George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

From Peace Corps to an MBA: The Business of Doing Good

Written by Adrienne Benson on .

Alizabeth Brady Peace Corp 400x178 Alizabeth Brady (MBA ’17) was a Peace Corps Rural Health and Sanitation volunteer in a small town in Paraguay. When she joined the Peace Corps, she had her graduate degree and lots of theoretical knowledge of Latin American culture, politics, language, and demographics. However, she “wanted actual experience in person—on the ground there.” Her community in Paraguay had only about 700 residents and didn’t have indoor running water or daily transportation. “There was a road, but transportation only came a couple of times a week—and when it rained a lot, the bus didn’t come.” She loved it though, and her Peace Corps experience turned into a career in international development.

Brady, though, took a slight turn. “I was working at an international development contracting firm, and it became clear that a lot of the issues I saw on different projects were business related.” She clarifies by pointing out that, “the issues we see are usually not related to technical area of focus. No one's saying, ‘You didn't dig in the correct type of soil for that well.’ Usually the problems are with finance or accounting or HR. I knew those were things I could learn in business school.” A business education is helpful in every industry, she notes, and to a certain extent, every industry—nonprofits, education, military—is run like businesses.

“Before my MBA, I would have focused primarily on development impact but now I see all the piecesAlizabeth Brady 178x260 and how they fit together. My business mindset gives me a much more holistic view.” Brady notes that her MBA from George Mason University taught her that business is about being good at a lot of things. “We learned so much—operations, supply chain, finance, marketing, accounting—all extremely important.”

But, she continues, “I learned its best not to focus on being perfect at just one thing. At the end of the day, having an understanding of all the components and how they come together is critical.” And how did Brady’s Peace Corps experience play into her MBA? “Peace Corps volunteers are really good at working with people—the context doesn't matter. In the Peace Corps we figure out how to work with people and get people to work together toward whatever common goal there is. I’ve found that is a big part of my success. I'm not the best at economics. I'm not the best at finance, but I can get people to do things and come to [a] consensus.” Clearly, this is an invaluable skill in the business world. Brady adds, “Nobody works in a vacuum. Nobody. Even your accountant has to negotiate and work with others.”