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Girl Scouts Changed the World 100 Years Ago -- Now it's Our Turn

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You might not know it, but today is an incredibly special day for Girl Scouts of the USA. It's our 100th birthday. That's right. Girl Scouts has been around 100 years.

It's an amazing thing. Girl Scouts is such an iconic organization that it's easy to overlook how daring an idea it was for founder Juliette Gordon Low to gather those first 18 girls in that troop in Savannah, Georgia. It was 1912, after all, and women wouldn't earn the right to vote for another eight years.

If anyone questions whether Juliette Gordon Low and the organization she gave rise to is still relevant today, just go to the nearest bookstore. No less than three biographies have been published this year about her.

Girl Scouts has grown a bit since those initial 18 girls. The nascent movement spread quickly to every corner of the country and more than 90 countries. Today, there are some 3.2 million girl and adult members, and there are 59 million women who have been in Girl Scouting at some point in their lives. That's one in every two American women. It's staggering to imagine any organization having that kind of reach.

The secret to its success is easy: Girl Scouts has always stayed true to its mission and its customer. The organization has sought to be the best leadership experience for girls and a 100-year track record shows just how successful it's been. And Girl Scouts has never lost sight of its customer, which is, of course, the American girl.

When Juliette Gordon Low was once asked what girls should do, she answered matter-of-factly: "What do the girls WANT to do?" It so perfectly characterizes what Girl Scouts is all about. All these years later and Girl Scouts is still a girl-led organization. It's still creating that supportive environment from which girls can lead and thereby make the world a better place.

Sometimes when I speak to groups or I'm interviewed by a journalist, I ask them to imagine their communities without Girl Scouts -- to imagine the thousands of food drives and clothing and toy collections that would never take place if not for Girl Scouts. I ask them to imagine the hundreds of thousands of hours spent on projects to plant trees, adopt pets and build gardens -- projects that would never happen if not for Girl Scouts.

And most terrifying of all, I ask them to imagine what it would be like without the cookies.

So this year, we're taking our victory lap, but we're also doing something else. We're taking up the leadership mantle by declaring 2012 the Year of the Girl -- the year the country turns its attention to the great talent and hope for the future that girls represent. As part of that, we've launched a cause campaign known as ToGetHerThere, which is designed to bring about balanced leadership across all sectors of society within a single generation by supporting girls and their leadership development.

The fact is that the time is now. The world has grown much more competitive and in the years ahead our nation will need all of the talent it can muster. This generation of girls must grow up to be at the leadership table, helping find cures for diseases, developing products, raising healthy and happy families, solving social problems, launching industries and creating jobs.

We're calling on the nation to make this issue a priority. Girls are ready. We know they have the desire and ability to lead. We commissioned GfK Roper to do a national study of girls and their attitudes. It turns out that girls have a firm perception of the barriers women face. The study found that three in five girls thinks that women can rise in a company or organization. That's the good news. However, they believe that only rarely will they get promoted to the top post, and a vast majority of them (81 percent) believe that the workplace could do a better job of meeting the needs of their female workers.

Yet 92 percent of them say they would welcome the opportunity to work with successful women in their communities to help others. More than 80 percent of them say they're interested in having successful women speak to them in school or class about how to build confidence, affect change, or simply how they became successful.

Simply stated, girls want role models and mentors. This is a positive and hopeful thing. Girls are calling on us to help get them there.

So please visit us at www.togetherthere.org, learn more about our cause and sign the pledge that says you will do everything in your power to support girls. This cause is bigger than Girl Scouts -- it's about all girls and our nation's future.

Right now, there is a girl out there who could grow up to change the world. I hope she does. Juliette Gordon Low changed the world 100 years ago today and now it's our turn to empower a new generation of girls and I hope we -- all of us -- will.

Anna Maria Chávez is chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of the USA.