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Small Acts Of Courage Shine A Light On Resilience – Jack Blyzinskyj, Imperial MBA Class of ’23

Jack Blyzinskyj
Jack Blyzinskyj

June 20th marks World Refugee Day – an internationally recognised opportunity, organised by the United Nations, to recognise, honour and celebrate refugees from around the world whilst shining a much-needed spotlight on the conflicts and crises which have forced people to flee their homes in order to seek safety.

Going further, each year, World Refugee Day champions the right for refugees to find economic and social inclusion, as well as to visibly advocate for finding solutions to the root causes of their plights.

Business schools and universities – institutions which exist to educate the next generation, shape future society and find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, support refugees through education access and support, outreach initiatives and research.

In recognition of World Refugee Day, BlueSky Thinking speaks to students around the world who have been displaced by global events and conflict, using their experiences, voices and actions to help make the world a better place…

What actions have you taken yourself to support and empower refugees?

I brought together a team of Olympians and World Champions to attempt a record setting swim crossing of the British Channel in order to raise funds for displayed Ukrainian women and children. Through the help of Imperial and our alumni network, we have raised over £100,000 across the Imperial Sanctuary Fund, Mary Meaney’s Foundation – St. Omer, and our partner organisation in the US – RememberUS. Through these three vehicles, we can support the frontline aid, academic enrichment, job placement, and community integration of displaced Ukrainians.

What encouraged you to take action?

It’s been just over a year since Ukraine was invaded. For my family, It’s a helpless feeling to see your heritage persecuted. At that time, I was working in San Francisco, and I just didn’t know what to do. 8,000 miles away, what is my place in all this? How can I stop my family from being eradicated from the globe? What is my loudest voice? For me, that was always swimming. Before retiring in 2018, I had reached the pinnacle of the sport. I was an Olympic trials finalist, 11x NCAA All-American, and was the team captain of the single biggest Olympic talent pool in the world. I knew swimming was my avenue to create change in the Ukraine situation. Since that moment, the wheels behind a British Channel attempt to raise funds and awareness for Ukraine were in motion. Over the next 12 months, our team applied and received permits from the British Home Office, French Government, Shipping and Freight permits, Channel swimming permits, etc.

What impact do you hope your efforts will have?

I hope our small act of human courage continues to shine a light on the resilience of Ukraine, her people, and all those who continue to help rebuild our communities.

The path plotted and the path made possible by the current

How do these specific initiatives support refugees at the business school?

Equal access to higher education is a recognised human right – however, the reality is that many displaced students are unable to access the life-changing opportunities that a university education can provide. To overcome this, Imperial College London established the Sanctuary Support Fund, designed to support scholarships for those displaced by war, conflict or environmental crisis who desire to study at Imperial but lack the means to take up an offered place. Through the Fund, which offered its first scholarships in 2022, such students can access support for embarking on their Masters studies. To ensure the Fund can support as many people as possible, every pound donated to the Fund is matched by the College.

The fund also supports academics displaced by similar catastrophes or who find themselves at risk of imprisonment, injury or even death, via the Council for At-Risk Academics Fellowship Programme. This scheme, ran through a network of universities and research institutions in the UK, enables at risk academics to find refuge in the UK and rebuild their careers.

Going further, Imperial College London also has a Student Hardship Fund, which seeks to support students across the College and Business School who, for whatever reason, find themselves facing financial hardship which puts their studies, security and future plans at risk.

“I hope our small act of human courage continues to shine a light on the resilience of Ukraine, her people, and all those who continue to help rebuild our communities.”

What more, do you think, could be done to create a more inclusive environment in business generally for refugees?

The biggest hurdles we have seen working directly with displaced families have been (1) the Visa process especially in some countries like the UK and US; (2) Language skills and (3) Skill Recognition.

Firstly, We need to simplify and expedite the visa processes for refugees by reducing bureaucratic hurdles and delays so that these families can have timely access to work opportunities.

Second, many Ukrainians need support in learning the local language (English, French etc.). In France, the government has a number of excellent French language classes for adults that have been offered over the last year—with impressive results.  Speaking the language is an essential enabler to helping the Ukrainians achieve their full potential.

Third, Skill assessment and Upskilling – Mary and her foundation have developed a system to assess and recognise the skills and qualifications of refugees that align similarly with local standards. This recognition of prior learning, and accreditation programs enable refugees to showcase their capabilities and allow them to find some normalcy and family foundation through suitable job opportunities.  Already, some of the Ukrainian accountants have found jobs in accounting firms; many of the Ukrainians are now working in construction and in sales.  A few are working on-line, leveraging their language skills and previous experience.

Jack Blyzinskyj and his swim team

How important is it that business schools have these types of initiatives?

Its imperative: Business Schools have a social responsibility to inspire change within their communities, and this is especially true for Imperial College Business School. We are such a diverse student body that our community is on a global scale. Initiatives like ours have facilitated community integration and fostered positive relationships between refugees and our local community. Recently, our students visited Mary’s foundation in France to promote dialogue, understanding, and collaboration between our students and the Ukrainian refugees. This integration not only benefits refugees by providing support and opportunities but also enriches the community as a whole by promoting diversity and intercultural exchange. These endeavors align with the broader goals of business education, preparing future leaders to address complex societal challenges and create positive change.

Imperial College Business School has played an invaluable role in supporting the Ukrainian refugees.  Celia Moore, a professor at the Business School, and Marina Moncayola Lobato, an exceptional MBA student helped draft the 150 page ‘playbook’ on how to help Ukrainian displaced people: what to prepare in advance; what to do on day 1; week 1; week 2 and so on.  This playbook was then shared back with the Ukrainian embassy, the Ukrainian consul and French government officials—helping thousands more.  A few months later, another group of Imperial Business School students came to France to support the Ukrainians in developing their CVs in both English and French in advance of a ‘speed job-dating’ exercise. 

Jack and his team successfully completed their cross-channel swim on Monday 12th June, swimming 50,600 meters in 10 hours and 36 minutes.

To date, Jack and his team have raised $150,000

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