08/12/2013 04:17 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

Building Leaders

A century seems like a long time. It is a long time, certainly, for a nonprofit to survive and prosper. Especially one like the Girl Scouts, which has only a single, overriding mission: to develop today's girls into tomorrow's leaders.

So you can imagine my surprise last week when I read an op-ed in the The Washington Post that the organization I lead, the Girl Scouts of the USA, is a "separate but not equal group," to the Boy Scouts of America. According to an opinion piece that appeared within the pages of the Post, "Girl Scouting teaches youths to be strong individuals, but Boy Scouting teaches youths to be strong leaders. The organizations have different goals, different activities, different resources and different expectations for member development."

Really? Don't tell that to the 70% of female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list who are Girl Scout alumnae. In fact, the Girl Scouts is widely recognized for being, and oft-cited as, "the nation's premier leadership organization for girls." Started 101 years ago by the audacious Juliette Gordon Low, the Girl Scouts have been at the forefront of preparing girls to take leadership positions in their lives, their communities, and their world from the very beginning.

Today, there are 59 million living Girl Scout alumnae -- meaning roughly 1 out of every 2 American women was a Girl Scout at some point in her life. Our alumnae run the gamut of women's leadership in this country: 54% of women in the current U.S. Congress were Girl Scouts; 14 of the 20 women in the Senate, or 70%, were Girl Scouts; the last three female Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Madeline Albright, were all Girl Scouts. Additionally, every current female state governor across the country are Girl Scout alumnae.

Leaders in business, like Ellen Kullman, Chair and CEO of DuPont; Virginia Rometty, Chair and CEO of IBM; Rosalind Brewer, President and CEO, of Sam's Club; designer and entrepreneur Vera Wang; Christine Osekoski, Publisher of Fast Company Magazine -- were all Girl Scouts growing up. Media giant Katie Couric and former astronaut and founder of the Jemison Group, Mae Jemison, are also alumnae.

But perhaps nothing tells the story of the power of the Girl Scout program better than the Girl Scout Gold Award. Received by fewer than 6 percent of Girl Scouts each year, the award recognizes young women who have designed service projects that tackle issues like poverty, literacy, environmentalism and other issues. This year, a Gold Award recipient from New Jersey designed a program in her high school that teaches students about the dangers of domestic and dating violence. Another recipient from Texas created an Aquatic Education program that has kickstarted community conversation about the safety of Earth's oceans and marine life. Still another Gold Award recipient from California created a program called "Magic of Maji," raising awareness for and working to improve the lives of people living a half a world away in Tanzania. The list could go on and on.

So, here's to the next century of Girl Scouting, and to fostering a new era of enlightenment and understanding about the power and promise of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, for girls and for the strong female leaders they will become.