In 1990, with the direct support and encouragement of then Secretary of State James Baker and his wife Susan Baker, the annual Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad was established. The award, administered by AAFSW, recognizes the volunteer efforts of Foreign Service family members and employees overseas with a monetary award and a certificate signed by the Secretary of State. Since 1990, more than 120 individuals have received the SOSA award from over 130 missions.
Audio excerpts about the origins of SOSA
Hello, I’m Anne Kauzlarich here to tell you the unusual way the AAFSW’s SOSA awards began. It all started on October 16, 1990. The occasion was the annual spouse oral history tea, held at historic DACOR Bacon House. That year, Jewel Fenzi and her group, interviewed 12 spouses for their stories. The twelve finished transcripts, copies are in the National Archives, were presented at this tea by AAFSW Honorary President, Susan Baker, wife of then Secretary of State James Baker. Following the presentation, we enjoyed tea. During the tea, Susan Baker approached me. I was President at the time of AAFSW, and said, and this is almost verbatim, ‘Anne – Jimmy and I just returned from visiting a number of posts overseas and we are very impressed with the volunteer work spouses are doing. We think something must be done to recognize their work. Can you meet me on Friday at 10:30 with an idea of what can be done?’ Naturally I said I would be delighted, while I was shaking in my boots, because this was late Tuesday afternoon. So, I called Vice President, Janet Scott, to have lunch with me on Wednesday, so we could come up with an idea. We came up with a framework, and decided we needed some other voices to help finalize it. So Bonnie Anderson, Lee Leonhardy, Barbara Butcher and Kendall Montgomery from FLO all dropped everything to meet on Thursday. We decided there could be one winner from each geographic bureau; winners could be selected from the existing award programs at post. Friday morning we met with Susan Baker to present the award program entitled AAFSW’s Secretary of State Pin for Outstanding Volunteerism, known today as SOSA. She loved the idea and promised to show it to her husband whom she was sure would love it also. In Spring of 1991, cables went out to all the posts announcing this award. The small group of AAFSW members met with each Executive Director of the Regional Bureaus to select winners. On Foreign Service Day of May 1991, I was privileged to hand out the first five SOSA awards.
Just thought you’d like to know that sometimes bureaucracy can work sorta backwards but to have a wonderful result. ThanksAnne Kauzlarich, AAFSW member, recorded statement Spring 2021
Recollections of Susan Baker about spouse volunteerism abroad
Well I was so impressed, when I’d travel around with Jim, and he was doing his important official meetings, and I would get to meet people in the community and see what was going on, and some of the extraordinary things that they were doing were just amazing, like Joanne Grady in China, in Beijing, created this organization of volunteers to help – many times they were orphans, they had disabilities, and they were left, abandoned, and she started this organization to have support, to have volunteers to help this, and she did amazing things, raising money, you know, money for medicine and toys, and she also had a training area, a training thing for teachers and for these disabled kids. She even got involved with the Special Olympics. So that was an example of many different things that were going on all over the world, and people had no idea. So, we thought, they need to be highlighted. This is a wonderful thing.
Q: Do you recall how you came up with the idea of the award and how you came to AAFSW?
Well, it was in talking to ambassadors’ wives, and I would comment, say “I just can’t believe that you all do all these things.” And they said, they intimated that it would be nice if there was some recognition of this. So, we said, Aha, that should be done!Interview with Susan Baker & Former Secretary of State James Baker, conducted by Patricia Linderman and Lara Center, Sep. 11, 2015