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Vol. 32 No. 4
July-August 2010


Past President's Column: The IUPAC Presidency—A Happy Recollection

by Jung-Il Jin

The importance and responsibility of the IUPAC presidency and the multiplicity of its functions are greater than one might imagine. Yet, these are rightfully reflected in the status of its position. In my term as president, I was helped and aided by a large group of capable and dedicated people: members of the Executive Committee, Bureau, and staff, as well as the IUPAC Officers.

After assuming the office of president, it immediately became evident that frequent and effective communication among and between the various branches of IUPAC and its constituent members is essential for the big machine of IUPAC to operate effectively. I quickly became aware that communications between IUPAC and the NAOs and ANAOs needed significant improvements. To this end, the Membership Relations Committee was formed earlier within the Bureau and already is functioning. Moreover, the Council Meetings, held every two years, do not provide sufficient opportunity for sharing ideas and deep discussions among IUPAC and NAO representatives. Such opportunities inevitably will help focus more of IUPAC’s and the NAOs’ attention to areas of mutual concern.

While the IUPAC presidency carries much prestige, it also requires considerable work and effort to respond to the opinions, and needs, of the local units. Frequently, constituents would like to see IUPAC leadership make faster decisions and take firm actions without delay. Because of this, a wide range of criticisms are steadily reaching the IUPAC Bureau. On the other hand, a continual stream of information, supporting various positions, also reach the Bureau, aiding in making better decisions.

By necessity, IUPAC is conservative: it maintains standards, making changes only when necessary. This carries through to the presidency, making it necessary to be exceedingly prudent when coming to important decisions. Inevitably, this made me consider my presidential roles:

  • as an innovative leader bringing in progressive changes urged by the less patient reformist groups
  • as the guardian of history and tradition, resisting the temptation for hasty change
  • as a democratic negotiator restraining himself from expressing his personal philosophy and opinions

In a short time, I learned that the IUPAC president should maintain a relatively flexible stance whenever he or she has to consider any controversy. A president with a charismatic personality and viewpoint can be less desirable than one with a practical mind. My own principle on taking any leadership position, regardless of rank, is not simply to be satisfied by the honor of being in the leader’s chair but, through diligent involvement and devotion, to do my best to elevate the position.

A tour of the IUPAC website <www.iupac.org> makes apparent the diversity of the Union’s services and operations—and the structural complexity of the organization. Then, there are the differing circumstances and opinions of the NAOs, the diversity of opinions on various technical matters. These are made more difficult by the inevitable communication barriers that exist in any large international organization.

The president’s term of office can make it stressful to make progress and reach goals in his/her limited period of service. Fortunately, in my case at least, this feeling disappeared relatively quickly because of the good advice provided by the superior analytical minds of the IUPAC officers and staff. Among them, the secretary general and the executive director occupy the most important and demanding positions. To keep the president constantly supplied with information, advice, and opinions, is only part of their jobs.

The wisdom of one’s predecessors is another invaluable asset for the president. But besides these, the president should keep his or her eyes and ears wide open might they miss any suggestions or complaints coming from any corner of the organization, including the NAOs and the members.

The president also has duties and obligations outside the sphere of IUPAC. As the leader of IUPAC, the president must maintain friendly relations with other international organizations and collaborate with them on areas of mutual interest. He or she also must represent the Union in dealing with other chemical organizations outside of IUPAC and present chemistry to the people of the world, in general. As a consequence, the president must maintain a significant degree of fairness and impartiality in such extra-organizational dealings. I felt the pull of external demands on IUPAC to expand its role as a scientific leader in dealing with questions of international concern, particularly the sustainable development of the world community. There is no doubt that IUPAC should be more proactively involved in global affairs, utilizing its capacity to mobilize the experience, knowledge, and capabilities of its constituents.

The cooperation that has just begun between IUPAC and the United Nations is an outstanding example of this and we are hopeful it will become the cornerstone for further contributions to the well-being of people and protection of the planet. The president’s enthusiasm alone is inadequate to sufficiently raise IUPAC’s visibility, impact, and international status. To do this, it is necessary to improve the Union’s financial position. Money will be needed to become more deeply involved in a wider range of global problems. Therefore, I feel that a significant role for the president is to strengthen the financial capabilities of the constituent units. Increasing the number of member countries is another important responsibility. IUPAC undoubtedly will do its utmost during the International Year of Chemistry, 2011, to improve its worldwide recognition and image as a leading voice for the international chemistry community.

My experience has taught me that the IUPAC presidency requires keen insight, vision, and courage to cope with contemporary and future global issues. It also involves proselytizing and convincing the world that chemistry is “our life, our future.” Any leader without the strong support and cooperation of his or her constituents will be doomed, like an eagle without wings. Happily for me, and for the new office holder, the IUPAC presidency is blessed with the unstinting support and cooperation of its constituents.

Jung-Il Jin <jijin@korea.ac.kr> was IUPAC president for 2008–2010. Previously in IUPAC, he served as president of the Polymer Division. Jin is a professor at the Korea University in Seoul, Korea.


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