Lessons Learned: Building and Tapping into Alumni Networks in Low- and Middle-Income Country Higher Education Institutions
The Center for Applied Research and Innovation in Supply Chain Africa
Alumni networks are a powerful tool for bringing new ideas, connections, and resources to universities and alumni alike. Many universities in high income countries cultivate robust alumni programs to tap into these networks, but this practice is less common in low-and middle-income countries (LMIC).
In 2020, USAID launched the Centre for Applied Research and Innovation in Supply Chain - Africa (CARISCA) through its Building Research and Innovation for Development, Generating Evidence, and Training (BRIDGE-Train) program.
CARISCA is a partnership between Arizona State University and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana. The Centre’s goal is to generate cutting-edge supply chain management research and curriculum to advance positive development outcomes in Ghana and across Africa.
During CARISCA’s initial program evaluation planning, the team met with former KNUST students to hear about their experiences at KNUST and in their careers to help inform improvements to KNUST’s supply chain curriculum. In 2021, CARISCA created an alumni survey and administered it to KNUST graduates. This study assesses the mid-to-long-term outcomes among KNUST’s Supply Chain and Information Systems graduates in the Ghanaian workforce, gauges their job satisfaction, and identifies opportunities for KNUST to improve the student experience.
There were several challenges in administering the survey, ranging from obtaining a student database, to low survey response rates at the outset of the study. However, the KNUST School of Business was able to send the survey to 186 alumni, and 76 completed the survey (41 percent completion rate).
Survey results were shared with CARISCA’s leadership, the curriculum development team, and KNUST administrators.
High-Level Overview of Results
Most of the respondents (of which 91 percent are Master’s graduates and 84 percent are male) are succeeding in the workforce. Sixty-nine percent of respondents work at least 31 hours per week, and 88 percent are employed full-time (35 hours per week or more). Eighteen percent work (or, almost two out of ten) more than one job—which dispels the myth there are no jobs in Ghana for recent graduates.
Seventy-nine percent of respondents are in a leadership role, 30 percent have been promoted since starting their job, and 15 percent are self-employed or own their own business. Seventy-eight percent of alumni say that their job is closely related to what they studied at KNUST, and 19 percent said somewhat related.
KNUST also received important feedback about experiences alumni reported from their days as students. One recurring theme is that students want more hands-on learning opportunities like internships, applied projects, field trips, and networking opportunities.
The first survey provided valuable insights to the CARISCA project team and KNUST administrators. It added survey data to a largely anecdotal understanding of student experiences and created a benchmark for evaluating future alumni outcomes.
KNUST has adopted the survey and will use it to follow up and learn from alumni. The university has also created an alumni committee that can reach out to alumni and facilitate increased connectivity. CARISCA also used its alumni network to increase survey response rates from business executives for one of its upcoming industry reports.
The insights from the survey led to the following planned actions:
- CARISCA plans to administer the alumni survey annually to all KNUST School of Business students (not just Supply Chain and Information Systems students).
- KNUST’s alumni office adopted the survey and plans to administer it annually.
- KNUST will petition to replace its current thesis requirement for master’s students with an applied interdisciplinary research project class that is connected with a supply chain organization.
- KNUST will invite stakeholders to discussions about the development of course content.
- CARISCA will develop business cases for students to provide insights into the complexity of supply chain decision-making.
Partnerships and Sustainability
A strong alumni network can bridge gaps between businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations to bring together diverse actors to solve complex real-world problems while preparing the next generation of sound critical thinkers.
Institutional capacity building and sustainable partnerships can be challenging to forge and build when trust is low.
CARISCA wants to build relationships that can improve Africa’s supply chains and foster a sustainable future. The results from this alumni survey are one of CARISCA’s efforts to create inclusionary environments that can breed long-term trust and collaboration between universities and other development actors to benefit African society.
CARISCA acknowledges that much more research is needed to understand and improve student experiences at KNUST and alumni outcomes post-graduation. KNUST wants to be more accountable for students' satisfaction and success by systematically following up and measuring their success after graduation.
This survey instrument may be a valuable tool for BRIDGE-Train or other USAID projects that want to build a tremendous university asset: the alumni network.