This is a summary of the presentation that I made at the annual NWABR fundraising event held this last Friday, June the 20th. The event was held at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) and the staff, board and volunteers were joined by approximately 150 guests to both celebrate NWABR’s 25 years of building public trust and biomedical research.
In NZ, where I am from we start presentations the following way: Tena kouto, Tena Kouto, Tena Ra Koutou Katoa. Ngau Mai Haere Mai. I acknowledge and honor you once. I acknowledge and honor you twice. I acknowledge and honor everyone here three times.
Thank you everyone. My name is Ken Gordon and as you all now know I am the new ED at NWABR.
And this is the part of the evening that everyone loves as we break down all of the normal social norms and ask you for money! So I thought I would lighten things up a wee bit and also let you know why the Board entrusted me with this role.
As Troy just mentioned I started with NWABR a few months ago and a question that I keep getting asked is “Why did the Board Hire Me?”
You see the thing is I am not a PhD, a medical doctor, a scientist, a biomedical researcher. NWABR has had a history of hiring and growing these specialists and when they hired me the Board definitely broke the mold.
I have been mulling this over myself – and here are some of the thoughts that have come to mind.
First and foremost I am a kiwi. Of course when I say this you immediately think of a somewhat small, non-descript, slightly brown and fuzzy fruit.
But when New Zealanders talk about kiwis we really mean the national bird of NZ which epitomizes our personalities – i.e. small, non-descript, slightly brown and fuzzy. These are, in my humble opinion all remarkable qualities – but alas – Cheryl Weaver (NWABR’s President) insists that she did not hire me for my fuzziness.
Cheryl insists that I was hired because of the gravitas that I can bring to NWABR. What I deduced from this is that she meant that I had:
• Had a cool accent
• Could dress up nicely
• In a pinch I could fall back on my six years of Maori language instruction, which is particularly useful since I can talk to you and no one else really knows what I am saying.
I was also hired because I am not afraid to jump in, get my hands dirty and can definitely go the distance – having now completed 14 marathons and one 50 mile ultra-marathon.
I also do have a personal connection with Biomedical Research – brought about entirely from a user’s perspective. When I moved here 9 years ago my step daughter, Eva, who was 4 at the time, was very impressed that I had been to the Emergency Room more than 20 times.
I can truly say that if it was not for the great strides in biomedical research the only part of me that would be able to be in front of you today would be my right elbow as it is the only part of my body that has not directly benefited from some form of direct medical intervention.
Lastly of course I also bring the middle earth connection. I have hairy toes and big feet, I’m comfortable with eating many meals a day; have an insatiable appetite for coffee, and am dependable and honest. These are all vital skills for helping NWABR to rebuild relationships with you our members.
That is, I’m good on my feet, love meeting in cafes, will follow through on commitments and I realize that my job is to listen!!!
But more seriously we are honored and humbled that you have been able to join us here at MOHAI this evening. This evening is of course a fundraiser and it is also a celebration of biomedical research and before I do anything else I do want to once again thank Nancy Alvord, Larry Corey, Stephen Wakefield and Bergen McMurray for joining us here tonight.
This evening is more importantly an opportunity to:
• give the message that we are still around – 25 years and going strong!
• show off some of the breadth of our work, and
• to reconnect with our members and other supporters.
The mission of NWABR is to promote the public’s trust in biomedical research and its ethical conduct.
The first part of our Mission focuses on the public’s trust. All of the research shows that members of the public have less and less trust in institutions and in biomedical research.
According to Gallup the trust levels for biomedical and animal based research especially amongst young people are now at near all-time low levels. There are similar trends about Trust is science, Trust in governments and Trust in institutions.
As a non-scientist I value how smart all of you are. I value research. I value learning. However, in the broader community the anti-science movement is swaying public opinion in areas as diverse as climate change, evolution and even basis medical procedures such as childhood vaccinations.
This is an extremely worrying trend for the community in general and for the biomedical research field in particular. Every single person in this room has benefitted from the sea change in medical practice that has occurred over the last century – with much of that sea change being driven by biomedical research.
