This article is based on an interview with Ms. Latha Venkiteswaran, Executive Director, IIT Madras Alumni Association. Through this interview, we throw light on IITMAA’s activities and its efforts in forging a network of alumni of IIT Madras, organized in several cities of India through multiple chapters.
Ms. Latha previously worked at TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), housed at the IITM Research Park. TiE serves as a not-for-profit global network of entrepreneurs, actively focused on inspiring, educating and mentoring entrepreneurs in Chennai. Serving as a General Manager at TiE Chennai, she had overseen multiple outreach programs, entrepreneurial education activities of the organization, etc. She started her tenure as the Executive Director of IITMAA last year and brings to the table the organizational expertise, she has accumulated over the years.
What does the IITMAA do?
Ms. Latha believes that the IITMAA, usually reduced to a platform for alumni events, is more than merely that. The IITMAA, in her words, strives to keep the passion for the institute alive among the alumni. While alumni networking has received a major push by the IITMAA, she believes that networking is a two-way process, wherein alumni and current students of the institute are equally involved. The flagship networking activity of the IITMAA is the reunions it conducts and facilitates throughout the year. With each batch reuniting once every 5 years, Ms. Latha and her team make several calls throughout the year to representatives of every batch and gathering the organizational machinery required to conduct the alumni reunion.
Apart from reunions, the IITMAA is instrumental in ensuring that students procure an alumni card prior to their graduation. The alumni card, availed at the IITMAA office for a fee, is not only an identification mechanism but also the one-stop access to several alumni networks. The organization also facilitates the group insurance scheme for alumni and their families, a scheme that has gained traction recently. While speaking about the organization’s achievements, Ms. Latha points out to the effective networking among mentors and students at the Research Park, facilitated by IITMAA. A growing network, she talks about IITMAA’s efforts in ensuring that students receive all career-based information from alumni entrepreneurs and experts.
IITMAA: The team
The IITMAA is an independent body registered under the Registrar of Societies. The body’s organizational structure, as explained by Ms. Latha, has an Executive Committee at the apex comprising of alumni, followed by an elected Secretariat comprising a President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary. The Executive Director is, then, appointed by the Secretariat, along with Directors involved in the implementation of activities across four earmarked departments- Events and Projects, Administration, Accounts and Finances, IT. Currently, Ms. Latha’s executive committee comprises Ms. Mahalakshmi (Head: Events and Projects), Mr. Kesavan (Head: Administration), Mr. Vinod (Head: IT) and Ms. Sujatha (Head: Accounts and Finances).
The pan-IIT initiative
The IITMAA also fosters networking of alumni across the IITs in the country. Ms. Latha explains that all IIT Alumni Associations fall under a Pan-IIT body. The Pan-IIT Conference is an annual event, in which alumni associations and professors exchange information and opportunities. It is notable that the IITMAA, last, hosted the Pan-IIT Conference in 2008 and this year’s conference will be hosted by BHU’s Alumni Association. While acknowledging the immense potential that the Pan-IIT Conference holds, Ms. Latha suggests that constant activities under the banner of the Pan-IIT will prove to be of great value to alumni and current students across the IITs. One such suggestion made is a Pan-IIT Conference on Social Entrepreneurship.
IITMAA and I&AR
When asked about the difference between the IITMAA and the I&AR, Ms. Latha points out that the I&AR is an institute body, unlike the former. The IITMAA, further, is not involved in fund collection for projects and activities, helmed by alumni. Funding for these initiatives is undertaken by the I&AR.
Major hurdles and future
The major challenge to the IITMAA’s efforts, in Ms. Latha’s analysis, is data management. While maintaining and updating the existing database of IITM’s alumni seems to be an arduous task, she believes that the ways with which the organization has managed to negotiate logistical difficulties have improved immensely. This challenge, though, will persist, she says, given the sheer number of alumni (currently at 45,000). However, another challenge, she believes, is the perceived lack of access of the IITMAA to alumni.
While the 45,000-odd alumni hold immense resources, talents and time, Ms. Latha expresses doubt about the number of people who know that they can reach out to IITMAA to support students. She further adds that giving back may not be merely through financial contributions, but also encompasses mentorship, information exchange and other non-financial purposes. In addition, Ms. Latha believes that a crucial intervention made by the IITMAA in expanding alumni networks is increasing the number of initiatives to rope in relatively younger alumni, who, as of now, seem relatively less involved compared to those belonging to the older batches. This, she says, is due to the fact that giving back to the Institute is driven by a nostalgia, that usually sets in relatively later into the lives of alumni.
In order to address this challenge, Ms. Latha and her team are currently working on a new platform, that allows younger alumni to search industry and employment opportunities among a vast database. This database will prove to also be a key resource for current students, who are on the look-out for internship and placement opportunities during the course of the program.