“Alumni can help to find other marketplaces”

Nieuws | de redactie
27 maart 2007 | Cay Etzold works for the German exchange and alumni service DAAD. He used to lead the Sub-Saharan branch of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauch Dienst in Nairobi. At ScienceGuide, Etzold shares some of his experiences.

“The question is always: what do you want to do with alumni? I do not need a network to meet people and have a beer with them. Most alumni already have those networks. The goal of alumni networks should be the exchange of ideas. Therefore, you need subject- related networks.

In Germany, we started with creating alumni networks as part of development cooperation: we wanted to create platforms to African professionals who had studied in Germany. The results have been so rewarding, that nowadays, we are also setting up alumni networks in America and Europe.

Alumni can be very helpful for expanding business. For example, we have had experiences with German companies in solar energy who aspired to become a player on the international market. Via the alumni networks of German universities, they managed to recruit researchers and business developers in unexplored countries. This is very important: Germany is an export country, so we need contacts worldwide. Business are always focused on the short perspective, but universities can maintain the contacts with their alumni for decades. Those alumni can become very influential. For example, Wangari Maathai, who studied at the University of Giessen from 69-71, received the Nobelprize of Peace in 2004. At the time when she studied, who would think that she would reach such a position?

If you want to set up an alumni programme, you should start small, just with one department or one university. Once you have established that, you can create a snowball-effect. This is what I have done in Kenya. In Africa, you need wise, old chairmen. But I soon discovered that behind them, you need some young, energetic persons to do the work. I recruited five or six people at each state university in Kenya. They really became my friends. That way, I could achieve what I wanted.

Whilst establishing an alumni network, I would not emphasize the fundraising at the outset. You can do small fundraising or big fundraising. I know that the University of Munich merely focuses on big fundraising. In order to do that, you need people in certain positions. To start an alumni network, you should interest alumni to get information from their alma mater. This should be inviting. I myself went to my university to connect with the alumni network. But the form I had to fill in was so complicated, that I left out. Such forms should be simple. The first goal should be to get them together, for a conference or jubilee. And then, the alumni will connect to each other themselves. They will get ideas, and make links to each other, depending on their professional position. Afterwards, they will tell their friends by email how the venue was. The possibilities of communication are great”.

Cay Etzold will speak at the annual Nuffic conference at April, 3-4, in The Hague.

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