If we lose the public’s trust in our work then our ability to continue to drive change will come to a shuddering stop. This is fundamentally important as in so many areas you are just on the cusp of making significant progress.
New technologies, better understanding of genetics, proteins and human systems are exploding our knowledge base about the diseases and conditions that impact us all.
It is therefore imperative that we undertake the work necessary to start to rebuild the public’s trust. This is not a quick or easy process. However, we know from many other areas, such as the truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa, that Trust requires openness, honesty, personal connections, listening, understanding and reciprocity.
NWABR works to build trust and understanding in Biomedical Research. Examples of this work includes the Middle School essay and High school science competitions and with its summer biomed camps. In each of these programs we match young people with preceptors who can guide them through the development of a science based project. Often these preceptors become role models for these developing young scientists.
In our community programs we have similar goals. We aim to connect professionals working in the biomedical field with members of the community and thereby encourage mutual understanding and learning.
These programs obviously directly impact the individuals concerned, and they also impact families, peers, teachers and the wider community.
The second part of our mission focuses on ethics. We work with our members to ensure that both human and animal research subjects are cared for appropriately and treated ethically. The exercise that Juan Cotto took you through this evening is a simplified version of a case that is used for training of committee members that oversee human subject research.
When issues pop up for our members in relation to their research we can be a sounding board, a thought partner, a public supporter and a trusted friend.
My staff and I have been on a listening tour with members and we are already responding to the ideas we are hearing. As an example many members have talked about the importance of keeping their facilities and staff safe – and in response we will facilitate a securing and crisis communications conference.
For our members, their work is complicated and sometimes controversial. We encourage them at the very least to become proficient communicators of the work that they do. In the Research Forum we are hosting in July, for example, we will be taking participants through a process of learning how to effectively articulate their work to regulators and the public.
Communication is an undergirding requirement for understanding.
We think working on the public’s trust reinforces our work with ethics. The work with ethics then in turn encourages the public trust. This becomes a virtuous cycle.
One of the reasons that we asked Bergen McMurray to speak tonight is that Katriona’s story epitomizes the huge impacts that these our relatively simple programs can have. Over NWABR’s 25 years we estimate that we have directly worked with 17,000 people in the medical research community and a further 7,000 students. If just one person in a hundred gets inspired, in the way that Katriona was, then the real impacts in the world would be immeasurable. Butterfly effects that we can see in the real world.
To do this work we depend on membership fees, sponsorships and donations from foundations and from individuals. We also absolutely depend on volunteers who give us over a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of time each year.
This work is incredibly important so I’m asking you tonight to consider making a donation to NWABR tonight. On your table you have a pledge card. If you placed a bid for the dessert dash then please record this on the pledge card, we are working on the honesty system here – but please feel free to round those numbers up if you really liked the dessert.
Please also consider making an additional donation to NWABR. No amount is too small or for that matter too large. So please fill out this card and pass it to one of our volunteers who will circulate in a few minutes to collect them.
If you are not sure yet about NWABR and our work – don’t make a gift tonight. But write on the card that you would like to meet with me, the NWABR staff or a Board member and we will come to you to find out more about you, your work and how we may be able to assist each other.
You can also if you wish, note down your desire to volunteer for NWABR.
If you do make a gift your funds will be used to continue to support our work of building the public’s trust in biomedical research and its ethical conduct.
Thank you so much for your generosity.
Thank you for joining us here tonight. Thank you for supporting NWABR and biomedical research. Thank you for the amazing work that you do. I am new to this community. But I already can characterize you as smart, passionate and caring. I can’t imagine a better group of supporters or a better group of people for this field of work.
And just to reinforce my gravitas:
Te Aroha, Te Whakapono
Mai te rangimarie – tatou tatou ai.
This is a brief Maori proverbial saying that acknowledges the importance of love peace and understanding in all the work that you do for the benefit of the entire community. Thank you.