Alumni and Networking Strategy of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Summary

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s present Alumni and Networking Strategy is based on the Foundation’s Strategic Focus and spells out its overarching goal of “continued systematic development of the Humboldt Network and exploitation of its potential to greater effect”. It operationalises the empirical outcomes of the Humboldt Network Study, which was recently presented to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. The Humboldt Network helps internationalise the German academic and research landscape and contributes to German foreign cultural and educational policy beyond academic cooperation. The strategy sets forth the following main fields of action: 1.) to foster Humboldtians’ bond with the Humboldt Network at an early stage; 2.) to strengthen academic and personal bonds within the Humboldt Network; 3.) to recruit new members for the Humboldt Network. This initial strategy will be in force until 2021, at which point it will be reviewed.

1. Positioning within the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Strategic Focus

The “Strategic Focus of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation”, passed in December 2013, states as its third goal: “Continued systematic development of the Humboldt Network and exploitation of its potential to greater effect”. Since the Humboldt Foundation was established some 60 years ago, the “Humboldt Network” has evolved into its centrepiece and hallmark. But how do Humboldtians use the network? Up until recently, there had been no systematic analysis to find answers to this question. In May 2015, the Humboldt Foundation presented the outcomes of a comprehensive study to its Board of Trustees. By analysing and evaluating individual alumni support tools, the study assessed the objectives of the Foundation’s networking activities and helped characterise the network in an explorative study. Based on these outcomes in combination with the “Humboldt Foundation’s concept for follow-up support” from 1997 and its updated version of 2002 (passed at the May 1997 and December 2002 sessions of the Board of Trustees, which was still referred to as the ‘Board of Directors’ at the time), the Humboldt Foundation is now able to present an Alumni and Networking Strategy with the purpose of guiding the Foundation’s future efforts to develop the Humboldt Network.

2. Defining the global Humboldt Network

2.1 Definition of the term

The term "Humboldt Network" encompasses:

  • in its narrower sense, the entirety of all Alexander von Humboldt Foundation sponsorship recipients across all sponsorship programmes. The Humboldt Network comprises more than 28,000 members from various countries of origin and academic fields who have received support at different stages in their careers. Membership in the Humboldt Network begins at the moment of selection and lasts for the recipient’s entire active academic lifetime, in keeping with the Humboldt Foundation’s motto: “Once a Humboldtian, always a Humboldtian”.
  • in its wider sense, what is known as the “Network Germany”: This includes Humboldt sponsorship recipients’ academic hosts, who crucially help to forge the researchers’ bonds with the German science system, as well as the experts who serve on Humboldt Foundation selection committees, peer reviewers, participants in Frontiers of Research Symposia, and alumni who permanently reside in Germany.

2.2 Description of the Humboldt Network

The hallmark of the Humboldt Network is high-level interdisciplinary exchange amongst its members based on mutual respect and trust, and extending beyond the research stay in Germany. The network relationships between the various cohorts who populate, shape and use the network are strikingly diverse and dynamic. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation offers support measures to promote the activities of the global Humboldt Network and the initiatives of its members, who form their own independent sub-networks. Examples include:

  • Regional: One hundred and eleven Humboldt Alumni Associations in 75 countries (including Germany) as well as 46 Ambassador Scientists in 35 countries foster academic and cultural exchange at regional and international level.
  • By expertise: Intensive expert networks exist between Humboldtians and German collaborative partners which include academic hosts in Germany as well as other researchers at various career stages. In a regional context, the global Humboldt Network also generates individual expert networks in different locations.
  • Interdisciplinary: The Humboldt Network serves as a platform for exchange on socially relevant topics in the realms of science, education, research and science policy going beyond the confines of specialist fields.
  • Social: In connection with the time sponsorship recipients spend in Germany, the network provides a forum for sharing experiences, memories and advice on how to handle practical issues.

3. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s objectives for the Humboldt Network

By fostering the Humboldt Network – maintaining, strengthening and expanding academic contacts between sponsorship recipients and German colleagues as well as amongst Humboldtians from around the world – the Humboldt Foundation pursues two central goals, which each have various associated objectives:

  1. Help internationalise the German academic and research landscape
    Objective 1.1: Sustainable and continued research cooperation with partners in Germany
    Members of the Humboldt Network are part of the world’s research elite – both in leading research nations and in transition and developing countries. They represent the top institutions in their countries, and their experience in Germany makes them attractive partners for continued and intensified collaboration with Germany.
    Objective 1.2: Recruit new collaborative partners
    Members of the Humboldt Network are instrumental in recruiting new groups and new cohorts of excellent researchers as collaborative partners for German science.
  2. Contribute to German foreign cultural and educational policy beyond academic cooperation
    Objective 2.1: Access to multipliers
    Members of the Humboldt Network act as door-openers to various issues and regions, functioning as international advisers with regard to individuals, structures and expertise
    • to enhance understanding of political, economic and academic contexts
    • to initiate new partnerships
    • to support sustainable development
    • in connection with other activities in foreign cultural and educational policy
    Objective 2.2: Promote a realistic image of Germany
    In their role as multipliers, members of the Humboldt Network communicate a realistic image of Germany as a science and research location. Their first-hand knowledge of life in Germany predestines them to spark interest in Germany amongst current and future elites abroad, including in non-academic contexts.

In this way, the Humboldt Network generates added value for Germany: for players in the fields of science and research, science policy, foreign cultural and educational policy, development cooperation and the media.

4. Central fields of action

To implement the strategy, the study proposes the three following fields of action:

  1. Foster Humboldtians’ bond with the Humboldt Network at an early stage
    From the moment sponsorship is granted, forging the recipient’s bond with Germany is a central focus of the Foundation’s work. Providing information about opportunities and options offered by the Humboldt Network plays an important role in this process.
  2. Strengthen academic and personal bonds within the Humboldt Network
    Alumni tools are continuously adapted to serve the current needs of the Foundation’s international clientele and must be showcased more effectively to gain greater visibility. Academic and social networking and, in particular, the differing needs of transition and developing countries as well as high-tech nations will play a decisive role in this effort.
  3. Recruit new members for the Humboldt Network
    In order to introduce new generations to the Humboldt Network, it is vital to address and involve young researchers appropriately.