The AGM of the Australian Vellore Board was held at Rosefield Uniting Church, 2 Carlton St, Highgate, South Australia, on Saturday 26 August 2023, the delegates either attending in person or participating via zoom. There was a total of 19 people in attendance.

The President, Stephen Aseervatham, welcomed everyone to the meeting.

The devotions were conducted by Dr Ian Olver. The message emphasised the importance of unity, enabling us to have an effective focus on our mission.

Minutes of AGM 2022

The minutes of the AGM held in Brisbane in 2022 was tabled and accepted as an accurate record of proceedings.

Under the matters arising from the minutes, it was noted that the promised brochure had indeed been finalized through the efforts of the Secretary and the good work of his niece Mrs Tanya Van der Schoor (Wollongong). The brochures have been distributed to the branches. It can now easily be updated, but there will of course be a printing cost.

President’s Report

The outgoing President, Dr Stephen Aseervatham, read out his report, which had been pre-circulated. It was pointed out that in the past year donations very understandably dropped but have now picked up slightly. They are mostly designated by the donors, but there remain substantial funds that can be used to respond to specific requests from Vellore. An example was the Hybrid Vascular Theatre.

Stephen emphasized the value of the zoom meetings with the International FOVs and also his most helpful interaction with the Development Office, which has been much expanded since the departure of Hugh Skeil and had now moved its activities to the next level.

In his final comments, he looked back at the six years of his presidency. It was true that much had been achieved. He was enormously grateful to all the assistance that he had received from the Board and especially the Directors.

But he did express concern that the organization had not shown any growth in recent years and that the pool of donors was not receiving new additions. It would be good if the expatriate alumni support could be increased.

In response to the President’s report, the incoming president Mahiban Thomas, followed by other delegates, praised Stephen for his outstanding contribution to the AVB over a long period of time, but particularly during the past six years.

Treasurer’s Report

Richard Caitens in his Treasurer’s report presented an overview of the current state of the AVB finances. The income for this year was $354K, as compared with $244K last year, but the increase was slightly deceptive, as it depended on when certain donations were listed. This year $250K has again been transferred to Vellore, of which at present $142K was awaiting allocation. Expenses are very low, $9363, mainly for bank charges and the auditors. They represent only 2–3% of income. It could be argued that they could be increased, because it often needs money to attract more money.

Questions were raised as to why not more money is sent over to Vellore. The President responded that it is good to keep money in reserve, in case worthy projects come along and can receive immediate response.

Richard was warmly thanked for all his efforts on behalf of the AVB. There is a lot of detailed work involved and it was noted that he has worked very closely with Stephen for many years. The proposal was put forward that the role of Assistant Treasurer be created for Stephen, so that their partnership could continue. This suggestion was received with general approbation.

Reports from State FOVs and Alumni Association

Reports were presented by the State Presidents Robyn Bradley (NSW), Sharon Thomas (QLD), Renjy Nelson (SA), David Runia (VIC), and Mahiban Thomas (Alumni Association) summarizing and highlighting activities during the year.

Web Site Development

David reported that some progress had been made on the important task of upgrading the AVB’s website. A contract has been signed with Simon Gill, Managing Director of Identiti Web Development. In consultation with Simon, a template has been selected. In the meantime, Stephen, as our current webmaster, has brought the contents of the website up to date as much as possible, so that the content can now be worked into the template and a trial version developed. In order to make the website attractive, there is a need for dossier of at least 20 high quality photos. David requested that photos of this quality be sent to him; the majority of images should be action shots of medical staff and patients, illustrating the work that takes place in the hospitals and educational settings.

Mahiban was delighted to announce that he had a conversation with Steven Bollipo, who is prepared to take over the role of webmaster when the process of refurbishing the website is completed. In response Steven also shared with the meeting his views on the importance and efficacy of social media for our work.

Election of Board of Directors for 2023–2024

The President conducted the election. The following nominations for the positions as Directors of the Board were put forward and approved by acclamation.

President                           Mahiban Thomas

Vice-President                   Renjy Nelson

Secretary                           David Runia

Treasurer                          Richard Caitens

Publicity Officer                 Sharon Thomas

In addition, as earlier foreshadowed, Stephen Aseervatham was elected as Assistant Treasurer and Steven Bollipo as Webmaster. Both will be members of the Board (in Stephen’s case in addition to his role as immediate past President). The newly elected President, Mahiban Thomas, took the chair.

