Talking Shop: Engaging Alumni Worldwide
In August 2020, the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, launched ChangeMakers, a strategy to encourage UQ’s alumni across 190 countries to engage with the university and fellow alumni from anywhere in the world.
The ChangeMakers alumni community hosts events, fosters mentorship relationships, and encourages volunteerism. More than 70 alumni have become ambassadors to help spread the word. Ambassadors act as representatives within their respective regions around the globe and online—tapping into local networks and hosting gatherings, sharing social media content, and welcoming new alumni in their areas. UQ has been building its ChangeMakers online platform, which was launched in July.
According to UQ, “ChangeMakers revolutionize and shape our world. They share knowledge, ideas, skills, and experiences to solve problems. By striving to create positive change—big or small—they are committed to being involved and making a difference.”
How did the idea for the ChangeMakers program originate?
While many of our 310,000-plus alumni remain in Queensland after they graduate, approximately a third are based overseas. The ChangeMakers program is designed to build a global network of individuals with a shared connection to UQ. To grow localized engagement across the world, we created a volunteer tool kit with information on new ways to connect in the local area: welcoming new graduates, hosting or speaking at an event, mentoring, hosting an intern, getting involved with giving, or opening doors to corporate and industry supporters.
The concept was to create engaged alumni communities in different places across the world, building engagement both with the university and between the individuals.
What feedback have you received from alumni?
So far, we’ve received fantastic feedback from our ambassadors, all mentioning how they see this new platform’s significant benefits for young alumni and our Future Leaders [participants in a leadership development program for new graduates]. ChangeMakers brings all alumni opportunities into one central place and makes them easily accessible for all.
Others have mentioned how great it is that the UQ ChangeMakers platform will connect us to so many alumni around the globe, bringing them back together with their alma mater.
UQ ChangeMakers events explore topics like sustainability, the science of positivity, and foreign policy. How did you decide on these topics?
We looked at data to see what key content alumni engaged with and made recommendations based on that to the board. We found that the events that resonated most with participants were topical and riding the news cycle, like post-COVID-19 economic recovery. Mostly, though, we see that the really positive messages resonate most. I think people want a bit of a brain break.
What is the next step for ChangeMakers?
Our next big step is launching our UQ ChangeMakers platform—a peer-to-peer model where alumni can connect across industries and continents to make otherwise unlikely connections. This new online platform is an exciting step that moves toward that peer-to-peer engagement driven by alumni and for alumni.
It’ll help bring our original ChangeMakers volunteer tool kit to life. Most of our engagement is through online content, and our most popular engagement tool has been the mentoring program. Alumni can find out what they can learn and how they can help one another.
What challenges have you tackled launching ChangeMakers?
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted how we delivered events from in-person offerings to online panels. While this was not our original vision for the program, it enabled us to reach more of our alumni across the world.
As we launch the peer-to-peer model, one of the biggest challenges we face is transitioning our alumni community to a new social media channel, particularly given how many social channels are out there. However, we believe that the uniqueness of our platform and what it has to offer will make this a smooth transition process.
The biggest challenge is uncovering all the wonderful stories and talent that already exist in our community–something we are hoping to address through our ChangeMaker program.
What do you find most rewarding about this program and alumni engagement work?
It’s wonderful to see the magic that happens when we work together—whether it’s connecting alumni and their community with causes they want to champion or support, sharing their stories, or partnering through events or programs to bring a vision to life. Being a part of their stories is both a privilege and an inspiration.
What advice would you pass along to other advancement pros who might want to create a similar tool for volunteers?
First, we live in a global community, so whatever you offer needs to be hybrid. Find ways to operate local activities, but also ways that the whole global alumni community can come together. Second, integrate alumni voices into all your planning, decision-making, and feedback framework, so your content really is for alumni, by alumni.
About the author(s)
Holly Leber Simmons is a writer and editor based in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.