Julia Brucks, MBA/JD ‘20
Before I decided to pursue an MBA, I was thinking hard about what I want to change in the world. In my nonprofit work, I found that the big policy questions often end with “How are we going to pay for that?”
Business School: For Pragmatic Activists
In St. Louis, where I was working before McDonough, one of my big projects was working to eliminate out of school suspension for preK through 3rd grade. One of the things we heard from conversations with superintendents, other school leaders, parents; schools need to be supported for social emotional behavioral health needs for their students. They say okay, we understand why you don’t want the kids suspended, but how can you help us make that possible? Schools are first responders at the end of the day, but they’re just funded, and not even adequately, to teach children math, science and reading. Being part of the work behind the scenes, to see how complicated the system was even though the talking point seem clean.
I realized that the charity/philanthropy world I was living in could not on its own do the work that needs to be done. I needed to understand how the funding works, what the law is incentivizing and de-incentivizing. I went to business school to learn how to pay for many of the things we care about: you want health care for all, but how do you pay for it? When you think about the systems and the policy and the structures, the devil is in the details. I wanted a more holistic sense about how the policies are created, and how they’re interconnected, from the black letter law to how it’s interpreted and implemented. I needed to understand the language around finance and accounting and marketing, so I could answer those questions.
A School, and a Center, that Shares My Commitment
I am a policy and social impact kid by trade, so DC has always been on a bucket list for me, this shiny penny, this North Star. Before business school, I was doing social impact work in St. Louis, focusing on school reform. . When I was choosing business schools, I pulled up Georgetown Business For Impact’s website. I was reading about their movement work, their corporate social responsibility work, and I was shocked that there was a business school that was doing the work I cared about, that could support me in my interest areas. That was when I realized the commitment to social work that Georgetown has. My focus is on how to create partnerships to drive social change. That is the core of the Center as well. They have created partnerships around the opioid crisis, around access to healthy foods, etc.
Now that I’ve been here, one of my real surprises has been the administration’s commitment to social impact. That is one of Dean Almeida’s priorities for McDonough. It’s a Jesuit institution, and those principles run through and through. Seeing that kind of support is something I did not anticipate and it has made a big difference in my experience, and for the experience of future classes as well.
This summer I’m working with the Beck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. They’re building an Opportunity Zone and Investor council around how to create opportunity zone with the $6 trillion tax cut. Economic development was something I didn’t work on in St. Louis, and I know it’s critical to a region’s well being. So I’m interested in the question of how do you do it well. That’s what’s great about Georgetown, there’s somebody who is working on what you’re interested in.
I’m bent for the real world, so any exposure I have for the work that’s going on is really great. Some MBA programs get a rep for just being about networking, not doing the work. But at Georgetown, you roll up your sleeves and learn the work, learn about how to build the models. The really big challenge is how do you prioritize. How do you prioritize school, Net Impact, your internship. It’s a constant juggle. You have to think about “What am I trying to get out of this MBA experience?”
With the center, some of my early experiences included attending a lunch with 10 Executive Directors at some of the top nonprofits around the country, and hearing them discuss what does the next generation of social impact leaders need to embody. I went with (Executive Director) Leslie Crutchfield to present to everyone I used to work with in St. Louis. She shared success stories from smoking cessation and Everytown for gun safety. To see people I worked with in the community grappling with how they could apply those learnings to their own social movements was a neat moment of intersection. It provided a really nice touchpoint.
Business for Impact: Partnerships For Positive Change
At my core, I will always believe that change is possible. I’m a pragmatic activist, if not an idealist. I was talking to a law professor a few weeks ago, and she was saying the court system has not been able to support the civil rights movement as it should over the past few decades, and so there’s a call to be more creative in the structures that we create in society.
That’s where public-private partnerships, to create new types of infrastructure particularly at a local level, is very interesting. Effort will begin at a local or state level, and then have a domino or ripple effect to other communities, and then will roll up into a federal policy. But we’re really going to have to focus on proof of concept, whether it’s in cities or rural communities: how to make something work in order to bring it to scale. Whether it’s a policy or a practice or a new program, that’s what it is going to have to require.
My background and my origin story is in community organizing, so it’s all about how can you align different interests in order to drive to a common outcome; it’ going to have to happen at a neighborhood level, at a Board Room level, in order to have transformation to occur.
This partnership work that Georgetown Business for Impact is doing, to have investors realize there’s a financial incentive to invest in communities they’ve never invested in before, to begin got build new types of partnerships…these are the conversations that are going to shift the landscape. Even if things aren’t happening at a macro level, even if we’re not winning the communications narrative on CBS or Fox or the evening news, we have to do good work at the local level and then the narrative will be shared naturally.
Julia Brucks, McDonough Candidate ’20, is a Student Leader at Georgetown Business for Impact and co-president of Net Impact, a 220-member student group for social impact. Before coming to McDonough, she was a community activist in St. Louis.