Appointment Board members

It was proposed that Board would in principle continue to consist of the Directors, the Presidents of the State branches and one further representative from each state, together with a representative of the Alumni Association and the Webmaster. The final composition will be determined prior to the first teleconference of the Board planned for later in the year, on the return of the President and Secretary from overseas.

Video presentation by the Director of CMC, Dr Vikram Mathews

By means of video presentation with PowerPoint slides, Dr Mathews brought the delegates up to date with the latest developments at Vellore. He covered many aspects of the institution:

Organisational chart of the multiple campuses, including the mission hospitals.

size of campuses, numbers of staff.

Ranipet campus –thanksgiving service on 25th June to celebrate becoming fully operational.

Outpatient number now higher than 2019.

Trauma centre, mainly treating road accidents.

Finances back on track, commitment to charity and subsidy maintained.

Tariff revision kept very low at 2%.

Plans for phase 2 at Ranipet—for the paediatric block resources are in place.

Project to upgrade the main campus (will take 10–15 years).

significant investment simulation in labs and developing staff skills.

Public health—new Institute, CMC called upon by government for medical crises.

Chittoor campus plans for new medical College in next 5–7 years, seeking funds.

Mission outreach – forming a mission network, focusing on poor regions of India.

Jawadhi Hills – will be building a hospital there.

Research always context specific and effective.

National and International recognition of faculty.

Rankings remain high, also in the nursing sector.

Also, strengths in many other areas, including in IT and procurement.

People are more important than buildings, wonderfully dedicated workforce.

Thanks for the support of FOVs.

After the video, zoom contact was made with Dr Mathews in person and a lively Q&A session ensued. Discussion points included mission hospitals, the new College in Andrah Pradesh, finances (cause for gratitude that for the new Ranipet complex CMC will soon start to repay principal of the loan in addition to interest); expansion beyond the medical areas to other kinds of help, e.g. in the legal area; role of philanthropy; the new logo (soon to be introduced). Mahiban Thomas asked the Director to tell us about the bad news: in response we heard that attention had to be paid to staff retention; it was important to keep the staff happy; the new student selection process was challenging; but the Director was confident that (1) the Vellore ethos would continue to shine through, and (2) the connection with the churches and mission hospitals would remain strong.

The Director was warmly thanked for so generously making himself available. It was hoped that he would soon pay a visit to this country.

Revitalising the FOV: Discussion on future directions

The discussion, chaired by the incoming President, took as its starting point the document jointly prepared by him and his predecessor, the outgoing President. Its main theme was summarized under the title “Revitalization,” and it outlined short term and midterm goals, complemented by a wish list.

     Given the ageing of the branch membership and the decline of church support, much will depend for the future of the organization on the involvement of CMC alumni, who through their training and experience “have skin in the game.” The role of the Alumni organization will be important, remaining independent and separate, but sharing many goals. This is not to say that there is no role for non-alumni. They too remain critical for the future of the organization.

By working together, the AVB and the Alumni Association should be able to find pathways to assist the mission hospitals, even if formally the AVB may not send money to the hospitals for the CMC to distribute. One solution would be to support the CMC in its work with the hospitals, as outlined by the Director. It is not a good idea to try to change our constitution.

     The UK FOV, with Ruth Tuckwell as part-time general secretary and now assisted by a part-time helper for purposes of publicity and soliciting donations, can be seen as a model which we could strive for. At present it is not feasible for the AVB to appoint a dedicated paid employee since the necessary structures are not (yet) in place. It is, however, a goal to which we can aspire.

There is a need for greater boldness in spreading our vision, e.g. via recruiting politicians and celebrities when the opportunities arise. In such efforts the role of social media is key. Although fund-raising remains very important, it should not be emphasized at the cost of everything else. There are many other ways that the FOV can be useful, e.g. in welcoming and facilitating visits of CMC staff to Australia for training and other purposes.

It was agreed that this discussion was a good start, which the Board can build on in future sessions via teleconferences etc.

AGM 2024

The Secretary reported that, on the basis of the AGM being rotated between branches, the next venue should be in New South Wales, where no meeting had been held since 2016 (the meeting planned for Sydney in 2020 could not take place because of the pandemic).

At the request of the president Stephen closed the meeting with a word of prayer, which was followed by the singing of the Doxology.