An Interview with James and Susan Baker to Mark the 25th Anniversary of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA)

From left to right: video editor and animator Zack Linderman (Patricia’s son), documentary filmmaker Keith Maitland, AAFSW president emerita Patricia Linderman, production assistant Andy Sarjahani, James Baker, Susan Baker, and AAFSW SOSA Chair Lara Center.

 

On the morning of Tuesday, November 10, six exceptional volunteers posted at embassies and consulates around the world — including both employees and family members — will once again receive the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA), administered by AAFSW. The award comes with a $2,500 stipend, travel to Washington for the ceremony, a special pin and a certificate signed by the Secretary of State.

To commemorate the award’s 25th anniversary, AAFSW’s SOSA Chair (and a former SOSA winner) Lara Center suggested the creation of a video. In fact, the project will include three videos: a short appeal for nominations; a compilation to show at the ceremony and post on AAFSW’s website; and a two-minute “Super Bowl commercial for SOSA” to share on social media, to raise public awareness of the remarkable volunteer work performed by countless Foreign Service employees and family members around the world.

Lara and other AAFSW volunteers submitted a successful application to the Una Chapman Cox Foundation to produce the videos, and Lara arranged interviews with several former SOSA winners, as well as Anne Kauzlarich, who was AAFSW President when the award was created. Lara also reached out to the office of former Secretary of State James Baker, whose spouse Susan Baker had originally suggested creating the award 25 years ago. The Bakers have remained involved in SOSA and have donated personal funds to the program each year.

To the volunteer team’s delight, The Bakers readily agreed to be interviewed for the video, and Lara Center and Patricia Linderman traveled to Houston for the interview on September 11.

Here are a few highlights from the Bakers’ remarks:

James Baker: “The fact that we have a Foreign Service community that has no obligation to do what they do by way of generous volunteerism in the countries in which they’re stationed really tells a lot about America. And it tells the story of America in concrete ways in other countries. So I think it’s really an added benefit and boon, and that’s one of the reasons that we thought that there ought to be some recognition of these volunteer activities.”

James Baker: “This is a very, very important but not properly recognized activity of our Foreign Service community, and the Foreign Service community itself needs to be aware, observant, and be willing to nominate people who have exhibited these forms of generosity and volunteerism. And in instances where they see that taking place in a country, they need to nominate those individuals for this award, because it’s not only a nice recognition, it carries a little financial stipend as well, that I’m sure anybody would be able to use.”

Susan Baker: “It seems that there’s a misperception generally about the Foreign Service. And I think when Americans realize what kind of wonderful face they’re putting on America by their generosity and by their hard work, to try to help problems in the community where they are, that’s going to be great for the whole Foreign Service.”

James Baker: “At least it will create a well-deserved appreciation for what the Foreign Service community does. Because it’s not just fulfilling their jobs; they’re going over and above and beyond that, and exhibiting these instances of generosity and volunteerism. To send a message to people of other countries about what America’s all about.”

Susan Baker: “It is a wonderful showing of America’s face, I think.”

James Baker: “I’m glad the award’s working out; I think that’s wonderful. I’m really glad that it’s been as successful as it has.”

Besides James and Susan Baker, other former Secretaries of State continue to donate to the SOSA program, including Colin Powell, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger. The Green Family Foundation also provides generous support.

To find out more about SOSA, click here. We hope to see all members (and guests) in the DC area at the November 10 awards ceremony, scheduled to be held in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms on the 8th Floor of the State Department. DACOR’s Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award, AAFSW’s Champions of EFM Career Enhancement (CCE-EFM) Award and AAFSW’s Dorman Award will also be presented at the ceremony.

Patricia Linderman, AAFSW President Emerita and SOSA video project team member

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