HBX at the Harvard Business School: The Role of Online Education in Humanitarian Crises


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend the HBX ConneXt among nearly 500 students from over 20 countries who participated in HBX, an online learning project by Harvard Business School.

In this post, I will not talk about why I think that participating in HBX was one of the most remarkable learning experiences that I have had in my life so far. Instead, and as a Syrian citizen, I will talk about the difference that HBX and other similar projects can offer to the life of people who are victims of conflicts around the world by taking the Syrian situation as an example.

Upon the start of the armed conflict in Syria, many organizations like the Institute of International Education, and Illinois Institute of Technology launched extraordinary initiatives to bring few students from Syria to continue their education in United States, which is the reason why I and many other talented Syrians were able to transform their lives in a way we cannot be more proud about.  

With the support of Jusoor, the Al Thuraya Foundation and EducationUSA, initiatives like the one launched by IIE for Syrian university students, provide critical support and a foundation for building future leaders who will serve an important role to the future leadership of their countries. However, the number of students who benefit from these important efforts remains very limited and represent a tiny fraction of people who require and dream of continuing their undergraduate and graduate studies; the pursuit of a quality training, learning opportunities and education holds the key to our future. We must create new pathways and platforms in order to increase the numbers of potential future leaders in Syria and in the dozens of other countries currently experiencing war, conflict, and extreme poverty following unrest.


The chart below from the UNHCR offers some evidence for the scale of individuals from my country who were affected by the conflict in Syria:



It is almost impossible to launch a project at-scale within the traditional framework of providing traditional scholarships and residential for hundreds of thousands of higher education students among the 13.5 million who need also other kinds of emergency humanitarian aid.

The beauty of HBX (and other similar projects) means that world class educational institutions like the Harvard Business School are able to create virtual class rooms to reach out to large portions of the students among the 13.5 million and even the students who are in the refugee camps, and help them to become global citizens and be ready to make a defiance in their lives and the lives of everyone around them. And then, following these virtual opportunities create meaningful and powerful in-person learning exchanges and conversations as they did few weeks ago in Boston.

Imagine a time when an even greater number of students participate in HBX and other such opportunities and then there are dozens of hundreds of gatherings across the globe on the same day, connecting in-person and online. Power and knowledge is at its best when we use both to further good in our communities, cities and countries.

I want to close with a quote by the Dean of the Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria at the closing session of HBX ConneXt:

“In the end, we want to have impact with the education that we offer; our goal is not just to inform people. Our goal is to allow them to be transformed and make progress in achieving the dreams of their own life. To allow them to become leaders who make a difference in the world.”


Suhaib Ibrahim

Suhaib was born in Kamishli, Syria, and earned his bachelor’s degree in December 2014 from Illinois Institute of Technology’s Armour College of Engineering, with earlier studies at Aleppo University and Damascus University. Suhaib majored in Civil Engineering with a concentration in structural engineering. Upon graduation, he accepted a position as a project engineer working on projects throughout the state of Illinois; he lives in Springfield, Illinois. Suhaib previously worked with Jasmine Baladi Studio, an NGO that works to support Syrian children in refugee camps in Turkey. Suhaib regularly writes for the Syrian Students for a Better Future Blog. Suhaib has recently completed the HBX CORe program offered through the Harvard Business School.

To learn more about the IIT Syrian student initiative, please contact Suhaib at suhayb4@gmail.com.

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