by Elizabeth Stokely
Had someone told me when I graduated from college that I would go on to business school, I would have been astonished. Not only was I a liberal arts major (International Studies and Spanish), but I was dedicated to solving the world’s problems. At that time, I did not fully grasp the value of an MBA for tackling social challenges.
My experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador led me to consider business as an avenue for development, not as an alternative to publicly funded development, but as a necessary force for community economic growth. I realized that I lacked the technical skills I would need to achieve my goal of promoting women-owned businesses in the developing world.
I felt that an MBA would take me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to study the fundamental pillars of business such as accounting, finance, and statistics. I knew that an MBA would allow me to pursue development work both in the not-for-profit and for-profit arenas. And it would give me the necessary credential and network to reach leadership positions in large nonprofits or social enterprises.
Eight years after my college graduation, thanks to a scholarship offered to RPCVs by the University of Southern California’s IBEAR MBA program, I graduated from business school in July. The degree is now part of my identity, encompassing all the relationships, academic knowledge, and intense experiences that I shared with my 56 classmates. In just 12 months, IBEAR provided me with the tools to contribute to global social impact in a more effective way.
I honed many of the skills that would have been useful as a PCV to monetize and scale projects, and analyze impact. In the spring, my capstone consulting project with a women’s health startup strengthened my skills in product development and digital marketing. Coursework in social entrepreneurship — a field related to Peace Corps’ focus on sustainable development — inspired me to create lasting change from the ground up.
The small, international nature of IBEAR made my transition to business school seamless. Though much of our time was spent studying, the IBEAR “family” organized social events and I joined USC’s RPCV group. I empathized with my foreign classmates as they adjusted to a new language, culture, and education system. Often, I was the only American in group projects. Peace Corps prepared me for the challenges of such a diverse environment. The learning opportunities were endless, especially given the breadth of knowledge and professional experience (on average 10 years) of my classmates.
As I move forward in my career, I can already see that the MBA credential has changed the nature of the conversations I have with employers. The MBA sets me apart from other applicants in the nonprofit world, I have a wider choice of jobs or titles within organizations, and — most importantly — I am confident that I can change the world at a greater scale. I hope that more RPCVs are able to take advantage of this life-changing opportunity.
*Elizabeth Stokely is the 2015 recipient of the USC-IBEAR scholarship in partnership with National Peace Corps Association. Learn more about the program here.