Sounding the alarm?

The Future of the Alumni Movement

The school’s alumni movement reminds me of the main playground at Loyola. There, during lunch-break on any working day, you could find numerous groups of students playing different games. There were the senior boys playing football, and there were numerous smaller groups of smaller children playing football or cricket. Often the twain did meet, but after glares or gore, the glory of sport would continue.

Similarly, in the Loyola alumni movement, you can see the Old Boys’ Association playing their game, and smaller groups of Loyolites opting for corners of the field.

When people are thus playing to their heart’s content, I hate to be the messenger of bad news: this multiplicity of groups, the networks and all that are fine for the present, but they are inadequate for the future. Why?

Sounding the alarm?

To signal the end of the lunch-break, and the restart of classes, the school used to ring a bell. If the bell didn’t exist, students would have played for more hours, till they got tired and quit the field.

This is what’s happening in the Loyola alumni movement. There is no co-ordinating agency to perform the role of the bell, and volunteers (in OBA as well as other groups) who lose the initial enthusiasm, quit the scene. The remaining chaps do not know what to do, they too are tired, and they kick the ball around lazily. They don’t play for an audience, the spectators leave, and as time passes by, it becomes difficult to get enough spectators. In short, the game in town collapses or becomes a farce.

The absence of a co-ordinator hurts the movement significantly in another way: no one pays attention to the future. The players believe that they are playing for fun, not for achieving worthy goals. They are volunteers who play when they feel like it. Identifying goals for the future (how alumni can help the school), or constantly updating information about old boys, or building goodwill for the future (by sending newsletters, maintaining a website), are “serious” things for…well, somebody else. Bad news again — somebody else got tired and left the field.

Thus, when things have to be done, but are not done, the movement weakens. All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy.

Some of us believe that it’s a free market, and that one group or the other will emerge as the dominant player/game in town. That is possible, but unlikely, because the groups here are undertaking activities voluntarily, and limiting their game to their own small spheres. Also, e-groups and Orkut communities may grow in size and number, but after a while, their enthusiasm wanes.

Tomorrow, we can do fantastic things for the school and the community. Or maybe tomorrow, we may need to come together for a cause. Who has the credibility and the reach to bring us together? None, at the moment.

For a healthy future, the alumni movement probably needs to drop anchor in the school, and shed its voluntary character. The school should set up an office, generate funds (from alumni and the management), employ professional staff, and run the alumni movement. Universities abroad and MBA institutes in India have adopted that model partly because they realise that the schools themselves will benefit by promoting alumni relations.

The Loyola alumni movement needs a school bell.

22 Comments

  • Yes , no one has the credibility and the reach to bring us all under one roof.
    The alumni is a big tree; but weak and hollow inside. The xylem is in dire atrophy.
    Left untended the big tree will wither away.

    So what can be a starting point for Greater LOBA?

    With the waning of ‘physical’ enthusiasm, we might have to tap on ‘cyber’ ‘noncommittal’ enthusiasm. Greater LOBA can as a starting point get atleast 75% of all alumni registered online, make a database of all the people and their contact details, provide them all an online account (in the site) and assert much for her own re-assurance that ‘we are a sizable lot’.

    Yes , no one has the credibility and the reach to bring us all under one roof.
    Is it? The net perhaps has!

    But then it produces only a flimsy ‘digital’ roof. Nothing can materialize until we churn out grassroots level workers. I do not have suggestions as to how to galvanize a cyber-association into physical action. Someone out here might have!

  • Yes, the Web has potential. For roping in 75% of Loyolites, I feel we’ll need volunteers. Do you think we’ll get 5-10 volunteers for a Web initiative like that? Anybody who’s willing to volunteer or want more info, please contact me privately.

    I feel the grassroots-level volunteer model won’t work any longer. It relies too heavily on 1-2 or a handful of volunteers with vision. Typically, such associations disappear and re-appear. The experience of Loyola High School, Pune (ELSA for a while, now ELAN) is similar to LOBA’s.

  • Ashok,
    That is a dire prediction, and I am not sure we are yet at a stage where we need to worry about the future of the LOBA. We’re still a very young school. And we are not at a stage where those LOBA members outside Trivandrum can be coaxed into coming to school for one day every year.

    Those who are in Trivandrum will continue to meet at Back to School, or should be encouraged to do so (through some gimmicks perhaps? what was the bell if not a gimmick that reminded us of duty?). The rest will interact through virtual platforms in addition to being part of those smaller groups that will continue to thrive.

  • John, a 50-year old school is not too young for something like this. Second, you seem to assume seamless communication between the Association and old boys at present, or between loyolites.com and old boys. Fact is, there are hundreds of old boys who are not on the radar of ANY of these online and offline ventures. After 25 years of LOBA, if the situation is still we-don’t-know-about-these-guys, it’s time to critically look at our existing alumni system. Third, voluntarism has to be chanelled; otherwise, we’ll face a co-ordination problem, which seems to be an issue now.

    Sreejesh, glad to hear your voice here. Yes, sooner the better. A good, young Jesuit priest is the need of the hour in Loyola. I hear that the Saviour has come 🙂

  • Great analogy, Ashok. Outsourcing it completely to a third party may have to be supplemented with existing students (possibly an Alumni secy. or team) plus the regular stream of the high enthu alumni.
    Revenue can be pulled in for covering overheads by selling memorabilia or limited edition material. The PR should also help in building up the brand.
    Looking forward to some more thoughts from the others.

  • Issac, yes, outsourcing is an option, but I didn’t mean that. Do US universities outsource? I thought an office of alumni relations is set up within the school, and the staff are treated as the school’s staff. The proximity to school will increase such an outfit’s effectiveness. The danger of such an arrangement is that the alumni relations team might turn uncritical of the school, i.e., tend to ‘fall in line’.

