Girl Scouts of Citrus Council Shapes Young Leaders
Corporate CEOs Ginni Rometty of IBM and Susan Wojcicki of YouTube, performance artists Queen Latifah and Taylor Swift, broadcast journalist and author Barbara Walters, tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, and former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton all have something formative in common. These leaders were once members of Girl Scouts of the United States of America. They are all known for their courage, confidence and character.
The Girl Scouts organization has a legacy of supporting female change-makers and preparing girls for a lifetime of leadership, success and adventure. Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) is the largest leadership organization for girls in the world. Currently, there are more than 2.5 million youth and adult members worldwide — yet on a national level, Girl Scouts serves only 8% to 10% of the female youth population.
In the United States, Girl Scout alums make up 80% of women business owners, 52% of female business leaders, 72% of current female U.S. senators and 100% of former female secretaries of state.
“Take those 8% to 10% of women who have had more than one year of Girl Scout experience and layer that against these other numbers,” said Maryann Barry, CEO of Girl Scouts of Citrus Council, which covers Brevard, Volusia, Seminole, Orange, Osceola and Lake counties. “The statistics speak volumes about the power of this program to build women leaders.”
Recipe for Success
An active Girl Scout since age 7, Susan Ennis, chief of external affairs at Girl Scouts of Citrus Council, knows firsthand the confidence the program instills in young girls. “Anyone who knows me knows that I am an introvert at heart. As a young girl, my hand would never go up in a classroom setting. I even felt uncomfortable talking to other kids my age.” Her mother enrolled her in Girl Scouts and volunteered to be a troop leader in support of her daughter.
“I quickly got involved in activities that forced me to speak to groups and to make decisions. To actually find a group of people I could speak to and learn how to interact with was monumental for me. And then, of course, the cookie sales — oh my gosh!” Ennis recalled her first experiences approaching customers as a young child, nervously grasping boxes of baked goods.
She remembers her fear of rejection, but she persevered with the support of her troop. “That taught me how to sell, and the skills I learned then I still carry with me today.”
To this day, Ennis is an advocate of the program and thinks more people should know about its benefits. “Most people just think of the three C’s when they picture the Girl Scouts — cookies, camping and crafts — but it’s so much more.”
For just eight weeks out of the year across America, thousands of Girl Scouts gather in front of grocery stores and at local events, and they trek door-to-door, to sell seven flavors of cookies. Thin Mints, Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties and other trademark treats are nearly synonymous with the name Girl Scouts.
But there’s more than what’s in the box. Each transaction comes with a lifetime of lessons in confidence, goal setting, money management and people skills — qualities essential to leadership and success.
“We put $7.5 million of our product, the cookies, out into the hands of girls and volunteers without charging them for it, and we consistently end up with a less than 1% loss ratio,” Barry said. “The business model is fascinating. These little girls do better than most retail stores. We’re invested in the entrepreneurial aspect of the cookie program and what it teaches the girls.”
The foundation of Girl Scouts is empowerment: to equip young women with the knowledge and confidence that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. The Girl Scout Gold Award represents the highest possible achievement in the program. It recognizes young women who demonstrate leadership through action projects that have a sustainable local or global impact.
Barry recalled a young girl from Honduras who made a great impact on her life. This young woman had been brought into the country through human trafficking by her parents. She had been living in a homeless shelter when she learned about the Girl Scouts.
“She became engaged and so committed to the point that she would take a bus from the shelter to get to where the meetings were,” Barry said. With her self-confidence and self-worth rebuilt because of the program, the young woman excelled in school and progressed within the Girl Scouts.
The young woman achieved her Gold Award while in high school by arranging to have a library built at her homeless shelter with both English and Spanish literature. “Even after everything she went through, she said the greatest barrier for her when she came to this country was not being able to fully take advantage of her education because of the language barrier.”
The outreach specialist at the homeless shelter, the same woman who originally identified the young girl in the homeless shelter and connected her to the Girl Scouts, was so moved by the girl’s story that she adopted her.
“That tells you something about the character of the people who choose to be Girl Scout employees or volunteers,” Barry said. “It tells you something about the power of the program that can take someone who has been completely deconstructed through life events and help them reconstruct themselves and become a self-determined, productive, happy member of society.”
Another Gold Award winner raised funds to rebuild a school and playground in Haiti after a natural disaster laid waste to the small town’s only school. She knew that Royal Caribbean Cruises often sailed to Haiti, so she recruited the cruise line to transport the building equipment for free.
From constructing libraries and homeless medical clinics to enacting global change through the legislative process, the young women achieved the award by demonstrating the ingenuity, confidence and grit necessary to enact change.
Redefining the Three C’s
Participating in Girl Scouts builds intangible leadership qualities that enable young girls to become capable, confident and committed women. Girl Scouts are taught values that stick with them for life.
“I was an adult when I finally became a Girl Scout, but I made sure my daughters experienced it when they were young,” Barry said. “The power of the program is incredible. It delivers on the promise of making the world a better place by building up girls and teaching them to be the strong female leaders of the next generation.”
This article appears in the July 2019 issue of i4 BUSINESS.