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INDIA 2015 – INTERVIEW

IntroductionOverviewInterviewReflections


For this issue, we have been fortunate to have contributions from several people who participated in the YaleGALE exchanges in India. We have consolidated the responses to the YaleGALE questionnaire, which highlights the variety of and commonalities among their viewpoints. Many thanks to the respondents:

Ravi Sinha is Professor of Chemical Engineering and Dean of Alumni and Corporate Relations at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. Ravi graduated from IIT Bombay then did graduate work at Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University in the United States. Ravi was a co-organizer of the full-day YaleGALE Conference in Mumbai which included representatives (faculty, administrators, and alumni) from four of the IITs.

Maya Sundararajan is Regional Officer, United Sates-India Educational Foundation (USIEF). Maya was a co-organizer of the half-day YaleGALE Conference in Chennai which included representatives (faculty, administrators, and alumni) from 38 institutions.

Mr. Pejavar Murari is a retired member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and serves as Advisor to the President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the President of the Indo American Chamber of Commerce, as well as a number of government and industrial groups. In these capacities he has been involved in formulating plans for the next few decades for Indian higher education. Mr. Murari has several connections to Yale. His son attended the Yale School of Management. In addition, Mr. Murari has for many years headed the Elihu Yale debates in India. He was the featured keynote speaker at the YaleGALE Conference in Chennai.

Nimit Mehta is the Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Ashoka University. Nimit graduated from Columbia University in the United States, and worked there as both a management consultant and an investment portfolio researcher before joining Ashoka University. Nimit was a co-organizer of the full-day YaleGALE Conference in Delhi which included representatives (faculty, administrators, and alumni) from over 30 institutions.

Q: How did you first learn about YaleGALE?

Ravi: We first heard about YaleGALE from Mark Dollhof and Kathy Edersheim when they visited IIT Bombay as our guests to a meeting of Deans of all IITs. The meeting was organised to discuss alumni engagement and fundraising in the IITs, and they made very valuable observations based on Yale experiences. During the meeting, they also informed regarding YaleGALE program and how it benefits both the university and alumni.

Maya: I first heard about YaleGALE when Sharon Randall took the initiative to visit my office during one of her India trips and spoke about the wonderful outreach initiatives of the Yale University alumni. To me, this seemed like a great way of engaging with the global community to showcase the inspiring attitude and brand of Yale University.

Mr. Murari: I first heard about YaleGALE from the U.S. Education Foundation headed by Maya Sundararajan. Subsequently, I received a letter from Sharon, Chair YaleGALE [in India] and we had a most informative interaction at my residence when we strategized the conduct of the forthcoming YaleGALE USIEF conference in Chennai.

Nimit: I connected with folks with Yale and offered to host the conference.

Q: Why were you interested in having a YaleGALE exchange – what did you think it would accomplish?

Ravi: The IITs, and IIT Bombay in particular, has been engaging with alumni for the benefit of the university during the last two decades. These include helping establish an Alumni Association with chapters around the world, holding various alumni events and reunions, etc. We feel that we are ready to expand our alumni engagement activities and wanted to learn from the experience of Yale. We also wanted our alumni leaders to directly engage with Yale alumni to learn from their experiences. YaleGALE provided us with an ideal opportunity to brainstorm on various issues of interest among the IIT officials, alumni leaders and Yale.

Maya: It was an opportunity to capitalize on visiting American resource people who could stimulate a discussion on a successful aspect of the U.S. Higher Education Administration – Alumni Engagement. I expected this to be a forum to engage the Indian Higher Education Administrators in a meaningful way and also introduce them to best practices in Alumni Relationship Management at U.S. institutions. I also hoped that this would build the people-to-people ties between the U.S. and India in the education sphere – an important mandate of our work at the United States–India Educational Foundation.

Mr. Murari: I was deeply interested in co-organizing this conference not only because of the connections I have family-wise with Yale University but also the programme conducted by me centering around Yale University in my capacity both as President of Indo-American Association and Adviser to the President of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). I felt the conference would lead to greater interest in Universities located in Chennai by touching base with the global alumni members consisting of academicians and corporate heads leading to a complete revamp of the higher education structuring in the country and with specific reference to Tamil Nadu.

