Throughout her career in humanitarian aid and relief services, Elizabeth “Liz” Pfifer has worked to turn some of society’s biggest challenges into opportunities for vulnerable populations in developing countries around the world.
On March 8, Pfifer, GSAS ’08, a graduate of Fordham’s International Political Economy and Development (IPED) program, was honored with the 2017 Swanstrom-Baerwald Award for more than a decade of relief and development work with the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Madagascar, Niger, Tanzania, and in Uganda, where she serves as the country representative.
“In honoring Liz, we honor all of those who, like her, have dedicated and continue to dedicate their time, talent, and passion to those in need,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, S.T.D., apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who delivered the opening prayer at the Rose Hill ceremony.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, described Pfifer as a “bringer and bearer of sunlight, warmth, and hope.”
“She brings love to those who are most in need of it,” he said.
The Swanstrom-Baerwald Award— which commemorates the memory of Bishop Edward E. Swanstrom, FCRH ’24, GSAS ’38 and Swanstrom’s mentor professor Friedrich Baerwald—recognizes individuals who have made notable contributions in the service of faith. It also celebrates the CRS and IPED’s time-honored partnership, which spans for nearly two decades.
In her acceptance speech, Pfifer credited the IPED program for providing her with the skills to work creatively with local partners to address pressing development problems across Africa.
“Fordham better prepared me for the work that I do today,” said Pfifer, who spoke about how her faith and focus on humility has served as a guiding light in her efforts to make a difference in the lives of the poor.
Before joining IPED, Pfifer served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Tanzania for two years. She later provided support to CRS’s international programs unit in Baltimore. As an Arrupe Fellow at Fordham, she studied emergency programming in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in Africa that has struggled with severe droughts.
After graduating from IPED, Pfifer said she rejoined CRS as an international development fellow in Madagascar, where she worked to reduce food insecurity in seven regions in the country and helped to construct focus groups for women who were looking for ways to better feed their children. A year later, she served as CRS’s program quality and grants coordinator in Niger. There, she provided support for the organization’s agriculture, health, and education initiatives, and also secured more than $10 million in funding for emergency assistance projects stemming from the 2010 Niger food crisis.
“There was an incredible amount of food insecurity and I got to see firsthand the travel routes that West Africans [took]to the borders to get to Europe,” she said. “There were lots of people who would travel by foot to get to the Libya border. It was quite an interesting time.”
Pfifer also shared her experiences working as deputy chief of party for a $13 million annual project providing HIV and AIDS care to people in Tanzania. By 2013, she was tapped for her current role in Uganda, where she helped CRS tackle issues related to the South Sudanese refugee crisis. Most recently, she has helped launch an innovative project with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to advance Ugandan rural farmers’ participation in the vanilla value chain.
“We think of partnerships as catalysts for each other, catalysts for change, and catalysts for improvement,” the honoree told the audience.
Later at a dinner following the ceremony, the John F. Hurley S.J. Commendation was presented to Lois Harr, FCRH ’76, GRE ’76, assistant vice president and director of campus ministry and social action at Manhattan College. Harr helped to facilitate the Catholic Relief Services – Manhattan College Partnership Task Force, which established the college as one of CRS’s first Global Campuses.
Being honored alongside Pfifer for her work with CRS was especially inspiring, said Harr.
“I think when you’re honored by your peers and colleagues, it’s very moving,” she said.