As we celebrate Girl Scout Week and our 99th anniversary, we are asking the community to take a deeper look at the Girl Scouts.
On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low, a 51-year-old widow in Savannah, Ga., summoned 18 girls to her house and launched Girl Scouts of the USA. She thought it was something girls would be drawn to, and she was right. By 1916, there were 7,000 Girl Scouts; by 1920, there were 70,000. Today, there are 2.5 million Girl Scouts and nearly 1 million adult members. Girl Scouts is now 50 million alumnae strong, with upward of 1 million in North Texas.
Most people know us for our iconic cookie sales, the largest entrepreneurship program for youths. This program is a primary factor in why 82 percent of high-achieving alumnae believe Girl Scouts influenced their success.
Girl Scouts are everywhere; we serve American girls attending American or international schools overseas in 90 countries. Through membership in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the largest voluntary movement dedicated to girls and young women in the world, Girl Scouts is part of a worldwide family of 10 million girls and adults in 145 countries.
Our primary mission is developing girls’ leadership abilities, and our alumnae are living proof of our impact. Although only about 10 percent of American girls are Girl Scouts, two-thirds of our nation’s most accomplished women in public service, business, science, education, the arts and community life belonged to the organization.
Leadership development, as it turns out, strikes a critical chord for a number of reasons. For one thing, women are seriously underrepresented in positions of senior leadership in this country — in corporate management, academia, government, medicine, the media and basically any other discipline.
At the same time — and not, we think, coincidentally — there is a leadership deficit in the U.S. The most recent National Leadership Index from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans do not believe that our leaders are capable of dealing with the problems we face.
We think women are the answer to this problem — not because women are smarter than men, or better leaders, but because men and women are different and because together they are better than either on their own. There is more and more proof every fiscal quarter, for instance, that corporations with a significant number of women in leadership positions outperform — financially, where it matters — corporations with few or no women leaders.
It is our belief that bringing more women into the equation, and achieving a tempered blend of male and female leadership qualities, will result in better decision-making and better results — for this country and for the world.
For that to happen, we need a broader supply of articulate, confident, decisive, well-organized, visionary young women ready to take their place as leaders — today, and in the future. As Girl Scouts reaches the cusp of its 100th anniversary, we vow to fill the leadership pipeline by continuing to create opportunities for girls to meet or exceed their potential.
If you are a Girl Scout alumna, we challenge you to reconnect this year. It is a great honor and privilege to lead the next generation of change-makers into the second century of Girl Scouting, and we hope you will be a part of it.
It is not a coincidence that Women’s History Month and Girl Scout Week coincide. As we travel this last lovely mile towards our centennial, may we continue to reflect upon the women who have shaped our nation in both public and private ways.
Kathy Cloninger is CEO of Girl Scouts USA; her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colleen Walker is CEO of Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas; her e-mail address is email@example.com.
This editorial was originally published March 10, 2011 in the Dallas Morning News