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Vladimir Debnar

International Development Vladimir Debnar Resize (1)In 2010 I visited some friends who had lived in Kenya for over a decade. I stayed for about 4 weeks and it was during this time that I decided to study International Development. The issues were twofold. Firstly, soon I would be coming to a completion of my degree and I loved to study and learn new things about the world around me from a social scientific perspective. Second, I witnessed a huge need for help in the rural part of Kenya I visited. My thought processes were decided by what I believe: that both a single action or inaction in England can have a huge impact elsewhere in the world, and vice versa. At the time in question, the first action I took was going to Africa and meeting a range of wonderful people. It was there that I met my charity co-founder, who currently runs operations in Kenya. The second action I took was to attend Northumbria University and immerse myself in the theory, practice and policy of international development in order to succeed in this field.

What are you doing now?

Last year, my very good friend and I started a charity, Kisima Trust, in Kenya. It is a charity that operates in a rural part of Kenya, approximately 7 hours’ drive from Nairobi. We are registered with the Kenyan Government and performing strongly in the area in which we operate. At the moment, we are helping over 100 people. I am currently establishing the charity further by building links in both Slovakia and the United Kingdom with churches, organisations and individuals that wish to both help and learn what we do. I overlook the policy, planning and various financial aspects of the charity. I am also in charge of partnerships and fundraising. The tasks and responsibilities are equally split between me in the UK and my partner/co-founder in Kenya – in this way we can draw on both of our strengths. In the near future there are plans to start up a sister charity in the UK, but this at the very early stage.

What was it about Northumbria that made you decide to study here?

Before I decided where to study, I did some research into the local universities. I asked people I knew who were studying at the local universities at the time about their experiences. It quickly became apparent that with Northumbria University in any area of study you were not only engaging with the academic world but also with the practical one. It was no surprise to me that one of my modules was on theories of International Development while another was on practices of International Development. This academic/practical approach I believe is a must for any university wanting to deliver relevant education in the 21st century.

What was it like studying at Northumbria?

I found Northumbria University to be engaging on many different levels. Teaching was delivered through lectures, team projects and even student presentations. The atmosphere was always relaxed, engaging and conducive to quality learning at a post-graduate level. The library offered world class facilities, I could access computers, books, academic articles and a quiet place to study, open 24 hours a day. For me, the library being open 24 hours a day was a must as I was working part time and I did not have time to go to library during the day.

What impressed you most about our academic staff?

Perhaps one of the most impressive and notable things was that you could see all the academic staff’s passion and love for the subject they were teaching; in my case it was either international development or research methods. This shaped everything in their own lives and consequently the lives of students too. For instance, all of my lecturers, as well as their excellent academic knowledge of their subject, had extensive practical involvement in the diverse areas of international development around the world - to do this, one must be really committed.

How connected was your course with industry?

I found the course to be sufficiently connected with the industry. On various occasions we had International Development officers from Non Governmental Organisations, a Member of Parliament, and other agents coming to speak to us about their own experiences and role in International Development. Even some of my lecturers have previously worked in the International Development industry and I found this to be very helpful first-hand experience.

How did studying at Northumbria help you achieve your career goals/give your career an edge?

I feel that my time at Northumbria gave me a number of advantages. Firstly it gave me an overview of the complex field that International Development represents. Second, I was able to go in-depth into both practical and theoretical areas that I myself wanted to explore that would be relevant to me starting a charity in the future. For instance, my chosen topic of dissertation was on partnerships between actors located in the developed and developing countries - looking at various interactions, challenges, possibilities and so on - a topic that would help me understand myself but also others who I partner with much more.

What was the best thing about your course?

The stream of highly relevant knowledge from lectures, presentations, books, academic journals, lecturers’ personal experiences and so on. During this time my brain was just absorbing new and exciting information all the time - looking back this was an absolutely amazing time in my life.

Which skills/knowledge did you learn on your course that you use most now throughout your career?

I have really benefited from my engagement with the topic of partnerships in international development. The course made me analyse partnerships though various theories looking at the development world from two perspectives - mine and also the other person’s. In many ways a partnership is what I have with my friend and co-founder of Kisima trust. The course helped me conceptually define what I want any future partnerships to be like and perhaps, most importantly, not to be like. For instance we do not have a partnership that has a business aspect to it at all – rather, we strive for mutual respect, trust and friendship. I believe what Kisima trust has achieved so far is a testament to this approach.

What advice would you give somebody who is thinking of studying at Northumbria?

Take the step, I have and I have never looked back since. Northumbria delivers to very highest standard of lecturing staff, facilities, personal support, research and multitude of other very important areas.

How would you describe your time at Northumbria in 3 words?

Exciting, Informative, Contempleting

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