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Anna Farina: from banking to humanitarian aid in Syria

By Rachel Harper

MiF alumna Anna explains how she left a 15 year career in banking to support those affected by the Syria Crisis.

Tell us about what’s happened since you graduated  from London Business School

The first important thing I did after I left LBS was to get married and disappear for a month to Australia for a wonderful honeymoon! I came back and, and joined the Icelandic bank, Landbanki, where I worked for 7 years in the pre and post-crisis and and then in 2011 I left to join Barclays Capital as part of their Restructuring team.

My involvement with the Syria Crisis began a few months after I moved to Barlcays. I remember seeing a photo of a little girl of about six, on the Internet. She was in a refugee camp, carrying her little sister and taking another sibling by her hand: so young and yet caring for younger siblings.

That photo totally shocked me and I decided I wanted to do something for Syrian children and, a few months afterwards, made my first trip to Bab Al Salam, a refugee camp in the north of Syria. What I saw there changed my life forever, and I have since made 15 trips to Syria trying to help the local population.

I continued to work at Barclays, travelling at weekends and on holidays but felt it was not enough and wanted to dedicate more time to dedicate to the cause.

Can you remember the pivotal moment which made you switch career paths?

It was a gradual process that happened naturally. After few trips to Bab Al Salam, I started to establish relationships with local people and I got to know the Syria Relief team working in the area. Through them I got in touch with the trustees in the UK and in 2015 I began to consider working for them on a full-time basis. When they asked me to join the organisation and set up the London office, I decided not to miss the opportunity.

What does your typical working day look like?

I now have a small office in Vauxhall where I spend time if I need to write proposals or send emails. I generally spend my time dealing with major donors and other NGOs, talking to our teams in Turkey, preparing budgets and projects proposals, organising events and liaising with headquarters in Manchester.

What is the biggest difference between working in finance and working in charity?

The biggest difference is that now I wake up in the morning and go to bed in the evening knowing that what I do makes a difference for people who are suffering.

My last years in banking were really frustrating. I remember coming back from my trips to Syria and wanting to be back there, spend my time in the camp, sitting in the tents, holding ill babies, giving out clothes and food, comforting mothers and distributing blankets. I have family myself - my daughters are only eight and six and I can't leave them and move to Turkey to do this. What I am doing now it is the closest compromise I could find to put my life and my skills to use.

As an LBS alumna, what would be your best piece of advice to pass on to current students?

In life be driven by your true passion and use your skills to do something that can make a difference.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Bashar Assad, Valdimir Putin, Raed Saleh (Head of the White Helmets Syrian Civil Defence), Barak Obama, Anas al-Abda (new President of the Syrian National Coalition), Erdogan and Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for the Syrian crisis. No knives would be allowed at the table, only words, food and good wine. It would be an interesting dinner.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Things can change in life and people can find themselves in situation they would never have thought about. When you give help to someone, do it in a dignified way because tomorrow you could be the person asking for that help.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Last year I was contacted by a young man from the south of Syria with a request to support orphans living in spontaneous camps in the region. We slowly got to know each other, established trust and began running some projects together. After few months, we wanted to do more and open a small school. I raised some money from family and friends and in August 2015 we opened The House of Daraa which is now one of the schools supported by Syria Relief.

There are more than 60 children attending the school and every time I receive photos and videos, I feel that I have made a difference for these children. Check out the House of Daraa Facebook Page for more information about the School.

Tell us something surprising about you

I have a quite strange perception of risk: I travelled for years in one of the most dangerous countries in the world and never felt in danger or scared. I remember the excitement before my trips to Syria, looking forward to crossing the border and being again at the camp with the children. I also remember how stressed I got before important meetings or committees at Barclays’! My husband used to laugh at me saying that he could not believe that I could go to Syria quite happily but I freaked out for a meeting!

To find out more about Syria Relief's projects inside Syria, go to www.syriarelief.org.uk or contact Anna at a.farina@syriarelief.org.uk