Yes, Thin Mints are undeniably delicious, but there is more to the Girls Scouts than cookies. With the goal of teaching today’s girl’s to be tomorrow’s leaders, Girl Scouts uses the Cookie Program and more to train girls in valuable, lifelong skills. We spoke with Colleen Walker, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, about the influence that the program has on growing girls and shaping the next generation.
4word: How did you become involved with Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas?
Colleen: In July, 2007, I was selected by a search committee to be the CEO of Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, a newly realigned council that was the result of a merger. This council was to serve (and still is) 33,000+ girls throughout our 32-county jurisdiction.
For me, this was a life-long dream as the pursuit of my Harvard MBA was actually the result of seeing the job posting for the national CEO position for the Girl Scouts of the USA when I was 27 years old, and wanting to pursue a professional leadership position within the Girl Scout organization.
4word: What is the best part about your job?
Colleen: We have a direct impact on the lives of thousands of little girls and young women. Our founder, Juliette Gordon Lowe, said, “The work of today is the history of tomorrow and we are its makers;” and our mission is very clear: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place.
I am constantly energized by our work, whether it’s our commitment to outdoor leadership and the transformation of our Girl Scout camps into Centers of Excellence, or having a new Daisy Girl Scout learn the Girl Scout Promise and Law, to awarding our high school Girl Scouts with the Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouting.
4word: Everybody knows the Girl Scouts by their cookies. Can you explain just how significant these sales are to the girls?
Colleen: The Cookie Program is the largest financial literacy program for girls in the world, grossing nationally approximately $700M per year. Not only do girls receive rewards, but troops at GSNETX earn an average of $900 from their sales, which the troop may then use at its discretion – either for uniform pieces, camping trips, or other special events. Some troops save their cookie proceeds for a prolonged trip when they graduate from high school.
Many troops elect to donate some, or all of their proceeds to a nonprofit organization that speaks to their heart, whether it’s the local animal shelter or buying medical supplies for children in Ethiopia. The girls are AMAZING!!! This is in addition to our Troop to Troop program whereby the public may purchase cookies that are sent directly to our men and women serving our country. (So, if you’re watching your waistline after the holidays, this is a great way to support your local Girl Scout.)
More importantly, selling Girl Scout cookies teaches girls lifelong skills, such as goal setting (individually and as a team), decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics.
My daughter, Bella, is a Girl Scout Cadette. She’s in 6th grade and has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. She LOVES the cookie program, but another great lesson she learned was that not everyone will say yes. We all have to learn that, and the Cookie Program is a gentle, non-parental way to learn the lesson that “no” is fine and that it doesn’t have anything to do with you.
4word: When it comes to shaping the next generation, what do you see as the biggest challenge?
Colleen: As we celebrated our 100th Anniversary in 2012, Girl Scouts of the USA launched a nationwide campaign called ToGetHerThere. This represents the largest, boldest advocacy and fundraising cause campaign dedicated to girls’ leadership issues in the nation’s history. This multi-year effort will help break down societal barriers that hinder girls from leading and achieving success in everything from technology and science to business and industry. The goal is ambitious and urgent: to create balanced leadership in one generation.
When you look at the data, women are still terribly underrepresented in ALL business and economic sectors, from middle management on up, and men begin outpacing women in earnings the second year after graduating from college. The second year!
Too many people, men and women, assume the glass ceiling is gone and that there is pay parity. That’s simply not true, and with a majority of women as primary breadwinners of their households for the first time in history (whether they are married or not), we need women to have meaningful ways to build their careers, enhance their earning power to provide for their families, and make contributions to their companies with their smart brains. There is just too much human capital left on the table.
4word: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Colleen: We believe that one girl can make a difference, and that girls together can change the world. As Juliette Gordon Low said, “We owe it to our girls to give them the opportunity to be the leaders they want to be, and to be the leaders the world needs them to be.”
I’m absolutely amazed at the quality and thought that goes into our Gold Awardee’s projects – which take at least 80 hours to complete, must benefit the community, and must be sustainable. Some of the projects of our girls have reached around the globe, such as bringing solar-powered flashlights to children in the Kashmir region so that they may study after dark.
As it becomes more and more critical that girls today gain the skills they need to live productive, rewarding lives in the 21st century, I feel very privileged to be part of an organization that is considered to be the preeminent organization for girls in the world. I constantly think of the saying that “as girls succeed, so does society.”
If you participated in Girl Scouts when you were younger, share your experience with us! What other ways can leadership and business skills be cultivated in young girls?
Colleen Walker holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and has served as CEO of the Girls Scouts of Northeast Texas since 2007. She has devoted her career to the development of programs that educate and assist youth. Prior to joining the Girl Scouts, Colleen founded and served as the Executive Director for Engineers of Dreams, a nonprofit that encouraged over 60,000 high school students in Texas, Colorado and Louisiana to pursue careers in technical fields.