Dr Maria Gallo, Founder and Chief Alumni Strategist of KITE:  Keep in Touch Education

I had the pleasure earlier this week to address a sell-out crowd at the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Working With Volunteers Conference in Manchester, supported by Aluminati. Delegates came from nine countries from across Europe and beyond, and it was a high energy crowd. This is no surprise as alumni relations professionals are relationship-building specialists. Working with alumni volunteers is the ultimate in forging strategic relationships with graduates to offer a mutually beneficial value proposition.

Our educational institutions are becoming more globally-facing, attracting international students, collaborative research projects, exchange programmes, and global internships to name a few.

Engaging our global alumni is more crucial now more than ever. Apart from internal pressures facing higher education related to finance and global competition for students and reputation, our institutions have a unique role to play to challenge the anti-internationalisation discourse. Our institutions, along with global alumni networks, can educate and foster alumni as global citizens while contributing to finding solutions to global challenges.

At the keynote session that started the conference, I presented three key reasons why we need to engage our global alumni now more than ever:

International alumni volunteersEncourage Storytelling

We need to encourage authentic storytelling from our global alumni. Every one of our international students-turned-alumni and every one of our alumni who move abroad after graduation has a story to tell. These stories can be insightful and of interest to our wider institution’s community. 

Prospective students, current students, academic and administrative staff can learn from these experiences and these global alumni need a platform to tell their story.

Meaningful global alumni volunteering roles are the ideal, formal way to encourage this story. 

To do this, alumni relations professionals need to become global alumni volunteering facilitators of all the volunteering that is happening across the institution. It is tempting to be the “doers” of all global alumni engagement. Instead of coordinating all the work happening across the institution, alumni relations professionals should be the strategic supporters of this work, making sure it aligns with good volunteering practice, stewardship of these volunteers, and, most crucially, identifying and encouraging global alumni to become volunteers across the institution. This will allow for the authentic stories of global alumni to shine.

Why do we need to engage global alumni now more than ever? 

To tell the story of their prior journey during and after graduation in order to inspire others across our institutional community.

Embracing global citizenship

Global volunteer communitiesWe want our students, both local and international, to become responsible, active global citizens. The global alumni volunteering programmes across our institutions are ideally placed to build the global competence of our alumni volunteers and students. What better place is there to explore intercultural issues, interact with people from different cultures and take appropriate action for our world? 

These are desirable skills for the labour market that has changed dramatically over the past two generations. Additionally, it tackles the greatest challenges facing our planet with 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals agreed by the United Nations.

Go to class and get involved. 

This is how I understood the advice I was given as a new undergraduate student over 25 years ago. It reminded me that subject-specific material was important, but some of the real learning was outside the lecture halls, labs and classrooms.

Fast forward to today and we find our campuses are brimming with diversity and global opportunities. Our institutions are reinforcing a global mindset for students through their teaching and learning, research, and community engagement activity. 

Therefore, global alumni networks, such as the Holland Alumni Network or the Chevening Alumni should not be feared by our institutions but encouraged as part of this global citizenship agenda. These omni-alumni networks offer our alumni abroad a gateway to participation, and, as research suggests, connection with alumni activity and volunteering. 

This may be their point of identity – they identify, for example, as an alum from Ireland, Belgium or the UK, and later through fostering their alumni involvement and identity at their institution of study. The research on alumni identity shows that alumni need to identify as alumni first then they can begin their journey as an active alumni citizen and potentially as a global alumni volunteer.

Why do we need to engage global alumni now more than ever? To foster and contribute to embedding global citizenship in our institutions, encouraging collaborations to tackle some of the most challenging problems facing humanity together.

Reflecting Our Ambitions

Finally, our global alumni reflect the ambitions of our institutions. These are the values our institutions highlight in strategic plans and have emblazoned across their promotional materials. We should leverage, promote and strategically remind the key decision-makers in our institutions that our global alumni volunteers are the embodiment of our institution around the world. We need rigorous stewardship plans to ensure our global alumni are involved in volunteering that is meaningful and aligns with the values of the institution and their own ambitions.

Since we work in institutions that value research, data to show the impact of our global volunteering needs to be empirically sound and evidence-based.  A sound research base – both quantitative and qualitative – is a crucial investment if are to get senior management (many of whom are academic researchers themselves) buy-in. Case studies, surveys or impact metrics should be rigorous, reflective and ambitious.

There is a drive to think global and act local in our institutions. Our global alumni reflect our institutional values. By showing the global alumni engagement value through sound research, we can watch our global alumni volunteering programmes thrive and grow, and, with its success, the impact for our institutions and the wider world.

About the author

Dr Maria Gallo is a Visiting Research Fellow at Trinity Business School at Trinity College Dublin and a Research Fellow with the Community Knowledge Initiative at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She is the founder of the social enterprise KITE – Keep in Touch Education, that focuses on research and initiatives that build alumni connections from life for life. 

Maria is also a self-confessed serial global alumni volunteer at all five of her alma maters in Ireland, the UK and Canada. To connect with Maria on LinkedIn or visit her web site www.keepintoucheducation.com to sign up to her newsletter for alumni insights and research.