The story of the INSEAD Alumni Association South Africa (IAASA) is a good example of how, through dedication and vision, an Association with low membership can build itself up to something substantial in a short timeframe. Just a few years ago, the IAASA was suffering from low membership figures. Indeed, at one point, the national committee had two alumni and only seven subscribed members from an alumni community of 600.
However, since 2014, the IAASA has been gaining traction, overcoming its challenges and successfully re-engaging with the alumni community in South Africa, by building a mutually beneficial relationship with INSEAD. The successes gained are no small feat.
As a first step, to deal with the low committee numbers, the then president reconstituted the committee by inviting specific alumni to join. In June 2014, these new members were confirmed in their positions at the Annual General Meeting (AGM). The present committee was elected at the June 2016 AGM.
Engaging with the community
Then, in October 2014, the IAASA held a strategy session and started work on a number of initiatives to begin rebuilding interest and enthusiasm among the alumni community. This was preceded by reaching out mainly to its senior alumni for one-on-one phone calls about the status of the IAASA, while at the same time seeking an understanding of their lack of participation.
The initiatives that sprang from the 2014 strategy session were grouped around five themes that focused on promoting the IAASA’s financial sustainability and greater relevance to all alumni:
- Membership growth, by providing higher-powered events and outreach activities to unsubscribed alumni, e.g. telecons, face-to-face meetings and email blasts
- Securing sponsorship, to stretch every Rand in membership fees paid
- Collaborative partnerships to deliver events more cost-effectively and with greater impact
- Enabling organisational structure, for greater operational efficiency, and
- Tapping into alumni talent and experience to advance the careers and entrepreneurial ambitions of millennials.
Committee members knew that they were confronted with a paradox. They needed financial resources to implement a richer value offering, to demonstrate the IAASA’s relevance to all alumni, yet with so few subscribed members they lacked the basic minimum resources to do so. The IAASA decided to press on, despite this constraint, and make the most of what it had.
Context of IAASA operations
The alumni profile of the IAASA helps to clarify the particular dynamics affecting its functioning. Eighty percent are Executive Education alumni. They are mainly senior managers and executives, usually in publicly listed companies, with corporate cultures that demand long hours of work. Such expectations, alongside lengthy daily commutes to and from work, due to traffic congestion, are standard. Their weighty corporate responsibilities mean they are time poor and often unavailable to support our initiatives.
Turning points for the IAASA
There were two critical turning points along the IAASA’s revitalisation path. The first was that IAASA committee members themselves made donations, on a continuous basis, to the committee, or provided interest-free loans. Although this was not ideal, it should be appreciated as a mark of their commitment to enabling the IAASA to rebuild itself. The second was the committee’s ability to stage high-powered speakers’ platforms, with sponsorship, involving prominent individuals, such as the Deputy Governor of the South African Reserve Bank.
Today, our value offering, guided by an iteration of the 2014 strategy, is about ‘escalating opportunities and possibilities for INSEAD alumni’.
Over the past year, the association has grown its offering by three INSEAD master classes, in collaboration with listed prominent financial services companies, Allan Gray and Nedbank. Geographical distance from the INSEAD campuses brings challenges, for example, less frequent work-related travel here for faculty. The IAASA takes every opportunity and possibility to engage with INSEAD faculty when they do travel to South Africa, in consultation with International Alumni Relations. Currently, the IAASA is in the planning stage with the INSEAD Corporate Governance Initiative to host a day-long event. This will be the first of its kind here.
A recent FinTech interactive event, initiated by the company of one of our past presidents in collaboration with the committee and other FinTech businesses, was well attended and well received by more than 30 participants from the financial services sector.
This initiative, launched a year ago by the IAASA, assists in linking different generations. It involves younger alumni, who have to be subscribed members, receiving structured mentoring by more senior and experienced alumni in a one-on-one, face-to-face relationship. This has given senior alumni, who would otherwise not have participated in our initiatives, an opportunity to establish a meaningful role within the alumni community, customised around their own availability.
Deepening alumni-committee relationships
Obtaining support for any initiative requires intensive interactions with our alumni community. This is well illustrated in the activities planned and implemented for Global Giving Day. The president held individual meetings with past presidents of the association to challenge them to donate on INSEAD Giving Day and urged them to challenge members of the committees they had headed to do the same. Committee members held telecons with MBAs in their own promotions, and those that preceded theirs, to extend a personal challenge. Personal assistants of alumni executives were persuaded to assist us by creating space in their managers’ calendars to give on INSEAD Giving Day. This was complemented by bulk mails sent to all alumni, and activities related to the Salamander mascot Sammy’s excursions in South Africa.
Collaboration with INSEAD MBA Marketing
Critically, the committee works closely with INSEAD’s MBA Marketing Department to help nurture its relationships with its candidates, by including them in master classes, Global INSEAD Day events and hosting social drinks for their send-off to join the programme. INSEAD is beginning to benefit from increased MBA enrolments, following the crisis in South African tertiary-level institutions, characterised by student protests around fee increases and access to tertiary education.
Although now financially relatively better off than in previous years, but still cash poor, the IAASA continues to be driven by a sense of mission and all committee members are required to be very hands-on, making the most of every opportunity that arises, in the best interests of INSEAD and the alumni community.