The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. 


Hello, I am Maria José Pinto, a Master of International Affairs (MIA) candidate, concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in Gender and Public Policy and a regional specialization in Latin American Studies.

What did you do before attending SIPA?

After graduating from the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru, my home country, with a degree in business management, I worked with Carolina Trivelli, former Minister for Social Inclusion and Development in Peru, on a financial inclusion initiative focused on vulnerable populations, and later, for the British Embassy as a Science and Innovation Fund coordinator in the Economic Development Department. Besides working on international aid cooperation initiatives, I had the chance to discover my passion for gender equality, as the Embassy gave me flexibility to work on issues that were close to my heart. I designed a project to eliminate gender roles within the Peruvian national STEM education curricula, to encourage girls to go into STEM studies.

Why did you choose to concentrate in EPD and specialize in GPP?

I believe that before policy makers can effectively shape public policy, it is essential they understand the needs of those they hope to help. EPD gives you that opportunity through its focus on fieldwork, providing equally important quantitative and qualitative experiences.

Before coming to SIPA, I was hesitant about pursuing a career in gender studies. However, after listening to Professor Yasmine Ergas, Director of the Gender and Public Policy specialization, speak about gender studies during my first week at SIPA, I immediately registered for the specialization. The focus that SIPA gives to this specialization is incredibly useful for today’s world, as it perfectly combines gender and women studies and public policy.  It’s one of the best choices I’ve made during my time here, as it gives me an opportunity to apply my passion to my work.

What are some of your most memorable SIPA experiences?

I am grateful for all of the SIPA experiences I have had during the last two years. No other place in the world has made me feel like I fit in more. These two years have been as academically challenging as professionally fruitful, as I have taken advantage and enjoyed all of the resources SIPA has to offer.

In my first semester, I was elected President of Women in Leadership (WIL), a SIPA organization that contributes to women’s development at the School. Our board strived to showcase SIPA’s proud student diversity in all our activities, as each of our five board members came from a different region in the world. During the summer, I worked at the Inter-American Commission on Women at the Organization of American States (OAS) and was assigned to a project on women’s leadership in the Americas. This was such an exciting experience for me, as it was my first time working for a multilateral organization, and also because I met incredible figures for Latin American politics, including Maxima Apaza, indigenous congresswoman and activist in Bolivia, and Luis Almagro, OAS Secretary General.

In this, my last semester, I am working on my EPD Workshop with the Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA) from India. My team and I are developing a business plan for SEWA’s social enterprise, an outcome of their partnership with Airbnb to increase women’s income through rural tourism. I will travel to India soon, and couldn’t be more excited. This is also my second semester working for Professor Ergas, as a program assistant for the Gender and Public Policy specialization. Professor Ergas has opened an incredible spectrum of opportunities and possibilities for me. Last semester for example, we organized a talk with the Foreign Affairs Minister of Sweden, who is advocating for a feminist foreign policy. After the event, Leymah Gbowee, Liberian activist and Nobel Laureate, thanked my colleague and me for helping to organize the event. It was a memorable moment!

How as SIPA affected you?

I was a completely different person before coming to SIPA. The challenges that one faces here definitely make you grow as a person and as a professional. Being surrounded by similarly minded people who want to change things and fight for injustices is invaluable. I leave SIPA with a feeling of hope, knowing that with SIPA students as future leaders, we are moving towards a better world. I am so thankful for this experience.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I definitely want to pursue a position in Washington, DC; hopefully, doing gender-related work with a multilateral organization. I fell in love with the city while working there this past summer. I would like to work in DC for a couple of years before returning to Peru to contribute to my country’s development, particularly in the gender equality sphere. Ideally, I will work for either the Ministry of Women or the Ministry of Social Inclusion and Development, and one day, run for office, with the objective of reducing the gender gap in Peru and Latin America.