International Womens Day: Sandra Ruuda

05. Mar 2024 / Category: News

The theme of this year’s IWD is “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”. This can be achieved so many ways, but for the EEF, we see our Equestrian Young Leaders Europe programme as a key part of investing in youth to accelerate progress. The EYLE programme has evolved out of existing Young Leader courses from Sweden and the Netherlands. To understand just how powerful these programmes can be, we sat down with Swedish National Federation president, Sandra Ruuda, a graduate of the Young Leaders programme.

Hi Sandra, Can you tell us a little about how your career started with the Youth Leadership programme?

“My leadership journey started when I participated in a youth leadership programme within the Swedish Equestrian Federation. I loved it and decided to get more involved also on a national level. These initial experiences were incredibly valuable to me, both as a leader and as an individual.  

Later, I was invited to join our national Youth Section, which also provided me with the opportunity to represent the youth on our federal board. I’ve always felt strongly how our organization really values the young perspective. And I who was young was seen as a real asset to the board. It’s important that young people are full members of the board and are not just there to observe or speak on certain issues. This is a strength of our national federation. 

These experiences made me realize how exciting I find it to lead an organization at a strategic level, a path I have also pursued in my professional career. 

Since last year, I have been serving as the President of the Swedish Equestrian Federation. It is undoubtedly the most enjoyable and rewarding position I have held. And it all began with my participation in the youth leadership program at the age of 16.”

So it sounds like being part of the Young Leaders was really influential to your development and the choices you made?

“It’s been absolutely crucial for my career. It provided me with new knowledge, tools and personal contacts that I learnt from both at the time and later in life. To have been in such leadership positions early on, also laid the foundation for my continued leadership journey and the position I hold today. 

It was also during the youth leadership programme that I realized how much I enjoyed being a leader, which I’ve then continued doing both within and outside of the sport. “

Today we are celebrating International Womens Day across the world. Equestrianism is a sport with strong gender parity although sport more widely still appears to lag in bringing women into leadership positions. How has your journey been, have you experienced any challenges and what advice would you offer to any young female aspiring to a future leadership role? 

“I was 20 years old the first time I was selected to be a member of the Swedish Equestrian Federation’s board. It has been an exciting leadership journey, but not always an easy one. In society, women in leadership positions still don’t receive the same respect as men. The responsibility to fix this shouldn’t fall on the women, but my advice to young women beginning their leadership journeys is to educate themselves on these structures so that they can recognize when they’re not being treated right or when their ideas aren’t acknowledged in the way they deserve.  

But I would also advise young women to stand up for what they believe is right, even when it takes courage to do so. And act in a way that your heart tells you is right. I still want to believe that what is right and true wins in the end. Stick to your core values, be a good person, and be properly educated to have the facts on your side. Our sport needs good and empathetic leaders, and you can be that leader.”

This year the focus for IWD is: “Invest in women: Accelerate progress.”. What does that mean to you? 

“I am sure that organizations improve when leadership positions reflect the diversity of the organization. In Sweden, equestrian sport is considered a girls' sport, but now is the first time that our federation has a female President. When I became the first female President, it made national news.  

I am convinced that measuring gender distribution in leadership positions is a valuable way to gain insights into how power is distributed within an organization, insights that can lead to meaningful change. Investing in women is about prioritizing competence and attitude over gender. I want to believe that I am elected as President for what I can contribute with, who I am, and the direction I aim to take the organization.”

Sandra, thank you so much for your time. Do you have any last words or advice for our young leaders as they build their career path?

“If someone asks you to lead, be brave enough to say yes. It will be a great experience, you will learn a lot, and I am confident that you will make valuable contributions to the sport.  

I also want to encourage those who appoint individuals to these positions to also consider both young people and women. I became a leader at a young age because someone saw the potential in me and asked me if I wanted to take on a leadership role.”

In Sweden the Youth Programme runs under the name “Trygga Ledare”. Find out more information here. The Equestrian Young Leaders Europe (EYLE) programme has been formed with funding from the Erasmus+ programme. It is currently running in Norway, Bulgaria and Hungary to all all children further their knowledge of equestrianism, and learn key leadership skills on the way. Find out more about EYLE here.