The impact of volunteering — Margaret Campbell
We spoke to Margaret Campbell (Newnham 1966) about her passion for volunteering and on chairing the University's Alumni Advisory Board.
Can you share what your experience of studying at Cambridge was like?
Cambridge was a life-changing experience for me and I felt that I wanted to help others enjoy the same opportunity. I was the first in my family to go to university and I had never considered Cambridge seriously until I was encouraged by my headmaster and teachers to apply. It was the first time for my school and myself in preparing for the entrance exam.
I arrived on a cold and misty day at the end of November for my interviews at several Colleges, feeling extremely nervous. But as soon as I came to Newnham College I immediately felt at home in the surroundings of the College and with the students. I was amazed at the beauty of the College and the gardens — even in winter. When I returned the following October, I felt I truly had a ‘Room of My Own’. I have many happy memories of work and social life as well as the lifelong friends I made.
Newnham opened up so many new perspectives for me and gave me the confidence to explore opportunities I had never considered like going to Business School to get an MBA and then making my career in international finance in London and later in New York.
How did you reengage with Cambridge?
For some years after I left Cambridge, I was immersed in my career and my family. But coming back for a College reunion, I met some undergraduates who were planning summer internships in New York. Their enthusiasm and commitment was stimulating. I decided to get involved with my College Group in the US. For the past 12 years, we have organised a Travel Bursary for a Newnham student to spend the summer vacation working on a research project in the USA.
Later on, I got involved with the Newnham Associates, which is a Group of alumnae engaged in many different types of employment, who provide careers advice and mentoring to both students and alumnae.
When I was travelling extensively on business in Europe and Asia and Latin America, I was fascinated by the challenges of working in different cultures and putting to practical use my language studies in French and German, as well as having the opportunity to learn Spanish. I began to appreciate the strength of the Cambridge alumni community and what a powerful force it can be with its international network, which led to my interest in the work of the University’s Alumni Advisory Board.
You are Chair of the Alumni Advisory Board, what does it do?
It is a great privilege to be Board Chair, especially at this important period in the evolution of the University.
The Board was set up 10 years ago to represent the views of our now 300,000 plus Cambridge Alumni. It acts as a conduit, in promoting the priorities and interests of alumni to the University and in providing feedback on University issues to alumni. I hope this two-way flow of communication is rewarding for alumni in keeping them connected with Cambridge. I hope it is also helpful for the University and the Colleges.
As the Vice-Chancellor has said, alumni are an integral and life-long part of the Collegiate University community.
The Board includes 16 alumni, which seeks to be broadly representative of the alumni community, and has members from the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, Canada and the USA. We have a wide variety of expertise and use our experience to act as a sounding board by providing advice and comment on the ideas and initiatives developed by the University’s Alumni Engagement team.
What do you like about your role as Chair of the Alumni Advisory Board?
One of my great pleasures as a member of the Board has been the opportunity to visit Alumni Groups.
I am always impressed by their enthusiasm and commitment and their desire to stay connected with University and Colleges. At the biennial Alumni Groups Leadership Conference, it is fascinating to join in the discussion sessions exchanging ideas from across the globe.
In my travels, I have met Groups in the UK, the USA and Asia. I have also participated in Global Cambridge Events in the UK and the USA as well as attending several Boat Race dinners and Holiday celebrations.
Whenever I meet alumni, it is evident that there is a real desire from many of them to see what they can do for Cambridge and be advocates and ambassadors for the Collegiate University.
Why do you volunteer?
For me, giving my expertise and experience to Cambridge, as for so many others, has been a major influence in my life. I believe it is very important to maintain and strengthen the connection between the Collegiate University and the alumni, hence my interest in being on the Board. I see volunteering as another way of donating to a cause you believe in passionately.
I have met some extraordinary people and got insights into the education, research and innovation, which make Cambridge a leading global University. It is so rewarding to meet alumni and engage with students and to realise that I am a small part of helping to sustain the Cambridge alumni community. I am proud to act as an advocate and ambassador for Collegiate Cambridge.
Why do you think the collegiate structure at Cambridge is important?
I think the collegiate structure has been and remains one of the greatest strengths of Cambridge. It offers personalised education and the sense of community that comes with being a member of a College as well as of a global University. I believe that it leaves a deep impression on the great majority of students and is central to the spirit of Cambridge.
What do you say to people who are interested in volunteering for Cambridge?
I welcome their willingness to get involved. I find out their particular interests and what they would like to do and then point them to local, College and special interest Groups. It is important to match what people are interested in where they can make a positive contribution and enjoy the benefits of volunteering their time and experience.
Events enable them to meet and network with others at different stages in their career within the framework of their Cambridge experience. We are also seeing interest in networking events with specialist professional Groups, especially among more recent graduates.
What are Alumni Groups doing?
The types of Alumni Groups and their activities are so wide-ranging. They range from small to those with large memberships and an extensive range of programmes. A look at the Alumni Website “Find a Group” will show you everything from College Choir visits, concerts, book clubs, and discussions on entrepreneurship, healthcare and many other topics.
Alumni Groups are having, in many cases, to adapt to the changing interests of members at different ‘life stages’ and this can be challenging for smaller Groups. But I am always impressed by the dedication, hard work and creativity that goes into the organisation of their programmes. It is encouraging to see the successful establishment of Groups for more recent graduates with a focus on networking and more informal gatherings.
We are a leading global University with an increasing number of alumni around the world. When we look at other major universities, it is clear that drawing on the power of the Cambridge alumni community as represented by our international alumni network is increasingly important.
More of our alumni are travelling internationally for work and for research and can benefit from the support of a local Group when they move to a new location or a new country. We have 400 plus Groups across the globe comprising University and College, departmental, and special interest Groups. We have much work to do still on joining these up and finding ways to reach out to those alumni who are not members of Groups but would like to strengthen their connection with Cambridge.
Do you meet alumni who have joined Groups and who tell you they have got much more out of reengaging with Cambridge than they expected?
Definitely and I see it in their enthusiasm and willingness to work on strengthening the relationships between alumni and the University, and the rewards they feel they have received from volunteering their experience and expertise and meeting and working with people with whom they share common interests.