2 weeks ago, Marie, Esben and I took part at the School council meeting as representatives of the IPC Alumni and all of the former students. What the school council discusses is big overall strategies and principles of the school and as we are also part of the school we are always included in these discussions. We also give a report on what we are doing, and I can tell you that every time I’ve been at these meetings, the school council is very impressed with all that we are doing!
A curious thing we found out at this meeting was how old the IPC Alumni actually are. Yes, we are almost as old as the school itself, 93 years. In 1925 the IPC Student Union was founded and that’s what today is the IPC Alumni.
Naturally we are not the same Student Union today as we were in 1925, and I’d like to tell you all a small story to perhaps illustrate this. It’s a story I’d like to call “the Alumni Reform” and it’s about how the IPC Student Union turned into the IPC Alumni. And it features two of our most distinguished members, our two senior advisors Rod and Nikolaj.
Student Union to Alumni
So, in 2008, 10 years ago, Rod, Nikolaj and a handful of others were wondering why there was no association for former students of IPC and no organisation supporting continuous connection with the school. Well, of course there was the Student Union. But at that time there were only around 30 members and a board that was unfortunately not very active. At that time the Student Union also had a hut in the IPC forest which unfortunately burned down. There was going to be a lot of insurance money and the Student Union also discussed the possibility of selling the land that the hut was on to the school.
In this situation Nikolaj, Rod and the others decided to act, so that the insurance case and selling of the land would run smoothly. So they took initiative and got elected into the Student Union board.
This event 10 years ago marks a turning point for the Student Union. It is also when the Student Union became the IPC Alumni! And this story perhaps also illustrates very well the question that I’d like to revolve this report around:
“Why do we need the IPC Alumni?”
Here I’d like to perhaps try and give a first answer with paragraph 1 of our charter:
- 1 The aim of The Alumni is to bring together former and present students in common activities with The International People’s College and to spread knowledge about the school.
The last 10 years have been revolving around this task and there has been a constant growth in activities and engagement. Reunion Weekends were introduced. And an ambassador project was started.
The last 2 years this process of increasing our activity has taken a sharp upwards turn with several ambitious new projects being started as well as old projects being revised and improved. Take for example the Reunion Weekend.
Reunion Weekend & Summer Camp
My first Reunion Weekend was 3½ years ago and it was amazing! I was a student here and it was great to meet a ton of different students who told so many cool stories about when they were here. And we had a huge party on Saturday. But in many ways that was it.
What we have been aiming at these last 3 years has been moving the focus from the Reunion Weekend as a big party to making it a deeper IPC experience. I hope a lot of you attended the workshops this afternoon and got some good debates about identity and how we handle the meetings between different cultures. And I also hope that my report here gives you some ideas and thoughts that will lead to fruitful discussions later today.
Don’t get me wrong – I still expect you to give it all you’ve got at our party tonight and make sure we have a scorching hot dancefloor!
But being an Alumni means more than coming back to IPC once a year and having a party. That’s one of the reasons why we introduced the IPC Alumni global week in 2011 which has since grown into the IPC Alumni Summer Camps. We have now had 4 of these camps in total and another one is happening this year! I know that at least a few of you have been at one of them and I hope you agree when I say that they add a tremendous value both to IPC and the Alumni community!
The Summer Camps give you an opportunity to come back to IPC for a week in summer and both do some manual labour at the school as well as engaging in discussions and making new friends across the globe.
A new challenge for the Alumni
The two activities I just mentioned are probably our core activities. But they can also be criticized. For does focus on Reunion Weekend and Summer Camp include ALL the students that have been at IPC? Two comments from the weekend of the school council meeting perhaps illustrate this quite well. Under the meeting Claus pointed out that the Alumni suffers under the problem of any former student association, that it only reaches back around 5 years. Have a look around. How many former students from over 5 years ago do you see? I don’t think there’s more than maybe 10.
Nonetheless we are an association that is almost 100 years old. But we don’t reach back that far.
Another comment you might have noticed was our fellow Alumni Osman’s post on our Facebook page. He pointed out that both the constellation of the Alumni board as well as the activities are often focussed a lot on Europe. E.g. Not everyone can come back to IPC as easily as those living in Copenhagen.
It’s valid criticism and it’s not a new problem. We’ve been discussing it regularly for the last 10 years and searching for solutions. As a result of this discussion we are at this Reunion Weekend launching two new initiatives that have been under way for some time.
The first program is aimed to tackle the problems facing a global association based in Denmark. It’s called Alumni World and aims to establish local Alumni organisations across the world.
Some of you have perhaps heard of how some of our former students are starting a new folk high school in Korea? We also have active Alumni communities in countries like Mexico, Japan, Hungary, or Belgium.
With the Alumni World project we want to facilitate Alumni organizing local activities connected to IPC. Hopefully we can then host a global Reunion in 2019 with Reunion Weekends happening at the same time around the globe!
