People in Syria benefit from partnering as much as the rest of the world benefits from partnering with them.
It was not until we established the Skills and Career Center (SCC) at Tishreen University (TU) in Syria that I realized establishing partnerships is the single most important factor for achieving development and sustainability success in any society, especially in Syria.
The SCC at TU started its activities in 2012 within an EU-funded project and with partners from Sweden and Germany. It depends on volunteers from the student and graduate community. We believed that sharing skills, experiences, passion, and dedication was vital for increasing the awareness of young people of employability skills to benefit their local societies and, most importantly, survive in a war-torn country and troubled region.
After volunteering at Heriot-Watt University to help with career guidance and student welfare, I was appointed Director of the SCC. I sought cooperation, support, and partnerships with the local labour market, including NGOs and international organizations working in Syria, such as UNDP and UNICEF. I also revived past connections with my personal network of international experts in the labour market.
Our activities, such as ‘The time is Now’, ‘Build IT up’, and ‘Talent Zone’, helped young students establish initiatives that tackle both local and international issues and achieve the UN Global Goals (SDGs).
This has been unique but also surprising at the same time, both at the university and society level in a country plagued by war. Our student and graduate volunteers took care of almost every task, especially communications, teamwork skills, some IT courses and, quite remarkably, with very little support from others.
But it took us a good few years to establish genuine and effective partnerships with the labour market. This has not allowed for meaningful cooperation with university-based partners due to a lack of trust and miscommunication between the two sides. We gradually realized that the labour market has been developing work and strategies according to international standards. The university, however, has not.
I believe that all partnerships aiming to develop higher education and volunteer work at universities in Syria should include some kind of supervision or support (and hopefully, one day, funding) from an internationally well-recognized partner. This could consist of a university, an organization or an enterprise (for example, through EU-Funded projects like Erasmus+). Companies have built strong profiles of accomplished goals with partners and have shared and exchanged skills between them.
Through the SCC partnership with the Sharing Perspectives Foundation, our students were able to enrol on the ‘Climate Movements’ course. They benefitted considerably from exchanging ideas with international students and mentors from all over the world, which had a profound impact on them. The students began to realize that their experiences and knowledge were important, no matter how modest and insignificant they seemed to them. They started to use their knowledge of English for effective communication. They gradually became more confident that the world might need their significant, albeit minor, contribution to solving climate change problems. They started trusting themselves better, and they are now better equipped for more serious partnerships.
Sadly, it is now uncommon in Syria to think globally or contribute to helping the international community achieve the SDGs because of the severe local economic conditions. However, I believe that given the opportunity to partake in projects, initiatives, and partnerships with international organizations, people in Syria will be able to attach meaning to their actions and contributions and demonstrate a willingness to reenter the international community and prosper.
Partnerships could be educational projects that involve the exchange of students and staff in hot topics such as the environment, energy, agriculture and public health. Online training, workshops and courses on global issues and specific competencies that are difficult to attain for Syrian residents but important for them to contribute to realizing the SDGs in their country and region would also be helpful.
Other effective partnerships could include small scale well-formulated, interdisciplinary research projects that enable a good number of people to work together towards well-defined goals, locally and internationally.
All of this would not be possible without continuous, serious and well-designed cooperation to sustain partnerships that involve thoughtful international partners who share a similar vision towards a world where everyone has the right to have a positive and meaningful impact.