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An old boy network (also known as old boys' network, old boys' club, or old boys' society) can refer to social and business connections among former pupils of male-only elite schools. The term originated from much of the British upper-class having attended certain public schools as boys, thus former pupils are "old boys".
This can apply to the network between the graduates of a single school regardless of their gender. It is also known as an old boys' society and is similar to an alumni association. It can also mean a network of social and business connections among the alumni of various prestigious schools. In popular language, old boy network or old boys' society has come to be used in reference to the preservation of social elites in general; such connections within the British Civil Service formed a primary theme in the British Broadcasting Corporation's satirical comedy series Yes Minister. The phrase "It's not what you know, it's who you know" is associated with this tradition.
Mostly in the Southern United States, the term good ol' boy has a slightly different, often derogatory meaning--a friendly, unambitious, relatively uneducated white man who embodies the stereotype of the folksy culture of the South. A good old boys network has the connotation of this sort of personality combined with cronyism.
This southern term also refers to the personal and friendly relationship between common citizens and local authorities usually resulting in lenient or sometimes no punishments for crimes committed by friends of law enforcement.
In Australia, the term "Old Boy" is used to describe a male alumnus of some prestigious state and private schools. The term "Old Girl" is similarly used for a female alumna of such schools. Both "Old Girl" and "Old Boy" are sometimes used as a reference to someone's parents.
The term is also used in Canada, where the alumni of such schools as St. Andrew's College, Trinity College School, Crescent School, St George's School, Bishop's College School, Hillfield Strathallan College, Lower Canada College, and Upper Canada College are known as Old Boys. Other influential private schools with powerful alumni networks may have become co-ed, such as Appleby College or University of Toronto Schools, but operate similarly in which large numbers of alumni all work for the same organization.
In Finland, the Finnish term hyvä veli -verkosto (literally dear brother network) is used to refer to the alleged informal network of men in high places whose members use their influence to pervert or circumvent official decision-making processes to the members' mutual benefit. As such, the term is pejorative.
The term derives from the salutation "Hyvä veli!", or "Dear brother!", traditionally used to open a letter to a not quite intimate friend. The implication is that since the elites of all fields are drawn from a fairly small pool of people who are mostly more or less acquainted with each other, they can and often do manage public and private affairs amongst themselves, off the record, and outside public scrutiny as they like. As the word "brother" implies, the network is usually presumed to be consisting of males, and thus the term is also sometimes used to refer to the marginalization of women and their exclusion from high positions in both the public and private spheres. There is an equivalent term, hyvä sisko ("dear sister"), used in reference to informal networks of women in high positions.
President Urho Kekkonen was notable for directly communicating with senior officials (past his cabinets) by means of letters, which famously began with the salutation "Hyvä veli". These have been published in three volumes.
The term can also refer to the networks that are set up in the more elite secondary schools, such as Diocesan Boys' School, Queen's College, Ying Wa College, La Salle College and Saint Joseph's College.
The Doon School maintains its own old boys' society (The Doon School Old Boys' Society) for social connections and fundraising on behalf of the School. Graduates of The Doon School are known as Doscos, or simply, Old Boys.
Former students of the Welham Boys School refer to their society as the Welham Old Boys Society. Though the school was founded in 1937, the society was not founded until 1983. The group is intended to encourage Welham graduates to aid in the school's success through their union; they have established scholarships and bursaries for deserving students. The Welham Old Boys Network has established definite membership criteria, as well as requiring a subscription fee.
Similarly, the Old Boys of Sainik School Rewa in Madhya Pradesh call their Old Boys Association as "Sainwinians".
In New Zealand, many schools maintain old boys/girls/students associations, however the term 'Old boy network' is typically used in reference to the elite public and private secondary schools such as Auckland Grammar School, King's College, Sacred Heart College, Christ's College and Scots College
In Switzerland, the term can be used for the networks set up by the alumni organizations of private boarding schools such as Institut Le Rosey, Aiglon College, College Alpin International Beau Soleil, and College du Leman. These elite Swiss private schools are considered to have among the most prestigious alumni registries, with Switzerland having the highest private school fees in the world; these institutions attract the children of royalty, celebrities, political leaders and business executives. Strong old boys/girls network also exist in private universities, notably École hôtelière de Lausanne and Les Roches International School of Hotel Management.
In the United Kingdom, the "old boy network" is seen as existing primarily among those educated at the fee-paying independent schools (public schools) of the Eton Group and the Rugby Group including, but not limited to, Harrow School, Eton College, Shrewsbury School, Stowe School, Charterhouse School, Westminster School, Winchester College, Radley College, Wellington College, and Rugby School, as well as at the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, although to some extent such networks exist for all institutions producing large numbers of "old boys" and girls. The existence of "old boy" networks is often blamed for the high proportion of former pupils of high-status schools and universities in high-status positions in government, business, and other professions. For instance, between them, Harrow and Eton have 26 British prime ministers among their old boys. In practice, attendance at certain educational institutions is typical of the British "ruling class" and upper middle class, and where nepotism exists it may be driven more often by personal relationships than by educational networks.
An organisation called Future First promotes the use of such networks among those educated at state schools.
In the United States, the "Old Boys Network" is less focused on education. It is the inside track with connections to powerful and ambitious individuals formed "through school, work, professional and community service organizations, and private clubs."