MAKE THE CLUB BROADER, Natalia Novopashina


Kommersant. "Education" supplement (Moscow), March 03, 2015

MAKE THE CLUB BROADER, Natalia Novopashina

Business education is not only education but also establishment of relations with people from various industries. After Western schools where clubs of alumni have colossal weight Russian schools have understood the value of community too.
Successful alumni represent probably the main capital of business schools. Structures to maintain relations with former students appeared in majority of schools now. Clubs or communities of alumni help establishment of relations and exchanging experience, as well as improving the educational process. Some schools have started thinking about creation of their own community only recently and some others already broaden the topics and the formats of cooperation.
One of the most noticeable communities of alumni has been created and is maintained by the youngest business school Skolkovo. President of the council of alumni is an elected post there. Alumni of Skolkovo created some business communities: Club of Investors, Club of Independent Directors and Association of Mentors. Not everyone can become member of these clubs: it is necessary to have a certain set of competences. President of the Association of Alumni Vladimir Voloshin (he graduated from EMBA program of Skolkovo in 2014) reports, "We organize interviews and meetings between an alumnus and the main composition of the executive board of the club. The alumnus is included into the club if he has potential for this work."
In MIRBIS the Association of Alumni has existed for more than 20 years and now it consists of 8,400 people. One of the main lines of its activity is career development (master classes, assistance in preparation of CV). Several new projects appeared recently according to initiative of alumni. For example, this is "Partner Relations" project that allows broadening of business contacts.
The Association of Alumni of higher school of business State University of Administration (VSHB GUU) has also been working practically since establishment of the school. Certificates were received there by 1,700 people and community of alumni MBAclub united more than 1,300 of them. Olga Tsaplina, head of MBAclub community, reports, "The association is a good resource not only for communication but also a site for cooperation. In 2012, we conducted re-branding of the club and determined the key lines of work: career center (career coaching and consulting), business program (master classes, conferences), additional educational formats of Post-MBA (upgrade of education, development of pinpoint competences)."
Meetings and other events are usually organized for communication of alumni of the school and their periodicity may be different. In majority of the polled schools such meetings and lecturers take place not less than one time per month. For example, more than 15 of own events are organized and conducted at the site of VSHB GUU per year and not less than ten other events are organized with partners at other sites. In Stockholm School of Economics majority of the meetings is organized by an initiative group of alumni and the school organizes off-site paid modules for them two times per year. The module lasts for two or three days, the place changes. For example, this may be Paris or Tbilisi. Once per year the school also gathers all alumni to Alumni Birthday, the birthday of the community.
Who pays for all these events? As a rule, schools are ready to invest in creation of efficient alumni community because former students represent potential customers of educational services and source of information and recommendations for acquaintances and colleagues who wish to study. That is why significant part of events for alumni is free of charge. Representatives of business school Synergy say, "We finance all events at our own expense and we do not demand any fees from the alumni." Tsaplina remarks, "In case of organization of paid events by partners of the club its members receive discount or bonus." In Skolkovo membership in business clubs is paid. Representatives of the school say that "figures are symbolic." Voloshin says, "Financial component is necessary to carry out administrative activity. This is normal practice that is used in Western business schools."
The main difficulty for business schools is in collection and updating of the base of alumni, especially information about the people who have completed the education a long time ago. For example, Skolkovo has its own social network where students and graduates and communicate and interact. Other business schools use mostly commonly accessible social media. Business schools Synergy establish contacts via Facebook, VKontakte and and this allows daily communication with alumni and conveying of information to a broad audience. In MIRBIS updating of the base is done by several ways: through groups in social media, as well as with assistance of registration of alumni at the site of the school and at school events.
In any case, not all business schools manage to arrange regular work with alumni. Record of Classic Business School Petr Kaloshin says, "We have tried to create such community several times but this is not working yet. We organize single-time events but we do not have a club of alumni formally." Thus, the notion of a club is only being born in the Russian educational community and that is why in due time alumni will be united around their alma mater more often and business schools will help them and will work more actively in this direction.
How business school work with alumni
Direct speech
Vladimir Voloshin, president of the Association of Alumni of Moscow business school Skolkovo:
— There are 689 people who are members of the Association of Alumni of business school Skolkovo now including 124 alumni of MBA program and 293 alumni of Executive MBA program. Clubs of alumni should definitely live. We gather not less than one time per month in the format of a general meeting, fulfillment of strategic tasks, or we invite experts, for instance, in corporate law or professional investors. The goal is creation of one of the strongest professional communities in Russia, creation of smart economy and helping of development of cities.
