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Meet The MBA Class Of 2020: Profiles in Courage

Elizabeth Davidson

Yale School of Management

Recovering expat and social impact wonk, endlessly fascinated by the world.”

Hometown: Richmond, Virginia

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have summited Kilimanjaro, hung out with 400-pound gorillas in Rwanda, swum in Devil’s Pool at the edge of Victoria Falls, and eaten more questionable street food than I care to consider from a public health perspective, but I am actually quite risk-averse by nature.

Undergraduate School and Major: College of William and Mary, Government and Middle Eastern Studies

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Kiva, Portfolio Manager for Francophone Africa

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: At Kiva, I was responsible for managing current impact investments, as well as doing due diligence on new potential investments and proposing them to the investment committee. After over a year of pre-work and a particularly arduous due diligence process, getting a $1.2 million investment for higher education in Rwanda approved was one of my proudest moments. It was something I believed in strongly—an awesome, affordable education for Rwanda’s future leaders—and worked on for years to make happen. Passion and persistence pay off!

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Down-to-earth but incredibly accomplished. Very diverse but all equally fascinating and easy to talk to. People who want to make a difference in the world no matter what their chosen career path may be.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? I’ve been focused on the intersection of impact and business, and I wanted a school where that wouldn’t be looked down upon or thought of as weird. SOM totally fit the bill from the first interactions I had with students at admitted students’ day. SOM’s mission, “Educating leaders for business and society,” also speaks to this. While we get a great education in the fundamentals of finance and business, SOM focuses on holistic leadership and gives you the opportunity to take classes at any school at Yale to help round out your education. It’s not just about learning how to run a Fortune 500 company—it’s about applying business skills to become a leader in any sector you might choose or any role you might find yourself in, whether in a professional setting or otherwise.

Yale’s strong connection to Africa didn’t hurt either!

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Ice hockey. Strangely enough, I started playing ball hockey (essentially ice hockey without the ice and skates) in Tanzania, and I’m eager to try out my hockey skills on ice.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I never thought I would pursue an MBA. In college, I was convinced I wanted nothing to do with anything that involved finance and actively avoided any quantitative coursework like the plague. But after graduation, finance steadily became a more and more important part of my work until it became a key part of my job. For a period of time, I even managed the accounting department of the social enterprise I worked for in Tanzania – despite never having taken a finance class. Now, I am excited to fill in the gaps of my education and build a solid foundation of finance and business skills to draw upon in the future. I actually can’t wait for accounting!

I was also at a point in my career where I was really interested in growing as a leader. So many of my friends and colleagues who got an MBA gushed about their transformational growth during business school, which is exactly what I was looking for at this point. It seemed like the perfect time to go for it.

On a very different note, I was also eager to explore what it would be like to live back at home in the U.S. again in a pretty low-risk way.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I love working, so this was a hard one for me, but it’s a bet on my future and a push to grow further.

I don’t have a master’s degree, and I knew I’d be closing the door on a lot of future opportunities by not having one. At the same time, I really wanted to shore up my financial and business skill sets before transitioning to any other job. An MBA seemed like the most straightforward way to do this, while allowing me to explore some other sectors.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Berkeley Haas, Duke Fuqua, MIT Sloan, Oxford Said, and Stanford GSB.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I knew I wanted a small or medium-sized program with a low-ego culture and a strong global presence. Having spent years abroad surrounded by passionate, incredible people from around the world, I knew I wanted something similar out of an MBA program. Diversity—real diversity and not just lip service—was a must. I also wanted a strong social impact program to keep a foot in that world.

Since I was abroad and not able to visit most schools, I pored over every available webinar, blog post, and YouTube video I could find on each school. I talked to a number of current students and alumni at each school I was interested in to hear more about their experiences. But ultimately, being there in person was the deciding factor. I made the time (and quite a bit of it – flying from Kenya to the US is at least a 24-hour affair) to visit a number of admitted students’ days, and Yale just felt right.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I moved to Tanzania having never visited the country…or anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa or the developing world, for that matter. For someone who is so cripplingly risk-averse by nature, I still can’t quite believe I did it. Taking that leap pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that it’s almost hard to imagine just staying inside that zone anymore. After that move, I know I can tackle anything, even if it feels completely overwhelming or foreign at first.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I’m really interested in consulting. At Kiva, my favorite part of my job was working with a wide variety of organizations, and my least favorite part was not having the time to deep dive with each to tackle the strategic challenges they were facing. I’m looking forward to getting to learn the ins and outs of vastly different companies while getting to work through obstacles systematically with them.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I would love to focus solely on consulting in the social sector in five years’ time—I just need to figure out where in the world I’d like to be based!