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Face to face: Carola van der Hoeff, COO and congress director, FIP

“We need to be able to adapt. Quickly”

Carola van der Hoeff, COO & Congress Director, International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) thinks working from home is ‘exhausting’ but that change is inevitable.

Interview by James Lancaster

These are extraordinary times: how has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work at the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP)?

The last few months have been a rollercoaster; things have evolved in such a short time, at such a fast pace. We had to cancel two of our regional events and two of our international events have gone virtual. We had to deal with uncertainty and rapid changes in a way few can have been fully prepared for. We had to manage not having the same income from the congress and still delivering the content to our members. Through our little experience in delivering digital events we had to deliver everything online and this has been a big change for me and my team within FIP.

Has it forced any permanent changes to how your organisation will operate in the future?

Yes, for sure we have realized that we cannot only build on the income through our membership and congress, but that we must look for other opportunities and spread the risks. Therefore, we are investing a lot of time in more digital offerings for our members through all kinds of digital events including a so‐called Moodle where people have access to several learning opportunities. Associations must look at new business opportunities and rethink their models.

What do you think the main challenges are for associations right now?

The challenges for the associations are the unknowns what will happen next year and beyond. We don’t yet know how this virus will go; some countries already have had their second wave with further restrictions. Will our delegates come again to the congresses or are they not willing to travel? Do they get permission, or funding even, to join a face‐to‐face event? What will happen with the related industry sectors, we know that a lot of companies within our industry are facing difficulties. Another challenge we must deal with is the potential impact on future membership income from our member associations. Our invoice cycle meant we got most of our payments for this year before COVID-19, but who knows what the situation will be next year?

What are the major challenges facing your organisation?

I feel our association is doing quite well; we have done more than ever, especially on the digital offering. We have just hosted two of our international congresses virtually, which was a big success. A challenge for our organisation is the unknown, as for everybody. What will be the impact on membership income in 2021 and beyond? Will we be able to have our congress in Seville next year and will the delegates come? We are preparing for different scenarios. Personally, the challenge would be to continue at the same pace, as it has been exhausting. Working from home has benefits but also gives you a 10-hour working day – at least. But let’s see how things move. We need to be ready to adapt quickly in all kinds of circumstances.

How old is your organisation and how many members does it have?

The International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) was founded in 1912; through our 151 national organisations, academic institutional members and over 4,000 individual members, we represent over four million pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists and pharmaceutical educators around the world. FIP is a non‐governmental organisation with its head office in the Netherlands.

Who are your members?

Our members are leaders of pharmacy at a global level in all aspects; pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists, pharmacy educators…

Why does the federation exist? What is it trying to achieve?

FIP is a non‐governmental organisation with its head office in the Netherlands. Through our partnerships and extensive pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences network, we work to support the development of the pharmacy profession, through practice and emerging scientific innovations, and through developing the pharmacy workforce in order to meet the world’s health care needs and expectations.

As well as your work with FIP you are President Elect of the AC Forum. Tell us a bit about the AC Forum and what changes you hope to bring to the organisation?

CH AC Forum is a not‐for‐profit association with the aim of advancing association leadership and congress management. We have 35 full members and two provisional members. Many members come from the healthcare sector, but membership is open to not‐for‐profit associations in any sector. I would like to see the association grow by expanding our membership. The first step has been taken at the General Assembly this year, where the members ratified a change in the member application process, so it is no longer necessary for members to have their HQ in Europe.

Last year PCMA named you their Global Business Events Executive of the Year. What has been the driving inspiration behind your career? What spurs you on to go ‘the extra mile?’

You cannot imagine how proud I was to receive this prestigious award as it was so unexpected. Being recognised in such a way made me speechless, which is not often the case. My inspiration behind all of this are my colleagues in business from all over the world. Building relations with them and learning and helping each other when possible.

If you could change one thing about ‘the meetings industry’ what would it be?

There should be mutual understanding right now. Everybody in our industry is facing challenges so I hope that this is something that will happen. Because we are all partners in business, we need each other. Associations cannot do without the meeting industry and the meeting industry cannot do with the associations.