Nimit: There were a few particular goals for us. First, begin the process of creating our alumni function. We’ve had three batches of Young India Fellows graduate and realized that we’re losing a bit of an opportunity. And second, engage with universities across India in this problem. We saw this as an opportunity to bring folks together around a common idea – meaning if we needed help, it was likely that others needed help on the alumni function as well.

Q: Prior to the event, how did colleagues, other university contacts, and their alumni react to the idea of the forum?

Ravi: There was enthusiastic support among the invited IITs and their alumni leaders to participate in the YaleGALE Conference. The contributions of Yale alumni and the benefit to Yale are well known to our alumni. As a result, all involved were excited with the opportunity to interact with the Yale team.

Maya: We had a very good response from the Indian higher education community who registered for the workshop enthusiastically. A total of 55 participants from 38 different institutions attended this conference.

Mr. Murari: The interaction evoked tremendous interest and those belonging to the higher echelon of alumni in Tamil Nadu reacted in a positive way not only in regard to the detailed presentation at the seminar but also their one to one meetings in between sessions and post sessions at the High Tea. Expectations were very high and these were not belied.

Nimit: It was a very easy sell. We’ve seen it a number of times in India where if the idea is good, people come in droves.

Q: How did the forum event compare to expectations? Should it have been longer? Shorter? Or structured differently?

Ravi: We feel that a one-day event, as held at IIT Bombay was ideal. We were able to include all important issues requiring discussions. These may have been discussed for longer if additional time was available. However, it would have been difficult to get the participation of so many of our alumni leaders if the event was for longer than one day. The structure of the YaleGALE Conference was also appropriate for the issues of interest to the IITs and Yale.

Maya: It fulfilled all expectations. Please see the feedback comments from participants.

Mr. Muraru: However, I must say that for a group of outstanding personalities on both sides I personally felt that a 3 hour interaction was not adequate and there was paucity of time, session wise. I could sense this as I moved from session to session and many of the participants felt that 45 minutes per session was too little for a meaningful interaction. If we intend to repeat this experience I would suggest a whole day’s programme with luncheon and High Tea thrown in.

Nimit: The event received some rave results and I think the format was a big part of the benefit. It was also to make sure the YaleGALE team was comfortable with the format. Two things that you could think about. First, are there any other tangible things that you can send folks off with (for example, very tactical things like how to structure a mailing list, a plan for building a senior fund) tailored to their own needs? Potentially through a working session. It could provide a twist to the third session. And second, I don’t think this was a problem with us but as you go to different geographies, revisiting the courses to make sure they are tailored to the country’s context. I think everyone will aspire to be Yale but we need to get some of the small, earlier points correct before we do anything else. I think even tapping the alumni network for fundraising is a pretty new and not nearly as large concept as it is in the US. It will make the courses more targeted to the needs of the local community.

Q: What other topics – additional or different – should have been discussed (perhaps if there was more time)?

Ravi: The topics for discussion were proposed by the Yale team, and were fine-tuned through discussions with the other IITs and our alumni leaders. There were indeed a few other issues of interest that were not included due to paucity of time. However, we also felt that these were not as important as the topics finally included in discussions. Topics such as engaging with students as future alumni leaders, etc. were proposed but finally not included.

Maya: It touched upon all the important aspects of Alumni Engagement within the given timeframe.

Nimit: I wasn’t able to sit in the sessions but I thought the range of sessions you had set up was very broad. I quite liked the option for folks to choose and if you saw, the rooms were quite dispersed – meaning that they were all at the right level and addressed a lot of broad need. Great use of the experience you had from Yale folks.

Q: How did colleagues, other university contacts, and their alumni react to the forum event? What were their comments and “take-aways”? Did any one of them come away with a different perspective on alumni relations?

Ravi: The IITs have their Alumni Associations and regularly engage with alumni leaders. The same forum was used to identify the alumni participants for this Conference. For some IITs, the extent and nature of alumni involvement described by Yale was a surprise and an important lesson.

