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The alumni question is WHY?

Written during my flight home from the 2013 AAI Congress in Vienna.

Pavillon2_ZupancMidway through our gala dinner yesterday at Vienna’s sensational Kaiserpavillon (pictured here), my friend Artyom Doubrovskikh unexpectedly pulled me out of my chair, handed me the microphone and said, “Speak, Mr. President”.  I had already taken a lot of ‘airtime’ at the Congress, so I wasn’t planning to address the group yet again, so I improvised.  Now on my flight home, it is obvious to me what very personal message I might have conveyed to the group.  After thanking our gracious hosts and my fellow board and team members and acknowledging the many distinguished alumni in the room, this is the speech I might have made. 

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When our guest speaker, AIESEC Alumni Austria alum Dieter Langenecker, explained his mentoring work to me yesterday, he said that the single question he addresses with clients is “WHY?”  He said it’s the only question that matters.

With this in mind, let me tell you about a personal journey that I took several years ago when I was undergoing treatments for an aggressive cancer.  Month after month, I was hooked up to a machine that was pumping toxic chemicals into my body, and I can tell you that I lost a lot more than my hair. I lost my appetite; I lost my energy; I had little interest in picking up a book or even watching a movie.  I just lay there.  And I thought.  A lot.  About everything.

First and foremost, I thought about my family, and about how much I wanted to see my boys grow up.  I thought about my wife, on whom my illness had placed an enormous burden and about how grateful I was for her love and support. I thought about my parents, one of whom had passed away, and about my sister.  I thought about my friends. I thought about my professional life and my interests and about the many things I still wanted to accomplish.

If my wife, Judy, were here this evening, she would shout out, “What’s your point, Dave?”  Well, my point is that one of the things I thought about while I was fighting this battle for months on end was AIESEC.  The largest student-driven organization in the world with nearly 100,000 student members in more than 100 countries.  I thought about how AIESEC’s leadership training and cross-cultural experiences had set me on a path in life.  I thought about our very talented and diverse alumni community, nearly one million of us in all, and about the enormous positive impact we could have on each other, on AIESEC and on the world at large, if we could just organize ourselves to get it done.

Thinking about this as much as I did (and after being nudged by an old AIESEC friend… thank you, Frank Foti), I came to the realization that helping to mobilize hundreds of thousands of AIESEC alumni – to awaken our sleeping giant – is among the most high-impact ways I could make a positive difference in the world, once I beat this disease.  To do something that really matters.  I began to embrace the idea of harnessing all of the leadership I could muster to help organize our alumni to get it done, building on work that had been underway for years but wasn’t getting enough traction.

This is WHY I became so committed to unleashing AIESEC’s global potential and to doing what it takes to help get this job done.  Partly because I began to think of it as my duty to give  back.  But mainly because I’ve thought of it as an opportunity, over time, to have a significant impact on the lives of alumni, on AIESEC and on the world at large.  And perhaps, most of all, because I believe it really can be done.

We have come together from around the world, this evening in this Kaiserpavillon and over the past 18 months on every continent, to agree on a clear vision for our programs, and we’ve taken steps to implement AlumNet, our global alumni web portal.  We’ve agreed on a globally integrated organization and membership program that unites us towards a common goal. And just this weekend, we’ve voted to bring our governance model into the 21st century, including global voting and regional representation on our board.

We’ve also agreed on what it’s going to take to complete the job, on our need to bring on an Executive Director, on our need to establish a small global office, and, of course, on our urgent need to complete AlumNet.  Perhaps most of all, we’ve agreed on our need for startup funding, in the form of donations from alumni, to complete this phase of our work and put AAI on the path to long-term self-sustainability.  Together, I am certain that we will advance on all of these fronts and bring unstoppable momentum to our drive to unleash AIESEC’s global alumni potential by the time we reunite in March in Mexico City.

I’ve shared my story with you in the hope that it will encourage you to connect with your own answer to the question, “WHY?”… why you, too, are joining (or will join) your fellow alumni around the world and devote some of your time, talent and treasure to seizing this enormous opportunity.  It is clear that a large number of us will need to invest ourselves personally in this to reach our goal.

Thank you for listening.  Thank you for your support.  Now let’s complete our mission!

AIESECly yours,
David Epstein
President, AIESEC Alumni International

P.S.  I beat the cancer.  🙂

10 Responses to "The alumni question is WHY?"

  • Oscar Ayala
    October 24, 2013 - 13:17

    This is simply extraordinary, David. I feel the same, together we could really make mountains move.
    Cheers !!!

    Oscar Ayala

  • Bernis Nguedia
    October 24, 2013 - 16:28

    Thanks David for this inspirational speech.
    The future is ours and it’s up to us to shape it according to our wish…
    All the best to us!!!

  • Pedro Luis Pinson Edelen
    October 24, 2013 - 18:29

    David, you are an inspiration to all of us. Now that I have been battling with my lungs for the last 15 weeks I can understand how much we think. Nothing similar but nasty. You know you can count on this 50 year veteran to do any thing possible to help out in this mission . Leaving the generations in back of us the opportunity of enjoying a one million pipeline is quite a heritage. Again count me in. Un fuerte abrazo y gracias por tus palabras . PLP

  • Dora Elena Cortes Gallo
    October 24, 2013 - 22:04

    Looking forward to receive friends in Mexico 2014…. Inspired by your message…

  • Andres Velasquez
    October 25, 2013 - 08:56

    I hate “C” (but I like “Beating C” Personal Stories). We are glad that you, David are well and still with AIESEC.

  • Anuj Khosla
    October 25, 2013 - 16:43

    Thanks for sharing this inspirational story David. Your passion, dedication and perseverance shine and keep us moving forward as an association. Thank you!

  • Patricia Acosta Poten
    October 25, 2013 - 20:22

    Thanks David for sharing this amazing article, I’m still amazed how AIESEC can impact someone’s life. It is great to see that despite all we as alumni are still committed to help the organization globally and/or locally, this message is really inspiring and I hope it helps us alumni to get more involved… Once more thanks for this mss

  • Patricia Ralston
    October 25, 2013 - 22:01

    Thanks David, you are an inspiration and really wish you all the best. I am commited to AAI issues because of people like you and Andy, and I’m sure that our dreams are becoming a strong reality. See you in Mexico and in the meantime, please keep in touch!

  • Rolando P. Gosiengfiao
    October 26, 2013 - 01:43

    David, this is an overwhelming story you have shared. I consider myself fortunate not to have gone through what you have. Nevertheless, it is an inspiring story for all of us who believe in the power of AIESEC Alumni. In my case, I have chosen to help harness this power 15 people at a time, and I am encouraged that it works in a very viral way. I am already happy if one person has been helped and he continues to help others. Thank you, David.

  • ŔΛM ĤΛDĴĪ (@Ramhadji)
    November 1, 2013 - 06:27

    Very Inspirational David, we are with you and thank you for all the efforts, i believe your commitment and zeal, will propel AIESEC to reach out for greatness,