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The Agent of Change

Baylis Beard MBA '19 worked for change before she ever got to USC Marshall. But when she got here, she helped make a historic difference.

May 10, 2019
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Baylis Beard MBA ’19 was the kid in secondary school in rural Arkansas who started a recycling program. “I’ve always had a basic interest in innovation and entrepreneurship and figuring out what can be done better,” she said.

That drive not only to innovate but also to do good is clear in many of her more recent endeavors as well: as a volunteer and femicide delegation leader for the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission and as a founding advocate with Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment (SAFE) in Washington, D.C. She continued on that path at USC Marshall where she was a Brittingham Society and Business Fellow and president of the Net Impact Club, an international organization focused on business, the planet and social impact.

At 21, Beard became a founding advocate and director of SAFE. She and three others were working for the only direct service program within a broader DC coalition for domestic violence when they recognized a huge gap in coordination and in crisis response. “We thought so much more could be done with this.”

They branched off and started creating programs to eliminate those gaps, including SAFE Shelter, which won a Department of Justice award. “It was 2006,” she said, “and knowing that someone in our nation’s capital could get victimized and there was no crisis shelter was shocking.”

Over nearly a decade, they grew SAFE from a four-person social enterprise startup to the main crisis intervention and response agency for the nation’s capital, serving 8,000 clients yearly.

As director, Beard was involved in every aspect of the organization, but she had no formal business education (she has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish literature). While reading everything she could about business, she discovered a book on social enterprise by Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship and Research Director of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab Jill Kickul. After putting the final medical response piece in place at SAFE, she said, “I realized I was looking around going, what do I do next? I get more excited about building new innovative, collaborative programs than just running something that’s in place.”

An MBA at Marshall was her next order of business.

When Beard got to campus, she was shocked that the number of women in the MBA program had fallen and, with three peers, founded Everyone’s Business, a USC Marshall Graduate Women in Business initiative that helped administrators and students rally to reach gender parity.

“I’ve seen directly the effects of discrimination, when a mother loses custody of her kids because she makes less than her abusive husband and can’t afford to get to court,” she said. “I’ve seen in a really big way the effects of gender issues, and until women are making the same and are financially well versed and strong, a lot of issues are going to continue.”

Working in tandem with MBA Admissions staff and faculty members, Everyone’s Business had an impact. With the Class of 2020, Marshall made history, becoming the first top-tier business school to reach gender parity in its MBA program. Beard and her co-founders were named among Poets & Quants’ Favorite MBAs of 2018.

Everyone’s Business also launched the Everyone’s Business Global Case Competition, the first graduate-level competition to promote women in business. It will become Marshall’s flagship competition going forward.

“The Everyone’s Business Global Case Competition was electrifying,” Beard said. “Teams from around the world worked on creating ideas to make business more equitable for women. If just one of the companies that heard the presentations implemented one of those strategies, that has the potential to impact so many people and women in business. That’s been really rewarding to be part of.”

Beard learned the value of cross-cultural learning from her parents, cultural and linguistic anthropologists, and has visited more than 30 countries — some during her time at Marshall. As co-lead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council Research Team, she visited seven. She added Myanmar to the list when she got an internship with One to Watch/Rockstart, coaching the nation’s first social accelerator cohort on business growth strategies, and did micro finance research for a Marshall data sciences professor.

In the future, Beard would like to be part of building another enterprise from the ground up. She feels her MBA has prepared her well. “My MBA opened up a whole other world of connections, of knowledge and of understanding,” she said. “Speaking the language of business is completely different.”