Association in the Spotlight – Switzerland

Sparking Conversations in Switzerland

When a hotel’s catering manager responding to a request for proposal asks Richard Bissonnet MBA ’81, President of the INSEAD Alumni Association Switzerland, what kind of organisation he is representing, he says, “We’re a networking events organisation. We host 30 to 40 events a year.” That’s not necessarily how most people would describe an Alumni Association, but it is one way to position it to outsiders. It is also helpful to describe it like that with the advent of social media platforms. TED Talks have proven social media does not make live conferences less relevant, and the Churchill Club in Stanford is still going strong because alumni getting together to exchange ideas, hear new ones, and ask questions of experts has not gone out of fashion.

Indeed, over the past 18 months, while adopting all things social (such as LinkedIn, Swiss Alumni blog, Yammer, and other platforms when appropriate), the number of Association volunteers across Switzerland has increased, a new regional chapter opened, new ideas are being introduced by event organizers and attendance is strong. There is also more interaction with other B-Schools and special interests groups beyond the Alumni community.

The Swiss NAA experience is not unique. “National Alumni Associations are using social media to promote and improve information sharing amongst Alumni by using all channels available,” says Jane Shelton, IAA Associate Director.

SwitzerlandTime spent on an MBA is a mere fragment compared to a 35 to 40 year career, and yet alumni of all ages are keen to keep the alma mater connection vital. Case in point, tickets sell out quickly for events in Zurich and Geneva featuring INSEAD Professors. “Alumni, even decades later, want to again experience the star professors they remember and hear their updated ideas,” comments Richard.  Social media may eradicate the kinds of surprises that people used to get when seeing each other at reunions after many years, quarterly newsletters on paper may be a thing of the past, and accessing the Alumni iConnect database is less unique than it used to be, but it is not replacing face-to-face conversation.

Enhancing Alumni Experience

In Switzerland, we tightly integrate live events, digital content and social media to provide a great Alumni experience. For example, content based on premium business events is disseminated on multiple digital platforms, as well as sent directly to event attendees and other interested parties (See our Special Reports archive). We share whenever possible videos and presentations from  live events too. We are also looking forward to the rollout of MyINSEAD and the new tools it will make available to the Association and our community.

Here are some of the developments in the past two years:

New Ticino Chapter: Two alumni in the Ticino region were inspired last year to form the fourth regional Chapter. They have put together three events since July, one of which attracted 110 guests and was headlined by the CEO of Switzerland’s largest bank.

Building Event Teams with Focus:  The Swiss NAA has a twelve member Board, including four Chapter presidents and two industry club presidents. More volunteers have stepped up this fall. Some are recent graduates or new to Switzerland while others came forward to put their skills to use to grow the Alumni community. For example, we have a new team working on the first concerted Membership Drive for the 2015 fiscal year. We also introduced specialised Chapter teams based on event type attracting volunteer organizers that have a passion for a particular kind of event. The Geneva and Zurich Chapters have what we call a “Dream Team” and a “Smart Team”.  The latter create high quality business events, and the former are focused on fun, sport, and cultural events. Basel and Ticino are smaller but they are also cultivating volunteers with specialisations.

IN-BOARD Rollout Successful: Introduced in 2013, IN-BOARD, a programme designed to provide Board level skills to Swiss Alumni has been a hit, fully booked both times. Three local modules in Zürich are supplemented by two days at INSEAD in Fontainebleau led by INSEAD Professor Erik van de Loo. One of the most valued aspects of IN-BOARD, is the chance to return to France for two days of classes and interaction with Faculty and peers.

A New Magazine – Going Retro to Extend Reach: While social media and online are central to the communications strategy, we also decided to create an annual magazine, which will be sent to all Swiss Alumni. “We want existing members to be reminded of their benefits and non-members to kick themselves for not signing up,” says Richard, adding that it is a virtuous circle with a successful Alumni Association driving reputation, which drives donations and high quality applicants, which in turn results in a more successful Association.  (Sign up here to receive a PDF copy).

Professional Support for Volunteers: Two part-time specialists now provide administration and communications support. These tasks used to be done by Alumni volunteers, sometimes their spouses. Event organisers have more freedom to create without having to worry about managing mailing lists, attendee lists, cancellations, formatting invitations and ticket sales sites, or promoting the events on an ever-widening number of online platforms. The newly formed Subscription Drive team is also supported  locally, in addition to technical support from the IAA and INSEAD.

Business Horizontal-Events: We’ve always offered business events featuring interesting speakers, business leaders and innovative thinkers, now a new horizontal approach is proving popular. An emerging trend or challenge, such as investing in Africa, diversity, sustainability, or regional economic development in Switzerland, is selected and organisers create panels of experts on the theme. By opening up these events to other business school alumni, and collaborating with relevant organisations, such as Swiss Africa Business Circle, UBS, Cornèr Bank, we enable alumni to rub elbows with informed specialists in the particular subject area.

Quality and Brand-building: A new corporate image for the Swiss NAA is underway sponsored by BERRY, a strategic marketing design firm. It began with a comprehensive email concept. More projects are planned.

Unleashing Creativity: In addition to the larger events, the Swiss NAA hosts intimate, member-only events, the kind that older alumni are familiar with, such as Gourmet Dinners, Wine-tastings and after work drinks at venues with a local cachet. The newest type is Salon Conversations, which quickly sold out.  Our event organisers draw on their knowledge of the Swiss scene, sometimes choosing unique venues known only to insiders, or playing with Swiss stereotypes, legends and myths, such as the not infrequent use of Switzerland as the backdrop for conspiracy theories, spy novels and movies.

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