Kiara Jade Barnes

  • Communications Manager
  • BA African Studies and History of Art, 2009

What were the most positive aspects or highlights of your degree?Kiara J Barnes

"Doing a degree in two different departments was the most positive aspect of my degree, but also my biggest challenge! I was very lucky to be able to combine two of my passions in one degree program; however, switching focus from one completely different topic to another was sometimes a struggle. Nonetheless, I ultimately found that skills developed in one discipline helped to enrich the other and vice versa."

What was your favourite thing you learnt or studied at Birmingham and why?

"I loved having our core African Studies lectures and seminars with the Danford Collection of African Arts and Craft displayed in our lecture room – we were studying different aspects of African history, culture, politics, literature and development while sitting in Birmingham – so being surrounded by this exquisite collection brought our learning and debates closer to the subjects were we so passionately discussing."

How did your studies at Birmingham help to prepare you for the working world?

“My studies at Birmingham were instrumental in developing critical thinking and analytical skills that I have come to depend on in my working life; I can often still hear several of my Birmingham professors in my head saying things like, ‘well, why is that case?’ and ‘what are the extraneous or influencing factors?’ Additionally the ability to self-motivate and to work both independently, and in teams are valuable abilities that I credit my time at Birmingham in helping to foster."

Where do you work now?

"I am the Communications Manager at the Novartis Foundation (, who are committed to improving access to quality healthcare in low- and middle-income countries. Day-to-day that means I am involved in media relations, event management, creative projects like videos and photography, social media as well as writing - all to tell stories from our projects on the ground and contribute to thought-leadership and policy development on our key topics."

"The best thing about my job is working with our local NGO and implementation partners on the ground in Africa, Asia and Latin America, helping to tell the story of their work and the people they are supporting in improving their access to quality healthcare."

How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?

“While at Birmingham I worked part-time in Representation and Democracy at the Guild of Students – an exceptional experience in student politics and working with extremely passionate individuals. This has been a mandatory factor in looking for an environment to develop my career – I am very proud that I work in a team that is so passionate and committed to improving access to healthcare for those that need it most; it changes everything about my job!

"I was very clear that I wanted to study further following my degree at Birmingham – being immersed in a rich academic environment was very inspiring, and I wasn’t ready to stop to learning just yet! My professors at Birmingham were very encouraging, which helped me to know I was making the right next step.  After my degree at Birmingham I did a Masters in International Affairs at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, and alongside my studies I worked for a humanitarian NGO. The combination of studying the history and examining the broader strokes that influence our world today with the day-to-day reality of people affected by conflict and natural disasters led me to look for an opportunity where I could interact with real people working on the ground while still being engaged in policy conversations – I am lucky to have found a role where I can be part of both worlds!"

Why did you choose to study at Birmingham?

"The opportunity to combine African Studies and History of Art was unique, and suited me perfectly! The reputation and ranking of both departments convinced even more; plus there was something splendidly inspiring about the campus – from the historic buildings to the spring flowers that were in full bloom when I first visited – I knew this was where I wanted to study."

Tell us about any extra-curricular activities you enjoyed.

"I took dance classes while at university and indulged in my enthusiasm for languages by taking Chinese and French classes. I also was a volunteer coach for the City of Birmingham Rhythmic Gymnastics club, a hugely rewarding experience that I treasure to this day. I also loved spending time in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts – what a privilege!"

What do you wish someone had told you before you started university?

"This is only the beginning of your life and career, don’t take everything so seriously! If you can, try out classes in different departments; go to open lectures and engage with as many tutors as possible. If you don’t find your focus immediately, you eventually will by way of seizing every opportunity and keeping an open mind throughout your degree!"