How an ITMB Masters graduate is helping to make the world a better place

With the Syrian humanitarian crisis in its 6th year and no clear sign of let up, Baraa Kouja, a recent Masters graduate, decided to take action and set up his own charity to support refugees displaced by the conflict.

A Syrian refugee and activist, Baraa started From Syria With Love just after finishing his IT Management for Business (ITMB) MSc from the University of Exeter in 2015. The charity delivers humanitarian projects and aid packages to Syrian refugees. Since being established it has raised nearly £40,000, all of which has funded food parcels for refugees in camps, run education programmes and activities for children, and empower people to start businesses as a means of feeding themselves.

Before coming to the UK to study in 2014 Baraa had worked from the start of the Syrian crisis to support refugees in camps. His experience of the on-the-ground humanitarian effort has enabled the charity to direct resources where they are needed most. It also allows the FSWL charity to be agile where bureaucracy might sometimes stump other NGOs.

FSWL’s fundraising work started in 2015 with a collection of drawings from displaced Syrian children living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria. Showcasing their harrowing tales of war, loss and hopes of returning home, FSWL first exhibited the children’s pictures at Baraa’s alma mater, the University of Exeter. The children’s powerful stories drew widespread media attention and the exhibition has since toured all over the UK, bringing to life the Syrian children’s plight and hopes of one day returning home.

Baraa cites Tech Partnership’s industry-designed IT Management for Business (ITMB) MSc as being instrumental in providing him the skills to carry out FSWL’s mission. He has a BSc in computer engineering but when looking to do a Masters said he was keen for something more business-focussed. “I love technology but didn’t want to do a purely scientific Masters course. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the ITMB MSc course at the University of Exeter – I didn’t know such courses existed. It offered me the perfect mix of both IT and business management modules.”

In 2003, the Tech Partnership identified a growing concern amongst top companies in the UK that the knowledge and skills of most IT graduates were not suited to many roles within the sector. Top UK tech employers wanted universities to start producing consummate IT professionals who would carry the tech sector into the future. So, the Tech Partnership worked with employers to identify what knowledge and skills the ideal graduate recruit would need for a career in technology, resulting in the ITMB BSc, MSc and integrated Masters courses.

The ITMB MSc gave Baraa the necessary skills to set up and operate FSWL, helping bridge his background in computer engineering with his passion for business and management. The projects management modules, he explains, gave him the skills to formulate and communicate the charity’s strategic messages, while modules on operations gave him the tools to manage broad projects and volunteers. The IT-specific modules gave him the tools to run the website and organise its content – the charity’s key medium for telling stories about Syria’s humanitarian crisis and FSWL’s positive impact on the lives of refugees.

Baraa’s ability to set up the charity is, in part, a testament to the ITMB programme. His ambition for FSWL now is to grow and expand its operations and reach out to more people by running awareness training for employees of interested organisations.

Employers are active in the ITMB programme and regularly attend annual Tech Partnership Student/Employer events, deliver technology and business lectures and run ‘Mock Interview’ days and mentoring schemes to help ITMB students with their interview techniques and CVs. Students on the course can also get exclusive ITMB tailor-made year and summer placements within the industry. Since ITMB’s introduction in 2005, the number of employers supporting the programme has grown to over 90 companies, representing all industry sectors, including Amazon, IBM and Sky.

Find out more about the Tech Partnership’s ITMB MSc programme at Exeter.

To mark World Refugee Day and Week the travelling exhibition will visit Worcester on June 19th before making its way eastward to the University of East Anglia in Norwich the same week. Baraa will also host a free talk in Worcester on the 19th, “Shattered Pasts: Shared Futures”.