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  • Halliki Voolma & Sanjana Mehta

Alumni Association Co-Chairs’ Letter

Halliki Voolma (left) and Sanjana Mehta (right), Co-Chairs of the GCAA. Photo credit: Halliki Voolma.

The past year for the Gates Cambridge Alumni Association (GCAA) Board and community has been one characterised by change, newness, and the challenges and opportunities that emerge in the wake of upheavals. Gates Cambridge alumni are, like others around the world, impacted by and working to respond to the long ongoing and newer crises and aftershocks of the global climate crisis, the catastrophic earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, the devastating war in Ukraine, the resulting energy and cost of living crisis, and the continuing repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic—to name a few.

From a more institutional standpoint, over the past year as a Board and community of alumni, we have started working with a new Provost for the first time in a decade, a new Alumni Relations & Events Officer at the Trust office, a new Co-Chair of the GCAA Board, and several new Board members. New beginnings hold much potential, yet can also be fragile moments, making deep engagement with community and a clear-eyed vision for the future crucial—particularly on the shuddering ground of global crises.

Four people on a stage in chairs with one person talking to an audience that is not seen
"War in Ukraine" panel at Alumni Weekend, July 2022. Photo credit: Alex Kong.

Therefore, in the past 12 months, the GCAA Board has worked to continue bringing our global community of alumni together in person and online, while also paving the way for our common future in a more strategic sense. Our flagship Alumni Weekend in July 2022 in Cambridge brought together 50 alumni and scholars from 19 countries. This was the first larger in-person gathering of alumni since 2019. The programme included a heartfelt and personal reflection on Gates Cambridge with the outgoing Provost, Professor Barry Everitt; an impactful alumni panel discussion on the war in Ukraine; and the Lauren Zeitels Memorial Lecture by Professor Bhaskar Vira on interdisciplinary research on the environment and global development.

Eleven Welcome Parties with a total of 100 participants were hosted by alumni volunteers in different locations in Europe and the US in September 2022 to welcome scholars-elect to the Gates Cambridge community before they left for Cambridge. In January/February 2023, the GCAA Board’s Directors of Membership delivered a series of winter holiday events, with gatherings in Cambridge (a jollof rice tasting for African alumni and scholars), London (a visit to the Tate Modern), New York (a tour of the Met Cloisters), and San Francisco (a visit to the Community Street Fair to celebrate Lunar New Year). Furthermore, the Board’s Director for Global Personal and Professional Development organised two online workshops with and for alumni. A workshop on how to present evidence to policymakers featured Gates alumni Todd Tucker, from the Roosevelt Institute, and Morgan Seag, from the International Cryosphere Initiative. A seminar featuring Gates alumna Julie Pham, the CEO of CuriosityBased, explored how to better connect with others based on different forms of respect, inspired by her new book on the subject, 7 Forms of Respect: A Guide to Transforming Your Communication and Relationships at Work.

Several people gathered in a semi circle on grass for a group photograph
London Welcome Party, September 2022. Photo credit: Charlie Melvoin.

Our community will soon be approaching its 25th year. With our quarter-century milestone in mind and our strong will to harness this period of transition for positive transformation, the GCAA Board and the Trust have been exploring ways in which our growing and vibrant alumni community can continue to be best served. We are looking to further develop the design and delivery of the alumni programme to ensure it remains community-focused while reaching the next level of consistency, sustainability, and international reach for our global membership. The input of alumni in developing this future model is vital, and there will be several opportunities for alumni to share their views in the coming months, including a targeted online survey.

We will also be seeking the engagement and feedback of alumni at the 2023 flagship Alumni Weekend, coming up on 2 to 4 June in two locations simultaneously: Washington DC and Cambridge. The programme will feature alumni panels and “lightning talks,” a conversation with our Provost, Professor Eilís Ferran, town hall discussions, cultural tours, and social gatherings. The GCAA Board cannot wait to meet alumni and scholars for a weekend of networking and mutual inspiration to re-connect and reflect on the future together.

Dr Halliki Voolma [2011] and Dr Sanjana Mehta [2001], Co-Chairs of the GCAA Board

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