An International Network
John Pritchard (Robinson 1983) is Chair of the Alumni Advisory Board
When I meet fellow alumni, in the UK and abroad, I invariably hear two comments. One cheers me up; the other infuriates me. The first is a question: “What can we do for Cambridge?” To me, this is graphic evidence of the great untapped enthusiasm of us 240,000 alumni to help our University. The second is more of a complaint, usually said with a sigh of resignation: “American universities are so much better at engaging alumni.”
I can’t stand hearing that second comment because, as the first question suggests, the potential of Cambridge’s alumni network is huge. As the chair of the Alumni Advisory Board – a volunteer group selected to be broadly representative of the alumni community – I’ve discovered that almost wherever you are in the world, from New Zealand to North Yorkshire, you’ll find a Cambridge alumni group working to strengthen the relationships between alumni and between alumni and the University.
In fact, there are an extraordinary 462 active alumni groups – one of the widestranging alumni networks of any university in the world – representing all aspects of Cambridge life. For instance, I recently met the Washington DC group who told me about how they hold regular events throughout the year to meet the needs of a constantly changing group of alumni posted to DC for work. The group is far from alone: alumni group leaders from around the world are all working to find similar ways to connect and engage with local alumni, tapping into the strong desire people have to maintain their Cambridge links.
Which, in part, is where the Alumni Advisory Board (AAB) comes in, providing a link between alumni networks and the University. In practice, this ranges from encouraging a greater connection between the different parts of the alumni network to ensuring alumni have the most up-to-date information on how admissions at Cambridge works today – so that when a potential candidate asks you what a Cambridge interview is really like, you have all the facts at your fingertips (look out for our admissions toolkit, shortly to be available via the website). We also draw on graduates’ experience in media and communications to advise on alumni communications and help Colleges and departments engage.
Board members are ambassadors, but also amplifiers of what is going on elsewhere in the network. With that in mind, they are encouraged to drop in on groups when they travel and simply chat about the University and open a two-way channel of advice and ideas. Occasionally we may be able to share best practice – passing on an idea for an event, or a new way of organising a group, that we picked up elsewhere. Sometimes, our role may be as simple as pointing out to a College-based alumni group that a University group exists in the same city and suggesting they may like to get together from time to time and pool resources.
The smallest alumni groups are often just a handful of people who happen to get together for a jar every quarter, perhaps united by a love of their College, or a shared passion for music, or sport, that was fostered while at Cambridge. Others have dozens and dozens of regular members, attending programmes of talks, events and social gatherings.
Everywhere I go, as chair of the AAB, there is enormous goodwill towards Cambridge and a desire to further the attachment to the University. But in the context of the institution’s eight centuries of history, we have barely started the process of joining up not just the groups, but the many alumni who are not yet involved but would like to reinforce their connection with the Cambridge community.
Find out more about the University’s Alumni Advisory Board