  • Correcto! You were too smart for the Civil services Ashok. It is easy to enumerate problems but takes a different kind of person to give solutions. The best would be to see problems as solutions and opportunities. Swaram nallathayirikkumbol paattu niruthanam ennu karnavanmar paranjittundu. I was President of the OBA in 1994 when you were a boy and I was a man. Now you are a man and I am an old man hehehe, and even today I am back after a executive committee meeting and things are the same if not worse. If its any solace to you whom I know for sure to be a hard core Loyola lover, we are handing over to much younger people like Syam who has commented above who is to be the next secretary. Like you say its time the bell rang, but who’s to ring the bell? The Jesuits who run the school are well into their past retirement years and are alive and active just because they are Jesuits, a lay person like me in their shoes would have been in an asylum. Hope the bell rings? Till it rings?

  • Jacob, the “handing over” of OBA is a farce. Let me not even get into that — parayaan orupaadu undallo. Decades ago, young Jesuits powered the alumni movement; I hope today’s young Jesuits will play the role expected of them.

  • Today another AGM got over, and the attendance was an all time low, I am writing this comment because I have to take back what Ive written earlier, I met two very dynamic young Jesuits, and i told them about my folly in the above comment. I also told all of them about your observation, lets see what happens. I would like nothing better than to attend an AGM where I can just be an ordinary member with no responsibilities. Hope you and your family are fine.

  • Dear Jian My name is Jacob and I belong to the 1974 batch of Loyola school, I also happen to have worked closely with Ashok in the Executive committee of Loba many years back. I wonder if you will have the courtesy of introducing yourself too.

  • Hello Jacob, I’m Jian Johnson, 2003 ISC, currently doing my last year of BA LLB Hons. at NLSIU Bangalore. Never been in trivandrum much after getting into college so have been out of the LOBA loop. Was curious when Ashok mentioned that we may have a Jesuit who might take initiative with regard to the Alumni movement.

    regs

    jian

  • I had the fortune of meeting / interacting with some students of the Carnegie-Mellon University Allumni. They had a simple motive for their association. ‘Networking’. They built the allumni for the business networks that grew amongst them and in the process they understood the amount of value the school brought to them. Genuinely affected with this realization, they actively participate in the school’s functions. They know for one, money is not all that the school wants from them. Participation, ideas, networks, opportunities and a whole lot of other aspects spurned the acceleration of the allumni movement there. Every year the allumni holds competitions for the best innovative ideas / creative ideas etc and not only gives out rewards, but recognition as well. Now I don’t know how we can fit this in the context of our school. It may not be possible since it is a high school, but the model there definitely works. We can certainly redesign the Allumni movement and give it a different and more scientific direction. Many of the OBA members are allmnus in other associations. They should actively participate in building the network back. I’m saying things high and wide, but this is like a typical MBA business case. How do you revive a network and make it sellable in its own sense of value to the benefactors!

  • Hey Abishek, thanks for sharing that. I think the model will work in a high school like Loyola. Smart thinking + action…that might lead us through mistakes, to our goals. The real benefit for Loyola is, as you hinted, ideas and expertise. But the movement itself will need money to sustain its operations, I feel.

  • Oh well,
    Guess i am the current OBA Secretary.
    “handing over” as ashok said… atu njan ariyunatinu mumbu thanne nadanu 😀

    anyways,
    I wanna give my best shot at making “some” improvements in the association.

    Lack of attendance seems to be a major problem. We are trying to put an sms alert service into action at the moment. It aims to alert old boys about OBA events

    Over 150 people have registered already.

    Anyone who wants to join may do so at,
    http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?key=pC_kMlQM99s5hRMtl6d9GNA&email=true

    Ashok,
    Thanks for joining 😀

    As Secretary, i welcome ANY and ALL suggestions from everyone about what you think needs to be done for/by OBA.

    Any ideas on how to improve the functions. Like we have back to school coming up on october 2nd
    I plan to have some old teachers here this time by the way.

    Any comments, queries and suggestions may be send to
    secretary@lobaglobal.org
    Thanks.

  • I’ve a suggestion that could possibly work to increase attendance for this years’s AGM. Urge all batches to hold their batch reunion coinciding with AGM. They could get together anytime from morning to afternoon and be part of AGM when it starts..
    Getting in touch with batches wouldn’t be hard cuz most of them have their own web groups and moderators. And more would be prompted to come to see their batchmates. I see a backdoor entry there.. 😀

  • Syam, best of luck in your new role.

    John, thanks for joining the discussion. I didn’t get your idea. Are you expecting guys to stay on at the venue till the AGM begins?

  • HI ASHOK LONG TIME NO SEE.

    TO MAKE THE LOBA GROWTH STEADY THERE SHOULD BE A PAID SECRETARY AT THE SCHOOL OFFICE.

    THE INCOMING PRESIDENT SHOULD BE SELECTED WELL IN ADVANCE SO THAT THE CURRENT PRESIDENT CAN CONSULT THE FUTURE OFFICER BEFORE IMPLEMENTING

    NEW PROJECTS.

    IN LOBA WE DO REINVENT THE WHEEL EVERY YEAR.

    WITH REGARDS

    S.UDAYABHANU

    LOBA PRESIDENT(1998-1999)

  • Udayabhanu, I too feel that a paid alumni relations office is the way forward. LOBA is only one of the components of the alumni movement now; it’s a local, Trivandrum organisation that’s out of touch with most of the alumni. By continuing to rely on LOBA and thereby weakening alumni relations, the school management is delaying the inevitable.

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