Emerging Global Leader Award
MARÍA SOLEDAD RUEDA GARCÍA is the newly appointed International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operations coordinator for the Near and Middle East, covering Israel, Palestinian territories, and Iraq. Most recently, she represented and led the ICRC’s activities in Ethiopia as head of operations from 2020 to 2021 during one of the most challenging humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa. Serving during the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray Region, Sole, as she is known by her friends, had packed for a three-day visit when she was first immersed in the heart of the crisis. Rather than flee, she stayed to provide safety for those who were in extreme danger by bringing an international presence and ensuring the operation of the ICRC in Tigray was executed in the midst of an armed conflict.
“In times of war,” Sole says, “all constructed barriers fall, and we find at the core our shared humanity. I strive to protect it, infusing humanity in situations where only horrors seem possible.”
Born and raised in San Gil, Colombia, Sole has instilled her career with lessons she learned from her mother, a physician, leader of the local orphanage, and head of household. “I grew up watching my mother work tirelessly, teaching my two sisters and me to live life to the fullest and with constant gratitude,” she says.
As a professional, Sole has been deeply involved with the world’s most difficult crises. She worked as a COVID-19 coordinator in Goma, in the eastern Congo; helped to fight the spread of Ebola in Liberia; negotiated agreements between Israeli and Palestinian authorities on behalf of the population in Gaza; and negotiated and achieved better conditions at prisons and labor camps in Myanmar.
“Leading teams to find their own greatness through service is one of my most rewarding satisfactions,” Sole says.
Her leadership skills have saved lives, including overseeing a refugee camp of more than 15,000 refugees from Somalia who were fleeing chronic violence and insecurity along with the worst drought in decades, and managing the influx of thousands of refugees along the border of South Sudan in Ethiopia. “Every moment close to populations bound by violence humbled me and further proved that my path should be to serve and live a life driven by integrity, inspiration, and light,” Sole says.
Despite the dreadful brutality that Sole has witnessed, she remains positive and an inspiration to her classmates. They remark on her ability to stay in touch regardless of her whereabouts and the conflict around her. She checks in, asks where she can help despite her workload, and remains upbeat, they say. Among her best qualities, one alum shared, is Sole’s incredible capacity for empathy and the ability to see both sides of a conflict to better arrive at a resolution.
“I have met the most courageous people in places ravaged by violence and conflict,” Soledad says. “They have taught me the greatest lesson: Life is beautifully obstinate and inherently comes with hope.”
“Many people worldwide have heeded the call to focus their energy and passion on being of help to others in their time of direst need, when circumstances make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to help themselves,” adds Sole. “Being a voice and a spark of hope for those that the violence and conflict have silenced is the most humbling privilege. It is to my peers and the population we have the honor to serve that I dedicate this award.”
Photography by Martha Stewart