Another project we are launching is our Volunteering Database! It grew out of a first attempt at setting up a system for the activities of former students that was started in 2011. This time we are integrating it into our website and putting some energy into making it easier to use!
We are collecting information on all the different NGO’s that Alumni are involved with and setting up a big database to facilitate contact between Alumni and all the NGO’s that we work with.
We’ve been working together with Gertrud on contacting Alumni from development management that have started projects and are always happy to hear from you if you have some yourself. Go have a look at our website to check out how you can add your NGO to the database!
A project that was introduced in 2015 is the Alumni scholarship. We raised the membership cost from 100 dkk to 200 dkk, and let the increase go into an Alumni scholarship fund. For the first time we will be supporting a student from Myanmar for the upcoming autumn term 2018. This student would not otherwise have had the possibility to come to IPC so it’s good to see that the effort of 3 years finally is sprouting into concrete results!
Volunteering with IPC Alumni
And now that we are on the topic of volunteering: It’s been a recurring theme for us that we ourselves are engaged in various projects around the globe and at IPC. Namely we have our 2 Erasmus+ volunteers, Magda and Lucile, that are making a real difference at IPC! It’s now the 3rd time we have our own volunteers at the school and we hope to continue with the project! You can see a lot about the project on our website. Or you can ask some of them here at the Reunion Weekend as we have both Anita, Tomas, and Pip here, all former volunteers!
Some of you might also have noticed that we sent 3 Alumni to the Philippines in Autumn 2017! This project has also started bearing fruits as we are integrating the IPC Alumni into the global network of NGO’s working together to change the world.
We are still continuing to have our very valuable trainings at the Asha centre in England where you can engage in issues of global citizenship, environmental challenges and human rights.
On that front we are also ourselves waiting for confirmation about a human rights project that we are arranging in Sarajevo!
You might wonder why we are engaging so much in volunteering opportunities? It is quite natural for us that connecting Alumni to the school also includes how we as the Alumni continue working with the core values of the school. We want to facilitate the future work of IPC students and we believe that offering volunteering possibilities is both good for the school and the Alumni.
Ensuring a healthy organisation
All this increase in activities that we have seen over the last 3 years would of course not have been possible without some dedicated Alumni on the board. We are currently 9 + 2 senior advisors that each put a lot of hours every week into making all of this happen. So I’d like to warmly thank all of my colleagues both for the good and for the difficult times. For the late evenings where we sit and plan how 120 Alumni fit into an already filled up school. And for the long Saturdays when we after 10 hours of meeting still power through to discuss how we best design the volunteering database. And also for the trust that you have put in me, the honesty you show me and the professionalism you have put to the day. And let’s not forget the nights over a box of white wine either!
But all the spirit of the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have a structure to put it in. We have been working a lot with structure. Experimenting how we get the most of our meetings. Discussing which way of doing things is the right way of including all our members. And expanding the amount of Alumni that are engaged in our activities.
For instance, Morgane has joined us as graphic designer. This model of engaging students with specific skills that don’t need you to be at board meetings is a model we are trying to work more with. Having subcommittees focused on specific tasks such as the Summer Camp, Reunion Weekend or internet-based activities is a model we aim to explore in the future.
But be patient with us. We are a small organisation and only have so many resources available to us. I can assure you that every one of the board members is working very hard for all of you!
To keep the IPC Alumni a well-functioning organisation we not only need to be well coordinated internally. There are also rules and restrictions we need to live up to. For instance, there are new EU data laws taking effect in a few days. That means we can’t keep a database of members without the explicit consent of these members. This is an organisational task that lies ahead of us, and therefore we will very soon be asking this consent of all of you.
100 years of IPC
At the last General Assembly I addressed the topic of how we as the Alumni will be engaged in the upcoming 100 year anniversary of the school. At the school council meeting two weeks ago Toni from the school board promised me that we will be engaged with the 100 year anniversary.
It is an opportunity for us to look back at the former students of 100 years that are our fellow Alumni. It’s an opportunity to explore the footstep that we have left on the world.
It is also an opportunity to for us to set high goals for the future. That we engage Alumni across the globe and across generations. That we bring IPC and the core values to the world and that we bring the world to Denmark!
What format the 100 year anniversary celebration will take we don’t know yet. Perhaps it’s going to be an even bigger, better and more exciting Reunion Weekend? Perhaps it’s a whole big Summer Camp? Or an IPC festival? There are many opportunities to explore!
So to come back to the question: Why do we need the Alumni? Well I think that if you look around again you will see the answer in each other’s faces. We are a unique community that spans across all of the world and almost 100 years. IPC lives off of mouth to mouth propaganda, so the better the Alumni have it, the better the school will have it!
Thank you for listening to me for these many minutes. I can assure you that every one of them represents at least 20 hours that the board and I have put into this organisation. But that’s nothing compared to the energy that all of you are giving eachother and us! I hope you have a blast of a Reunion Weekend.
Lars Heidtmann, Chairperson