Reflections on the power of the alumni group
Memories of my time at the University of Ibadan are nostalgia-filled: my life was shaped in so many ways. From matriculating as an eager teenager, ready to take on the world to graduating as a young adult, wondering what the future would hold. I got into university thinking I knew a lot of things and left knowing I still had much more to learn. Those five years were filled with so many experiences that shaped my life.
It has been twenty years since I left the University of Ibadan and to mark this landmark event, my former classmates and I have planned a grand reunion. A weekend where we get to catch up with old friends, learn, network, plan for our future as a group, and also give back to our alma mater.
I look back at those days we would all sit cramped together in overflowing lecture theatres, struggling for space in practical labs, tending to farm plots during the practical year, and then working on group projects and dissertations. We also went on excursions and class trips and had annual dinners and networking events. It’s amazing how most of us found common ground and formed many of the lifelong friendships we have retained to date.
As we deliberated on our plans for the anniversary, we reached out to our alma mater to identify their needs and settled on renovating the two faculty lecture theatres as we felt that would be most beneficial to the institution. It has taken several months but we have been able to achieve this goal and the students will be able to study in a more conducive environment once they get back to school. We are also hosting a virtual career seminar for the students since they are still at home due to the ASUU strike. Some of our classmates will be speaking at the event and we are focusing on helping the students navigate the uncertainties of life as they know it now coupled with developing future-ready skills for this ever-changing world.
On our tenth anniversary, we also had a giveback campaign where we provided business and management books to the faculty library. I pray that by our thirtieth anniversary, we would be able to commission a significant landmark that would greatly contribute toward the students’ development, in learning and character.
I have always found myself playing a role in either initiating, leading, or maintaining the alumni relationship. I believe very much in giving back to society, especially one’s alma mater and I have been involved in similar projects in my secondary school class alumni. We also started organising ourselves very early and I remember we renovated the school clinic and built a borehole as well.
One challenge I know that people often have is getting other alumni members to key into the vision. Getting people to become active in alumni groups is usually tough. Giving back would usually require time, effort, and resources, very often material and financial. As people get older, responsibilities increase and they face more pressure in allocating scarce resources. How then does one convince someone who is struggling to keep body and soul together to also give towards an institution they no longer have direct ties with?
People would usually think in terms of “what’s in it for me?” and this is perfectly normal. If people have not solved their problems, how do we expect them to solve other people’s problems? It is unfair to expect that people would focus on other people’s issues when their issues are still pending.
Before alumni groups can serve their alma mater, they must first serve their members. It is only when members are empowered that they can empower their alma mater. Many people within alumni groups may not have attained the success that others have. How do alumni ensure that they do not leave such people behind? One of the best things would be to help those in need sort out their most critical issues, usually economic. If people do not earn well, they will struggle to even participate in the alumni not to talk of supporting projects and activities with their time and resources.
Alumni groups, when properly structured, can be support groups for willing members. Many of the alumni groups I have been in have raised funds for members in need several times, supported people with their growing businesses, both in cash and patronage, paid medical bills, and even paid school fees. In truth, many of these actions may not be sustainable so alumni need to think of ways to help people fish rather than give them fish.
One of the things we did in my uni class group was to start a cooperative some years ago as we quickly realised we needed to start thinking long-term. Not everyone joined of course but those who have joined have been able to realise the benefit of membership as we have been able to support members through their business and life needs. My secondary school class alumni also initiated a group health & life insurance programme when we realized that we were all tending towards the period when people were likely to begin to experience increased health issues. It’s funny how many of us take good health for granted until we face a health scare or even worse, an emergency.
Aside from helping members in need, alumni groups can also be a forum where people make critical life connections. In both uni and secondary school class alumni groups, we have people who have found spouses and business partners within the group.
It is only when we have solved the problems that others face that we can then solve the problems of our alma mater. Many people graduate from institutions and never look back but they can do better. Sadly, we do not have a well-developed support and endowment culture in Nigeria. I obtained a master’s in the UK and one thing I noted was how much they desire to get their alumni involved and also how involved alumni are in the school’s activities. Since graduating almost 10 years ago, I constantly get emails and information about alumni events, success stories about the uni’s activities, what projects the university is running and how I can support them. Many alumni get involved in ensuring that the university has the funds it needs for its students and operation.
Some would also ask about the role of the government in providing the critical infrastructure that their institutions need if alumni step in and provide them. Aren’t funds allocated to some of these projects? What happens to these funds if alumni have to constantly step in? This would be an extended discussion for another article but I would say that alumni also exist to hold these institutions accountable.
I am an ardent believer in the power of the alumni group. I am one of those people who remain very nostalgic about the “good old days” and will strive to preserve and even extend those memories. I look at many of the prominent old students’ associations such as the CMS Grammar School, Igbobi College, Kings College, and Queens College, and I see how much of a force they have become, not just for their alma mater but also for their members. They have distinguished themselves and even set a standard for younger alumni. Facilities have been refurbished, equipped, and built, and even teachers and students have received financial support or learning opportunities just because some people gave their time and resources.
I love giving back. It helps remind me that we all have a duty to the future, the same way that we consider that the past was once the future and some people maintained their duty to us: this is the way I see things today.