8th Apr, 2009 | Source : Kevin Bartlett and John Lippincott
Building modern alumni communities around international schools
International schools across the world are typically defined as places of transition. With many expatriate families staying in one location for only three to four years at a time, these school communities are well rehearsed in the art of saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. At the International School of Brussels (ISB), for example, 27% of the 1400 strong student body changes on an annual basis.
Of course, the experience of attending an international school can be wonderful, providing a context for learning in which children are happy, grow in understanding and confidently move on to further education. More than that, however, these educational experiences can leave an indelible mark that stays with people for the remainder of their lives. As one alumnus from ISB’s "Class of '82" gratefully describes: ‘Education, exposure and experience; ISB was my passport to the world.”
Consider the example set by Li-Chiang Chu, who attended Woodstock School in the foothills of the Himalayas for just one year. She has since become a legendary volunteer and major donor who travels to the school each year from her home in North America, at her own expense, to help with office and database administration tasks. In fact, she is being recognized this year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, an international organization, with an award for alumni volunteer involvement in recognition of her dedication to the school.
The point is simple. When you spend your childhood moving around the capitals of the world, you still need to ‘belong’ and find a place to call ‘home’. And for many, this home is associated with the transformative experience offered by some of the world’s best international schools.
These same international schools are developing increasingly responsive alumni associations that keep students connected with friends dispersed around the globe and help maintain their identity as world citizens. And, with the advent of new electronic communication tools, what was once an annual printed directory of names and addresses is today becoming a sophisticated online community where friends can continue to share information, meet and collaborate within a virtual space, anytime, anywhere.
For the schools themselves, however, the development of these powerful social networks can also have another purpose. Indeed, the institutions investing resources into establishing and maintaining effective alumni associations are, at the same time, more generally focused on building relationships with external constituencies who can help them fulfill their mission. And the reason for this is that they have come to understand that alumni, parents, grandparents, community leaders, and other friends of the institution represent an extremely powerful but often untapped resource.
International schools typically seek financial support from these constituencies, but also support that takes the form of advocacy, one-to-one marketing, and volunteered talent.
One of the main challenges for most international schools continues to be how they can provide a world-class learning environment at an affordable cost. It is perhaps for this reason above all others that schools are reaching out to former students and their families in new and exciting ways. This outreach will be key to ensuring that the children of tomorrow have an opportunity to benefit from the same experiences as those who attended before them were able to enjoy.
Kevin Bartlett (Board Chair, Council of International Schools)
John Lippincott (President, Council for Advancement and Support of Education)