The Catholic University of America

Cardinal Service Commitment Award

Outstanding Faculty Member – Maria Sophia Aguirre

AguirreMaria Sophia Aguirre, a professor of economics, received the Cardinal Service Commitment Award for faculty. The award was presented by The Catholic University of America on April 10, 2012, in celebration of the University's 125th anniversary.

Aguirre devoted 490 hours of service this year to an organization that provides education and training to girls and women in developing countries. A specialist in international finance and economic development, Aguirre's service is a practical extension of her academic work.

"After working over 18 years in economic development and traveling the world – literally – evaluating development interventions, I realized ... that more often than not, women and girls are either bypassed by the development efforts and/or they are seen as a tool of policy, something that violates their dignity," she said.

Aguirre founded the Foundation for Social and Cultural Advancement (SCA) to try to address the unique development needs and potential of girls and women around the world.

As president of the foundation's board, Aguirre coordinates the efforts of both the board and employees to identify and secure funding and help expand the local programs that Foundation SCA works with in developing countries as well as in the U.S.

Through the foundation, she has identified and supported programs that "were effective because they sought to help women and girls in a way that respected their dignity rather than seeing them as tools of policy," Aguirre said. "They help them by providing education and/or professional training; they build their character; and they teach and foster in them social responsibility and initiative. They also help their families, and open opportunities for them."

The programs the foundation supports are "development initiatives that have an integral approach to economic development," said Aguirre, who also is the founder of Catholic University's Master's in Integral Economic Development Management program.

A key concept in the integral approach is what Aguirre calls "a bottom-up approach to development." Applying that to Foundation SCA, Aguirre said, "We decided to begin with educational efforts because of the multiplier effect that the education of woman has in their families and their communities.

"For example, one of the first countries we began working in was Cameroon. In this country, 52 percent of girls go into prostitution, often sent by their parents because of lack of means. Through our program, we are saving 750 young girls from this abuse, and instead they have now a dignified way to earn their living and help their families both by helping them financially but also by transmitting to their parents the skills they learn."

Asked what motivates her to devote so much of her time to this voluntary service, Aguirre replied, "Because the women and the girls we are trying to reach deserve having an opportunity to improve their life, the life of their families, and of their communities."

Aguirre earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Notre Dame, and joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America in 1993. She also has held appointments at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.

> Complete list of Cardinal Service Commitment Award winners