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Anna Maria Chavez Headshot

A Movement in Transition for a World in Flux

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There is no bigger challenge, nor greater opportunity, than to lead an organization through a period of transition. The organization I am honored to lead, the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), is in the midst of a self-prescribed, self-led transformation, one that is revitalizing our brand and reinvigorating the Girl Scout Movement for a new century of American girls.

As with any change of this magnitude, the process has been long and hard. It has forced us to step out of our collective comfort zone and face some difficult facts about our movement and the world we operate in today. Our change is internally driven, but it is also a reflection of seismic cultural and social shifts in the external world -- transformations that have caused Girl Scouting to lose steam over the past quarter century.

Though our organization is beloved, our brand is in many ways rooted in an image from the 1950s and '60s -- a wholesome image to be sure, but not one generally associated with a leadership development program for modern girls. Girl Scouting is about having an experience, one that is uniquely tailored to girls and that resonates at an intrinsic level. Somewhere along the way, we started losing insight into the lives and needs of our most important customer: the girl.

Today's girls are consumers of tablet computing and social networking. They connect with peers all over the world, and their range of options for extracurricular activities -- from sports to social groups to leadership develop organizations -- has grown exponentially. More and more, both parents have to work to make ends meet, costing us our once-robust volunteer base. Girl Scouting, once nearly synonymous with being an American girl, must today compete for the limited time and attention of girls and their parents with an increasingly crowded field.

As recently as 2003, we boasted 2.8 million members; today, that number is down to 2.2 million girls, with fewer than 1 million adult volunteers to service them. With membership, our single largest revenue driver, in decline, a host of other challenges have set in, including steep declines in Girl Scout merchandise sales, losses to our local councils and troops in the form of declining cookie sales and a deep recession and its devastating effects on our economy.

The challenges to our movement are very real. But I truly believe that our movement is more important today than ever before, for more and more women are poised to take leadership positions in our world. It matters where they acquire the skills, cultivate the confidence and develop the character necessary to lead effectively in an increasingly competitive global environment.

The cultural landscape of America is shifting, and girls are caught in the middle. Peer pressure and media depictions of girls and women are discouraging girls from taking leadership positions in their schools and communities. Too many girls today are exhibiting bullying behavior towards other girls that cause lasting physical and psychological harm. Additionally, an entirely new generation of girls from Latin and Central America are coming of age in the United States today, forever changing the demographic landscape of America. Their future success, and that of our country, will depend on the willingness and ability of these young women to engage actively in society.

Girl Scouting has an unparalleled ability to play a transformative role in the lives of girls. We unlock and unleash the leadership potential of girls by first offering a safe haven; a place where a girl can be herself, make new friends and join a global sisterhood focused on nurturing her abilities and supporting her interests. Girl Scouting is girl-led, meaning the skills girls acquire and the programs they participate in are informed and driven by girls, not adults. We have a long and proud legacy of inclusion. Girls come as they are, and are accepted and embraced for their uniqueness. When a girl feels safe, there is no limit to what she can achieve. From this foundation, girls then take action together to make the world a better place.

That is why the transformation of our movement is so vitally important. There is no other leadership development program in the world that can do for girls what Girl Scouts can. Girls need the support and encouragement of other girls and the guidance and patience of trusted adults to help them realize their full potential as leaders in our society. The world is moving fast, and we will need the talents of girls to maintain our competitive edge in everything from science and technology to academia and the arts. A re-energized Girl Scout Movement, one that is evolving to meet the needs and expectations of modern girls and adults, is key to helping our girls and our country realize that potential.

Having served as the CEO of a local council in San Antonio, Texas, I became the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. I realized that it was time for our national organization to undergo the same transformative process that our councils had already been through. To truly lead our movement, GSUSA needs to help our councils deliver the Girl Scout experience, and in the process, make it easier for girls and volunteers to engage in Girl Scouting.

Revitalizing this iconic and extremely important brand has been an exhilarating undertaking. We are putting the girl -- her hopes and dreams, her fears and concerns -- back where she belongs: at the center of everything we do at Girl Scouts.

Our movement is now over 100 years old, and the near-universal respect it commands is a product of the visionary leadership of our founder, Juliette Gordon Low, who believed that girls had something unique and special to offer the world. The movement she created helped forever change nature of what it means to be a female leader in America.

To continue that proud legacy and deliver on our mission, we must change what it means to be a Girl Scout, and how our organization services our members. The future is looming, and women will be its leaders. At the Girl Scouts, we intend to shape that future, by molding the girls and young women who will propel our country, and our world, to great things.