Spotlight on a Chevening Officer (Argentina)
In December 2017, the World Trade Organization hosted the 11th ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. To celebrate the event, the Ministry of Trade in Argentina hosted a 'Think Track' alongside the conference to showcase thought leaders in the fields of international trade and commerce. By getting in touch with their Chevening officer in Argentina, Constanza Galli, the two organisers (Chevening Alumni) were able to use the global Chevening network to call for papers and panel proposals. One of the winners of the competition was a paper by Ms Diwa Samad, co-authored by Chevening Alumnus Sayed Ramin Ziwary (2015, Afghanistan). We asked Constanza a few questions about the embassy's alumni engagement initiatives as an example of best practice for all Chevening officers.
How do you/your team engage alumni throughout the year?
From the embassy, we are in regular contact with the Board of the Chevening Alumni Argentina group. They are around 12 alumni who renew their positions every year to allow other alumni to have a more active role. We share ideas about activities and information or opportunities, which they then circulate to the general alumni. We mainly communicate by email.
We also organise three or four Chevening breakfasts per year with Argentine leaders, which are hosted by the British Ambassador at the residence and are exclusively for alumni. We also organise special events or activities in conjunction with the Chevening Alumni Argentina group. In recent years, we organised events for Chevening Alumni such as thematic conferences (led by alumni with expertise in those issues) and leadership conferences.
Like other embassies, we also organise pre-departure and welcome home events, which are very popular and useful for touching base with some alumni that cannot attend other types of events but try to keep in contact.
We also include alumni in the Chevening promotion by sharing the call for applications and fostering their participation on dissemination. We have appointed six Chevening Alumni Provincial Ambassadors who are very important for promoting the scholarship in their regions (Argentina is a large country!) and we have had excellent results in making the call more federal.
The fact that I have been working on Chevening for many years has helped us to know most of the alumni and maintain a long-lasting relationship with many of them, knowing their career path and having direct access to them once they've reached senior positions.
Our embassy values Chevening Alumni very much so alumni are always guests of our embassy's main events and important activities.
What methods of alumni engagement have you found to be most effective?
People-to-people links are essential in spite of all the digital tools available. Trying to know who is who, updating our database, and staying in contact with alumni is very useful when opportunities for projects or events come up. There is always a Chevening Alumnus who is there to help or who is very important to include. It is very effective to organise at least three events or activities that bring alumni to the residence. Then people share news and reconnect with their unforgettable Chevening experience and think of possible future projects or actions together with us or involving the UK.
Email is the electronic tool that we mostly use. WhatsApp is not ideal for the general alumni group, but it is useful for communicating with the individual members of the Board of the Alumni group.
This year, we included some alumni in press briefings, in delivering presentations about the programme in the provinces, and in posting information on Facebook. We are learning that alumni have to be more proactive and take a more active role in some aspects, otherwise they rely too much on our embassy's initiative (and none of us in the embassy have roles that are 100% dedicated to Chevening).
What inspired you to get involved with the Eleventh Ministerial Conference?
Fortunately, we know most of the alumni very well and meet them at different type of events (including non-Chevening) or working meetings as many of the alumni are already in interesting and relevant positions which are linked to our embassy's work.
At one of the events, one alumnus who now has a relevant role in the Ministry of Production told me that they were organising an academic event in the framework of the MC11 WTO meeting in December and that many prestigious organisations were participating. He asked if Chevening would be interested. It was a very tempting opportunity that could help Chevening to raise its profile in a sector where the US has lots of influence. So I followed up this conversation with an email a couple of weeks after that casual talk. And then we worked with the Chevening Secretariat to find the best way to participate to ensure visibility and engagement.
Have you encountered any challenges throughout the process? If yes, how did you overcome them?
The main challenges were funding confirmation and finding the most appropriate way to participate to justify Chevening investment.
It was not easy to know the availability of funding since posts do not have a fund open throughout the year. But the Alumni team in London was very positive from the beginning and helped us a lot in terms of making this funding available. However, it was key to show them how useful this opportunity was and to be flexible in the options provided. We also did our best to ensure the investment commitment was strictly to support Chevening Alumni, UK students or professors, or representatives from British institutions. It was not easy, but fortunately Ramin was among the paper authors selected to present in Buenos Aires!
Do you have plans for further alumni engagement of this kind? If yes, please describe.
We don’t have specific plans, but we are always very proactive to find different ways of engagement. It is not easy to reach all the Chevening Alumni as they all have different interests and motivations. But we try different initiatives and attract different targets among Chevening.
From this, we realised with crystal clarity that Chevening Alumni from very different regions, backgrounds, and realities have the same Chevening mark. They are leaders and UK global ambassadors, and this gave us the idea to think of projects that are not only focused in the LATAM region, but we could also explore ideas that could link completely different regions.
What advice would you give to other Chevening officers given your experience?
Chevening Alumni engagement is crucial for making Chevening a real asset. Chevening Alumni are key stakeholders, so it is very useful to keep in contact with them. To know what they are doing and try to link them with each other for possible common interests is always welcomed by alumni. They are always open to these networking opportunities. It has been very useful for us to link our alumni engagement work with our embassy stakeholder engagement. This has helped us to better know our alumni and also ensure the Chevening programme contributes to the embassy's objectives. This also ensures that senior staff at post value Chevening and support new initiatives, as they always benefit different sections of the embassy. In our case, I have been working for many years for the embassy so I know all of the alumni. But if there are many staff changes at post, it is recommended to show continuity to the alumni or ensure the links are maintained, and that future staff is informed about past activities or relevant alumni information.