The Best Lesson from Maxwell: Learning to Listen

-Beau Miller, MAIR '10

I came to Maxwell in 2009 with what I thought to be some considerable international experience. I had spent time in the Middle East and Nepal and, in some ways, thought that graduate school would be a box I needed to tick before heading back out into the world. However, I quickly realized that my cohort at Maxwell, particularly those from outside the US, presented more collective knowledge than any case study on development theory. Learning to listen to their experiences was a turning point in my career- one for the better.

Beau Miller in front of a UN helicopter taking supplies to a village

I took these new listening skills back to Nepal, where the organization I co-founded, Aythos, worked closely with Himalayan farmers to revive and expand orchards. This was an attractive skill to the US Department of Defense, which hired me to advise Special Operations forces in Afghanistan on local cultural issues. These were two of the most rewarding personal and professional experiences I have had in my career in International Relations. The common thread between those two very different experiences, the ability to learn from others, is what made me and my colleagues successful there, and it started at Maxwell. 

I went back to Nepal in April 2015, when Aythos responded to the earthquakes that killed 9,000 people, many in the communities where we had been working. The ability to listen to survivors’ needs is what made the difference between success and ineffectiveness. It is not just an ability highlight in an interview. It is a foundation of global citizenship, one that can yield tremendous results when it matters most.