Maya: Some testimonials from the participants. [Editor’s comment: Maya sent over 30 testimonials. These are representative.]

I came with an open mind, in most areas it was beyond my expectations.

Facilitating a follow up programme would be beneficial.

The format was good with smaller group discussions and ideas from different Indian institutions were helpful.

Breakouts arrangement was a little disappointing because there were certain topics I wanted to attend but could not. However the printed supplemental material provided with the delegate kit will surely compensate for it ….

A quick Monday-meeting of the four of us who attended the conference on Friday has resulted in a report to be presented … to the Principal (President) and Vice-President of our Alumnae Association for discussion and action.

Nimit: Everyone loved the conference. There was a lot of conversation in the hallways and most importantly, there were a lot of peers who met each other for the first time. I think the biggest change you were able to provide was to provide a platform for this peer learning community to begin the process of learning together.

Q: What did you, the other university contacts, and their alumni learn from the forum?

Nimit: I think they all started with some idea of what the benefit of alumni was (mostly on the jobs front actually – for current students). I think they got a good sampling of how the Alumni function can be so so much more than that.

Ravi: We at IIT Bombay feel that the discussions during the IIT-Yale Alumni Leadership Conference were very beneficial. Yale emphasised that Time, Talent and Treasure are possible contributions from the alumni. Like Yale, the IIT alumni are also very successful and carrying out leadership roles in various sectors. We learn about the various ways in which the Talent of the alumni can be nurtured, and also used for the benefit of the university. Discussions during the conference also brought out their sense of fulfilment in engaging as Yale alumni leaders.

Mr. Murari: One of the most important take-aways from this outstanding get together was the emphasis on the fact that alumni of all universities have a critical role to play in future not only in improving the barriers of higher education but also in bridging the gap between the institutions and the alumni. Such interaction and support could take the form of enhancing social contacts, improving the content of education by close coordination and providing support for research scholars in exchange of teachers and also by way of adding to major fixed assets in their alma maters.

Maya: It was fantastic to see how Alumni Engagement is such a well-oiled mechanism in the U.S. Apart from the workshop content, the coordination and commitment with which the YaleGALE group came together to showcase the brand of Yale University Alumni was a great example in itself.

Q: What kind of follow-up with Yale alumni would be most worthwhile?

Ravi: The IITs look forward to further opportunities to engage with Yale alumni. There are around 50,000 alumni from IITs who live in the USA. We discussed the possibility of engagement of our US-based alumni chapters with Yale alumni on themes of common interest. We also discussed the possibility of IITs participating in Yale alumni conference at New Haven in November 2015. We are also in the process of designing new alumni engagement programs following the discussions during the Conference. We hope that the Yale alumni can also be involved in some of these programs in future.

Maya: I don’t know if it will be possible to establish a one-on-one mentoring program by YaleGALE. If each member of the YaleGALE network volunteered to mentor or be a sounding board for the Alumni Committee of an Indian institution that attended the workshop – it might help in forming a stronger and sustained relationship. Of course, this would have to be selective and there must be mechanism through which Indian institutions sign up for this in a formal way, in order not to waste YaleGALE’s time on unproductive mentoring.

Nimit: Connecting at future conferences, sharing any new materials you have. I think another conference would be good but more in a 3-5 year time frame – to check in on these universities and see how they are doing – especially given the amount of work it takes to move the number of people you had to come here.

Q: Did the exchange spark ideas for any new initiatives at your institution or the universities that attended the conference?

Nimit: Most definitely.

Mr. Murari: My feedback at the end of the programme was that the example of the Yale alumni doing so much for their counterparts throughout the world could be replicated similarly in Indian institutions, not only for their alumni but also to act as incubators for further programming in the field of higher education, research etc.

Maya: For USIEF, this was part of our ongoing engagement with Indian Higher Education Administrators. Many other institutions are following up on their ideas discussed at the workshop, but it is too early to track outcomes.

Ravi: Several new ideas of alumni leadership, alumni engagement and resource development came out during the Conference. Some of these have been discussed above. We look forward to following these. We also look forward to continuing our engagement with Yale and possibly organising joint programs of common interest.