Spring 2016

The Art of Connecting

Harris BermanWhen I first became dean of the medical school, I imagined that the part of the job I would dislike the most would be the fund-raising—all those meetings and meals and conversations taken up with talk about money. But in fact, I’m finding I love that the most. I’m out there meeting interesting people who want to do good things for Tufts. After a while, you get to know these prospective donors as friends.

The payoff can be substantial. It goes without saying that any future success we may find in our fund-raising efforts must build on the foundation of relationships we have cultivated over the years. This is true wherever we happen to be meeting people, shaking hands with them and starting a new conversation.

I have just returned from another intriguing trip to mainland China, Macao and Hong Kong, and find the intimate and collegial process of making connections on my mind more than ever. I’m happy to report that our medical school now has more friends, and I would venture to say, better friends, in Asia than we have ever had before. Let me touch on just three highlights from these annual Asian trips.

In Taiwan, which I visited most recently in 2014 and 2015, we are in dialogue with leaders at that nation’s largest engineering school, an institution generally considered to be “the MIT of Taiwan.” They are interested in potentially launching an international-quality medical school there, and have approached us as prospective mentors and guides along that path.

This overture was no accident. I have visited Taiwan five times now, and the people I’ve met have come to trust us. We have put our heads together and are deepening our relationship month by month as tentative plans for the new medical school proceed.

A second opportunity for collaboration on Taiwan stems from our school’s growing familiarity—our “name recognition,” if you will—among people in positions of power and influence there. Over the years, I have become friends with a man named Dr. Wen-Ta Chiu, whom I first met when he was president of one of Taiwan’s leading medical schools, Taipei Medical University. He went on to become Taiwan’s minister of health and welfare, and I visited with him a couple of times when he was in that position.

Now, in his postministerial life, he has been advising a major industrialist in Shanghai who has an interest in branching out into the health-care and education fields. Because this industrialist is familiar with Tufts, Dr. Chiu has recommended to him that an affiliation with us could be beneficial for both sides. And that set the stage for the wonderful visit to Shanghai we had in January.

Our collaboration with this individual is still tentative, but here again, having become a familiar name in a foreign milieu has helped improve our chances to connect with a newfound partner. To show his appreciation, the Shanghai industrialist has pledged a substantial gift to the medical school to support both education and research.

None of these connections would have happened without the wonderful assistance of two members of our board of advisors, Olivia Cheng and Ajay Sondhi, both of whom have taught us a good deal about China and Taiwan and have advised and assisted us in developing these international relationships.

Personally, one aspect of all this traveling has been a deepening appreciation for what the ongoing business of fundraising entails. They call it “development,” and that’s a perfect term. With each visit and each conversation, we and our potential partners steadily develop an understanding and respect for each other.

Soon our sense of common purpose—our sense of family, really—is enlarged. And this can only be seen as a good thing.

Harris A. Berman, M.D., Dean, Tufts University School of Medicine

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