Among alumni of Skolkovo there are representatives of state power bodies, state officials and entrepreneurs. Organizing various sections we actually help businessmen to interact with state officials and state officials to find some partners, developers and financiers. All meetings last for two or three hours than planned. It is interesting when there is a live informal dialog. As a result, many people find themselves for implementation of various projects.
Organizing professional program for alumni, we bring them to a new qualitative and professional level. For example, due to the Club of Investors alumni understand which risks may be associated with this or that investment or, on the contrary, find money for their projects. At a distance of one handshake it is possible to discuss a project, to receive professional feedback, to make corrections and to approach a person who knows how to invest in this sector. Or let us take Mentors club. We use colossal potential of students with working experience starting from six years in corporate practice or in their own business. Along with this, a mentor does not receive money for provision of consultations and helping of a project. We stipulate this at once: an alumnus invests money, invests his knowledge and uses relations but does not receive money for this. This is not coaching. And for people this is a unique opportunity to help development of the projects that are founded by alumni of our school. As a result, our certified alumni remain together with the school and work for its benefit and for business as a whole.
Anna Vasilyeva, head of the club of alumni of the higher school of project management of Higher School of Economics (HSE):
— Our division inside of HSE has existed for six years, the club of alumni as an organization exists for five years including two years when we work with MBA alumni. In the framework of the club we conduct open seminars and master classes and develop special programs for improvement of qualification of alumni, exchange of experience and knowledge.
We often help employment of people: we offer vacancies from the leading consultant companies in the field of project management. Due to the club and feedback with the alumni we also improve the content of the current educational programs. For example, "Flexible technologies of project management" course is formed according to comments of the alumni working in the IT industry and with their active participation.
Participation in events of the club is free for all our alumni. Open events take place not less than once per quarter.
Ekaterina Lisitsyna, director of the center for work with alumni of business school MIRBIS:
— We have several interesting projects in the Association of Alumni. Along with this, it was an initiative and proposal of alumni. For example. These are meetings of alumni in a rapid mode of acquaintance when people can tell each other about their needs for organization and development of business. Sometimes meetings take into account the industry specific, for example, for people who work in the field of construction and real estate.
Another project called "Open audience" enables the alumni to share their knowledge. They conduct master classes and seminars for other alumni. For example, in the framework of this project we plan three events for spring that will be conducted by alumni of MBA and master programs. For example, this is a seminar in medical insurance and in formation of consumer loyalty in conditions of economic crisis. A new line called "Expert examination" is also being born. This is an opportunity to discuss problematic zones and new innovative projects that are developed by alumni.
All events are free both for speakers and for participants. The school allocates a budget for maintenance of relations with alumni. In each area there is a leader from among the alumni but the content of this or that event and the speakers are finally discussed at the council of the Association of Alumni (it consists of MBA alumni). It is important that alumni may enter any club or a project that is interesting for them. For example, even a master who has graduated from MIRBIS a few years ago may have such top position now that he may be useful in the most diverse projects.
Grigory Avetov, director of business school Synergy:
— Our club of alumni is headed by Alexander Dubakin, alumni of MBA program and general director of Synergy-Capital. Events are organized one time per quarter on average plus there are also informal meetings and participation in various roundtable meetings and master classes.
Networking is very important for participants of open programs and MBA students. We gather alumni of the school to closed meetings where they share experience, discuss problematic issues and analyze cases from their own practice. Lecturers and well-known practitioners also come to the meetings to discuss the latest trends in the business environment. As a rule, about 50 people participate in such events on average.
For members of the club we formed a loyalty program: special offers for paid seminars and training sessions of the business school, corporate education and participation in online coaching of the best speakers.
There are more than 1,400 MB alumni in the database of the school now. There are not so many active participants of the Club of Alumni now, just about 300 people. But we are working on broadening of the database of alumni and search for them according to the questionnaires that they fell during the entrance. Along with this, we put the main emphasis on social media: it is much simpler and faster to maintain permanent contact there. Appearance of pages of the business school in social media allows broadening of the network of alumni due to discussions, regular news and information about career development.

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