One cliché about alumni networks is that they are hotbeds of power in government and business. The "old boys'" network has been all too real for a long time.
But why should alumni networks be strongest among those who need them the least? Members of elite alumni networks (you know the ones I mean), by and large, already have relatively privileged access to jobs, capital and influence.
Arguably, the people who benefit the most from alumni support are students in ordinary or in under-privileged communities around the globe. Public or government-funded high schools with few financial resources other than the local tax base don't have official alumni networks, budgets or staff. More fundamentally, their students are largely unaware of the existence of an alumni network.
But that is starting to change.
[Why should alumni networks be strongest
among those who need them the least?]
Late last year I gladly accepted an invitation to join the Alumni Advisory Group of a UK-based non-profit organization called Future First Global. Their work is directly in line with many of the principles and ideas I try to incorporate into my work with consulting clients around the world.
Future First Global (FFG) has a unique purpose: they work with "governments, schools, teachers and NGOs to support the growth of high school alumni networks globally," to ensure that students gain skills and experience that enable them to get a job.
The founders of Future First Global realized that alumni networks can benefit "ordinary" people too. Now, at long last, alumni networks are helping the people who probably need them the most: high school students and graduates from ordinary secondary schools, and especially those in underprivileged or lower socio-economic communities.
In a pilot program, FFG partnered with 15 schools in Kenya, to "build, maintain and mobilise alumni networks that support current students." For alumni professionals, this may not sound so innovative: supporting students is, after all, something that effective alumni communities commonly do.
But Future First Global helps schools without the history, infrastructure and culture of alma mater that many of us take for granted. By connecting successful graduates of rural or under-funded schools with those schools' current students, Future First will be able to show just how important alumni can be. For a school where few students will go on to further education, and where new graduates won't have many jobs to choose from, alumni connections, experience and wisdom could be the crucial difference for many new graduates.
[Future First Global helps schools without the
culture of alma mater that many of us take for granted]
I'm excited to see awareness of alumni networks take root in ordinary communities. The elite Old Boys would hardly recognize most of these schools' alumni as "successful" by the standards they grew up with.
But that's exactly the point. “Alumni success” isn't absolute. It's relative to the expectations and opportunities in place at the start. This is how alumni achievement is measured.
With that as the backdrop, even the smallest victories will have an enormous positive impact on these communities.
Do you have questions, comments or ideas for Future First Global?
Send an email to Abi Nokes, Research & Programme Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Photo: Students performing at an FFG event for girls from TumuTumu Public High School in Kenya]