed by common private law and hierarchic labour relations, as opposed to universities that are ruled according to custom-made “organic” and university decrees. Ensuring academic freedom and participatory management within an organisation akin to a private company required deep reflection, arduous work and delicate wording. We are proud, however, to have come up with a legal and intellectual framework that meets the demands and may serve as an inspiration to other academia.
The third major challenge of the Board this year was the assessment and consolidation of the reform plan “ITM2020+”, initiated in 2011 as strategic core of ITM’s quinquennial policy plan. In agreement with its new role, the Board supervised or conducted three major exercises in preparation of the policy plan 2015-2019, and a new five-year covenant with the Flemish Ministry of Education. An external audit, commissioned by the Ministry and led by Prof. Bart Van Daele, conducted an extensive documentary and on-site assessment of ITM’s strategic and operational management, as well as of the performance in its various fields of activity. The Board conducted also its own internal assessment, including an unprecedented joint meeting with the Academic Council. In a third and thorny exercise, the director’s performance was assessed, among others through a 360° review by staff and board members.
The over-all conclusion of the Board was that ITM2020+ had been a difficult, but right and even inevitable choice, that should now be wholly supported and implemented by all levels and all staff of ITM, under the continued leadership of the director. The outlines of a new policy plan and the Covenant with the Ministry of Education were approved. These must be further detailed in a strategic plan by the end of 2015 that will, unfortunately, also have to take into account new budgetary constraints in times of fiscal austerity. While the reforms were exactly meant to prepare ITM for this challenge, difficult choices undoubtedly still lay ahead.
Based on thorough academic selections, the Board also appointed a number of new professors, as part of the generational turnover that was another cornerstone of ITM2020+. Several of them will lead ITM in new research areas that are vital to its mission in the 21st century. Festive highlights of the year included the opening of the Karibu restaurant and residency, the public launch of the “Switching the Poles” documentary on ITM’s capacity strengthening activities, and the announcement of a prestigious grant from the InBev-Baillet Latour Foundation.
Throughout their interactions with the staff, the board members, just like the external auditors, have once again been struck by the inspiring level of commitment and expertise at all levels of the organisation. The vision, dynamism and professionalism with which ITM has taken up its national and international role in the Ebola crisis were a true testimony of scientific excellence and societal relevance. These two inseparable qualities will continue to reinforce ITM as a world leader in tropical and international health.
Cathy Berx, Governor of the Province of Antwerp
Chairperson of the Board of Governors of ITM