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Alumni Stories from Kenya: Why I Serve in the Board of my Former High School

By Pauline Wanja, Programme Manager in Kenya

The concept of alumni volunteering is not alien in Kenyan Schools. Our initial national survey indicated that 78% of Kenyans would be willing to give back to their former school if asked and 1% percent had done so.

For the past two years, Future First Global explored various ways in which to engage alumni with their former schools. We mobilized alumni from 15 schools to conduct career assemblies and workshops in their former schools. A report documenting the learning of our pilot programme indicates that alumni programming functions well and that former students can have a transformational impact on the learning experience of students, as well as their ability to make a smooth transition from education into employment.

As such, we are working toward having An Alumni Community for Every School initiative. We are putting together a workshop that will allow alumni association leaders to feed in their experiences to a national alumni strategy for Kenyan schools, and to receive world-class training on how alumni networks around the world are being mobilised to support current students.

Our guest facilitator will be our CEO Jake Hayman, who has studied alumni networks in Europe, West Africa, Central Asia, the USA and Latin America as well as Kenya.

As a build-up to the event, we will be running a series of back to school journeys by interviewing various alumni leaders in the country. The blog series will document conversations on what inspires alumni to reconnect with their former Schools.

GeraldOur first interview is with Gerald Mwangi Walterfang, an alumnus of Highway Secondary, one of our pilot schools in Nairobi. Gerald had a chance to serve in the board of his Alma mater.

How did you reconnect with your former school?

I reached out to the school almost a decade after completing my O-levels. Although our school motto has provisions for alumni engagement, there is no structure and guidelines for the engagement. The current school administrators are too overwhelmed to deliberately follow up with alumni. The school was happy to have us back.

What have your reflections been on your engagement with the school and current Students?

DSC_0074When I first joined I enjoyed interacting with current student, the beaming eyes of the young boys as we shared personal stories of our time at the school was something to write home about. But as I become more involved with the board my direct interaction with the students waned .Thanks to Future First alumni events over the past two years at the school, I was able to have some of that back.

On your experience serving at the board, what stood out?

My experience at the school board was exciting. I felt my presence provided a lens in which the board could connect with the needs of the student and ensure the institution served the best interest of the students and alumni. Being in the board is a commitment and alumni seeking to join must have a genuine interest in serving. It is also important to understand the politics of board to be audacious enough to see to it institution is growing without antagonizing the current administration.

During my term in the board, I reached out to other alumni, two of them contributed around KShs 600,000 to a unit trust. The money in the unit trust was to go into the support of equipping the library.  We also wanted to find ways of motivating the teachers by offering some token of appreciation for all the hard work.

What do you hope to see happen with alumni engagement in Kenya?

When we started out the alumni association, technology was not on our side. We did it through our school, referrals and a meeting at a Hotel in Nairobi. Now it is far easier to communicate and mobilize through various communication channels. I would love to see every school in Kenya supported by thriving alumni communities, to have more alumni networks grow strong as institutions themselves, serving their members and the schools.

What role can Future First play in supporting and building alumni associations?

How to engage with current students is not as obvious as it sounds, so if you could share guidelines and conduct trainings, I believe we would have more interactions between alumni and current students.

From my experience of interacting with fellow alumni from my school, most alumni are endowed with financial resources and various expertise. If we were to  run the associations as an independent bodies, it would be easier to support the institution  by isolating how alumni engage with schools – academics, sports, administration as well as how they grow themselves as institutions.

Gerald Walterfang, Alumnus of Highway Secondary School: He is the Current Director and Founder of WDS, A personal and professional development firm. Prior to Founding WDS he was CEO of various Institutions in Kenya-Help age Kenya, KENAAM and Viwango. He has BA degrees from Universities of Victoria and Okanagan in Canada, Masters from University of Leeds and United States International University.

 

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