THE BLOG
02/07/2013 04:11 pm ET

The Dynamics of Change -- A New Vision for a New Girl Scouting Century

I became the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) at a pivotal moment in its history. My first year happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of Girl Scouting, and as we celebrated that amazing milestone, we realized we also had a unique opportunity to take stock of our movement. Girl Scouts has an incredible history, one indelibly linked to the transformative social movements of the 20th century, which brought tremendous strides for women and girls in America.

But as the calendar turned to the 2000s, new technologies forever altered our economic and social landscape. Entire industries rose and fell as a result. As our second century dawned, our movement had to come to terms with these realities. As a nonprofit dedicated to serving girls and developing them into future leaders, how do we adapt to change? Further, how do we lead this change? How do we transform our brand, our program and our own internal work processes to meet the needs of today's girls? How do we stay focused on our core mission while maintaining the flexibility and dynamism to respond to the ever quickening pace of the outside world?

Too often, nonprofits are viewed as rigid and bureaucratic -- less nimble and capable of adapting in this fluid environment than our corporate counterparts. I don't agree. I think there has been tremendous innovation and change in the nonprofit sector over the past 20 years, and I believe that Girl Scouts has been, and will continue to be, on the cutting edge of these transformations.

Everyone knows Girl Scouts. Surveys show that we're one of the most widely-recognized brands in the country. Wherever I travel, when I tell people I am with Girl Scouts, they smile. Yet even a beloved organization like ours is not immune to the pressures that drive the need for change. We are more than cookies, camps and crafts. Our movement is about developing young women into leaders and visionaries; women who will change the world for the better. If we were no longer able to inspire girls, encourage them to dream big about the future and help them achieve their goals, then we were no longer fulfilling the promise of our mission.

The environment in which Girl Scouts had long thrived simply no longer exists. We faced new and heightened competition for the time and attention of girls from extracurricular and social activities that ranged from soccer and cheerleading to Facebook and Twitter. We have also struggled to maintain the engagement of adults, as the stay-at-home mom model, long the source of so many of our wonderful volunteers, gave way as more and more women entered the workforce. In short, societal changes threatened the relevancy of Girl Scouting as an American institution. In order to survive, we had to change, too.

But Girl Scouts are nothing if not resilient, and our movement is nothing if not bold. We decided to meet these challenges head-on, embarking on a sweeping transformation almost a decade ago. We consolidated councils from 330 to 112 in order for them to have the capacity to serve girls and volunteers more effectively, and we created a leadership program that is truly a breakthrough. Instead of standing rigid against cultural change, we embraced it, flowed with it, and used it as a blueprint to revitalize our brand to appeal to today's girls.

And we're not done yet. Given our federated structure, many of our initial changes have taken place at the council level. The local level is where Girl Scouting happens. When I became CEO of the national movement, I resolved to continue being a part of that change at the national level -- to turn the Girl Scouts of the USA into a dynamic, fluid organization dedicated to helping our leaders in the field deliver on our mission. We needed to carry out our own transformation to bring our operations and ways of work into line and up to speed with those of our girls and volunteers.

Has the road we've been on for the past decade been easy? No. Change this deep is never easy for any organization. The transformation we are undertaking is one that will fundamentally help us better serve girls in the 21st century. We won't be able to bring the Girl Scout experience to life for modern girls until we create a modern movement -- one that allows all of the elements that make up Girl Scouts, from volunteers to our staff at our national offices, to gain a greater sense of connection to the movement they serve. We want to create an environment based on a unifying set of values that transcend the day-to-day tasks of GSUSA -- we want to create an experience.

We are transforming a beloved 100-year-old brand, and in the process, modeling the values and leadership skills girls will need to succeed in an ever changing world. It is a new century for Girl Scouts, and at GSUSA, we are taking steps to ensure that it's every bit as successful as our last. We have laid out a vision for the future of our Movement and together, we are bringing that vision to life for the modern girl.


February 8 is National Girl Scout Cookie Day. For all the details, go to www.girlscoutcookies.org.

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