• E.J. Wanjiru

IVY Social university?

It is with an incensed and disenchanted heart that I write about my fleeting experience with -- "the world's first Social University created to unite thoughtful individuals through a robust curriculum of experiences spanning the Arts, Entrepreneurship, Policy, Well-being, and Social Impact" -- IVY Social University.

I first learned about IVY Social University from the strategically placed Facebook ads that inundate your timeline and clobber you over the head until you stop, read, and click, which is exactly what I did. There was something about the concept of a "social university" that I found intriguing; so much so, that I felt compelled to visit the website and was thoroughly impressed by IVY's mission and global vision, -- "to be a catalyst for unprecedented human unity, progress, and fulfillment" and "to build the world's most impactful community across 50 global cities, and unite everyone who is passionate about creating a better world." Furthermore, the IVY idea of "uniting talented, energetic, and intellectually curious individuals who are driven by a fundamental desire to make a positive and lasting impact on their communities," was exciting. I wanted to learn more.

A few weeks later, on January 18th, I decided to register for membership and went through "a two minute, no obligation registration" process. On January 19th, I received an enthusiastic email from an IVY DC community manager congratulating me for being short-listed for an IVY membership interview. The email also indicated that the interview would be an excellent opportunity for the IVY DC community manager to learn more about my story and my aspirations for the future. I made a note to respond and eventually forgot about the email, until eleven days later, on January 30th, when I received a follow-up email to set up a call for the aforementioned interview. On January 31st, I received another email in the form of an invitation to the IVY Dance Lab featuring The Washington Ballet and if I wanted to attend this event, I needed to schedule a membership interview to complete the application process. On February 6th, I received another email reminder that I'd applied two weeks prior and hadn't gotten a chance to attend one of their prospective member happy hours or scheduled a call. Additionally, there was a waiting list for DC membership and the IVY DC community manager wanted to check-in to see if I was still interested in pursuing IVY. On February 7th, I responded, with apologies, for my tardy reply and stated that I was available for a call the next day at 2:30 pm. So I did my due diligence, wrote down talking points, and was armed to answer any and all questions that were promised to be asked. At 2:30 pm on the dot, my phone rang and thus begun the beginning of a new path; a chance to step outside of my social comfort zone. Or so I thought.

The first few minutes of the call were spent exchanging pleasantries and talking about the 70 degree weather in February. I was then asked if I'd gotten a chance to enjoy the warm weather and how often I worked from home, which was followed by the IVY DC community manager sharing how often IVY employees WFH. After the awkward line of questioning, the conversation segued into, "so let me tell you about us." I listened on as the IVY DC community manager provided background company info, talked about IVY not being "stuffy" contrary to popular belief and the $2K one-time membership fee. I continued listening as she shared all the bells and whistles that came with becoming an IVY member: the exclusive benefits, social events and networking opportunities. She circled back to the one-time fee and provided options to pay a portion upfront and then make subsequent weekly payments. I explained that I wasn't prepared to shell out $2K (or any amount for that matter) on the spot and would get back to her within a week. Then she promptly added that she was open to discussing other options that better suited me, should I have any other questions. And then I waited to be asked about my story and my aspirations for the future; you know, the impetus for the interview. And I kept waiting....until the end of the phone call, which lasted all of nine minutes. "WTF," I thought to myself. Had I slipped into a coma and missed twenty minutes of the conversation? I was left feeling like my boyfriend had just told me that he was in love with me, only for me to see him kissing another woman an hour later. I spent the next half hour thinking about our exchange or lack thereof and couldn't help but feel a tinge of disappointment and embarrassment for mildly believing in the tactical verbiage used to entice citizens to the "IVY Experience." Needless to say, my optimism was short-lived. My plan was to wait a day or two and then send IVY an email letting them know that I was no longer interested in pursuing membership.

At 10:45 am the following morning, I received an email from the same IVY DC community manager stating that she wanted to send one final follow up before closing my IVY application due to a waiting list for membership in DC. Apparently, they thought I'd make a great addition to their chapter and would love to have the opportunity to learn more about my work, interests, and passions. (Learn more? They didn't learn anything during the initial call!)

At 12:30 pm, I received another email, this time, from a membership manager welcoming me. She went on to write that if I was receiving this email, it meant that I was someone whose values IVY admired, whose character they trusted, and whose work they appreciated. And based on my accomplishments and aspirations, IVY believed that I stood to be an important leader who could make a lasting impact on the world. They couldn't wait for IVY members to be as captivated by my vision and authenticity as the first IVY DC community manager was. Congratulations! (Wait, what?)

At 1:14 pm, the IVY DC community manager emailed me (again) to thank me for taking the time to chat on the phone. She really enjoyed our conversation and loved hearing about my professional and personal work here in DC. She then stated that it sounded like I have - and continue - to wear an assortment of hats and she thought it was fantastic that I found a career that complimented my true passions in life. (It "sounded"? Based on what conversation?)

At this point, my head was spinning. It's like that same boyfriend I'd caught cheating on me (and who saw me--see him) was pretending like I didn't watch him kiss another woman. Also known as, insulting my intelligence! I was livid. So I high-tailed it to my boss' office to vent, which was helpful because it got me to calm the hell down before firing off a response. I got that chance at 5:32 pm when I emailed both IVY reps.

Good afternoon,

Thank you for following up.

Jane 1, I am extremely confused by your first paragraph - at no point did you ask me about my professional and personal work here in DC. How would you know anything about the "assortment of hats I continue to wear" or "that I found a career that compliments my true passions in life?"

Jane 2, what values of mine do you admire? What about my character do you trust? What work of mine do you appreciate? What about my accomplishments and aspirations makes you believe that I stand to be an important leader who makes a lasting impact on the world?

Furthermore, what was my application approval process based on?! I was asked zero questions about who I am as a person. You did not "make a tremendous effort to understand what I care about personally, professionally, intellectually, and culturally." But yet I was approved?!

Needless to say, I am disappointed by the vetting process and the illusion of exclusivity. I was under the impression (based on the IVY website) that a legitimate interview would be conducted to learn about each applicant beyond quoting membership fees, concierge services and the benefits of attending IVY events.

The concept of a social university is brilliant! But you can't draw people in by selling words when it's embarrassingly clear that numbers are the main priority. I was excited about being a part of an impactful community that sparks unprecedented human unity, progress, and fulfillment. I would've even paid the fees if the membership criteria wasn't all smoke and mirrors.

Gosh, this reminds me of Trump University.

Thanks for inspiring my next blog post.



I received a response from the IVY DC community manager the following day apologizing that their mission and intentions were not clear to me from the start. And that they aim to be transparent and honest in everything they do - including their conduct towards prospective members. She thoroughly enjoyed our phone conversation and felt that it was a genuine one.

Umm, ok.

Three days later I received ANOTHER email from an IVY Lifestyle Manager welcoming me to IVY and promising to personally make arrangements for me to attend extraordinary global events...and there's an additional cost associated with attending these events.

SMDH. Leave me alone, IVY!

So what prompted me to take the time to write this post and share my microscopic experience? Well, I felt deceived. IVY's membership criteria wasn't as thorough as they portrayed it to be and they didn't give two shits who I was -- as long as I was adding to their bottom line. Moreover, I read some online reviews that left little to be desired-- some people weren't charged a membership fee, others were charged a different amount, the events weren't well-attended, it's a waste of money, etc. Sigh.

I am glad that I didn't fall for the okie doke and I hope this post prevents others from being fooled by an organization sporting a Gucci-like brand with dollar store shenanigans.

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