Girl Scouts Cookie Sales Cultivate Young Leaders

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(WOMENSENEWS)–There’s a real difference between the way the public looks at the accomplishments of girls and boys.

People latch onto the cuteness and wholesomeness aspects of the Girl Scouts cookie sale because they really don’t know what to do with the idea of girls acting in an organized, effective, powerful way. And we in Girl Scouting haven’t yet done enough to publicize the fact that the cookie sale is a huge leadership lesson for all involved, not just an organizational fundraiser with cute little girls on the front lines to help boost sales.

For the girls, the cookie sale is a life-changing experience. It is the only childhood activity available to girls ages 6 to 17 across the country that is actually a hands-on business. It’s not at all like reading about sales and merchandising in a classroom. You literally, as a girl, are presented with the chance to run your own business. And you do it like most businesses, in partnership with a team.

Better yet, it’s a business that people see as important. Just being able to say "I’m a Girl Scout and I’m selling cookies" puts a girl in a position of respect, influence and approval. At the same time, she’s learning how to interact with coworkers, how to play by rules, how to be ambitious, how hard work pays off and how to set both long-term and short-term goals.

The cookie sale is not just about how many boxes one girl sells. It’s about how many boxes the whole troop sells, and what projects or field trips or adventures they’ll all agree to use the money for in the next year. The experience of the sale is tangible; it validates a girl’s worth.

Setting Long-Term Goals

Long- term goal setting? For 8-year-old kids, "next year" is long-term goal setting. But many Girl Scouts dare to plan further ahead than that. A friend told me a remarkable

story about her daughter, who joined Girl Scouts as a 5-year-old Daisy and stayed with the same troop all the way through high school:

"When the girls in the troop were in first or second grade, they decided that they wanted to go to London when they got to high school. They saved cookie-sale money every year, and they accomplished their goal. They went to London and visited the headquarters of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and they stayed at Pax Lodge, one of four world centers for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. They came back feeling like citizens of the world. Nothing else in my daughter’s life did as much to help her set big goals and learn to achieve them as the cookie sale."

But unlike boys, girls are seldom encouraged to highlight their own accomplishments.

For example, a national poll of American women found that two-thirds of women of professional achievement, and more than three-fourths of those who were deemed "women of distinction" had been Girl Scouts in their youth. The same poll found that more than four out of five successful professional women who had been Girl Scouts rated their Girl Scouts involvement as helping them achieve later success.

Yet many women don’t talk about their Girl Scouts experience this way. A man is much more likely to list Boy Scouts on his résumé than a woman is to list Girl Scouts on hers. Some women don’t link what they did as kids with their adult lives. Others value the Girl Scouts experience personally, but they don’t imagine that it’s worth mentioning to anyone else.

Women haven’t been trained or inspired to talk about their own leadership development. A lot of them believe that if they do talk about it, no one will listen.

Need for Change

If we are to inspire girls toward leadership, we need to help girls change the way they see their own potential. Girls are growing up in a society that belittles their skills, their intelligence and their abilities by telling them over and over that the only things about them that really matter to anybody are their looks and their sexuality.

The top 25 TV shows for kids ages 12 to 17 regularly depict teen girls as highly sexualized and objectified. In these shows, 98 percent of the sexual incidents involving underage females take place outside any kind of committed relationship. Three in four incidents are presented as being funny (not to the girls; to the other characters and to the audience). And in these shows, 93 percent of the sexual incidents that involve young females are unhealthy, according to the American Psychological Association’s definitions of healthy sexuality.

So what? Why should we care?

We should care because the message this stuff sends, regardless of how you feel about teen sexuality, is that girls are to be seen as sex objects first. If that’s how we’re teaching teenage girls to see themselves, it’s no wonder they seek confidence in how they look and how desirable they are, above all else.

"Today’s girls view being sexy as the ultimate accolade," says Carol Platt Liebau, political analyst, commentator and author of "Prude: How the Sex- Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!)" (Center Street, 2009). As a result, girls too often think the only way they can receive admiration is through promiscuity and sexual aggression.

What about admiring girls for expanding their horizons, growing in self-awareness, setting goals, using their intelligence or taking on projects that help others? We don’t see much encouragement for those values coming from our society’s center, or its top or its grassroots.

And if girls don’t absorb those values as adolescents, it’s going to be difficult for them to model those values when they become adults and parents.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc., , from "Tough Cookies: Leadership Lessons from 100 Years of the Girl Scouts" by Kathy Cloninger, CEO Girl Scouts of the United States of America (c) 2011 Girl Scouts of the USA.

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Kathy Cloninger is the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA and a Women’s eNews 21 Leader 2010. She serves on boards of the National Human Services Assembly of the National Council for Research on Women, American Humanics, and Leadership 18. She was named an NPT Power and Influence Top 50 by the NonProfit Times in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

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Buy the book, " Tough Cookies: Leadership Lessons from 100 Years of the Girl Scouts":

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2 thoughts on “Girl Scouts Cookie Sales Cultivate Young Leaders

  1. I’m a former “Curved Bar” Scout and former leader of an intermediate troop. Girl Scouting has the potential to be a great influence on our young girls. Many years ago, Girl Scouts of America started a new badge that taught about sexuality and family planning and choices. The Philadelphia Council stopped that in it’s tracks – the Catholic church apparently has control there, and they were having none of this “women’s freedom of choice”. So I wonder if the time has finally come when Girl Scouting will accept it’s responsibility to offer such programs for our grand-daughters, regardless of religious outcry. Also, I am not clear on whether Girl Scouts, like the Boy Scouts, are willing to kick out a kid if they find out the kid is (a) an atheist or (b) gay/lesbian. Until these factors are resolved, and it is clear that Girl Scouting is for “Community and Country” rather than “God and Country”, I cannot in good conscience support them. And one other thing – with so many diabetics in this country who would be willing to support Scouting, it would be a nice thing if GS cookies were offered in at least 2 flavors made with Splenda instead of sugar!

  2. The Girl Scouts of America has become a household name and a nationally recognized organization for young girls and young adults across the country to grow as leaders. Today the Girl Scout Cookie Sale Program serves a much larger purpose-it is an entrepreneurial program for girls. To celebrate the 100th anniversary, Girls Scouts of America is rolling out new badges to encourage the girls to become financially savvy.

    Thirteen of the new badges are centered on rewarding girls to educate themselves about financial topics such as saving and investing, philanthropy, budgeting, and earning good credit. The Girl Scouts’ three million members will have an opportunity to have an early flair for finance, something that is an important life skill, and not always taught in school.

    The Girls Scouts have grown into an extraordinary program for young women over the past 100 years due to the courage, leadership, and creativity the program gives to its members. Entrepreneurship is a driving force behind the Girl Scout Mission. At a young age through cookie sales, girls are given the opportunity to go door to door asking neighbor friends and family to support their troop. In the Girl Scout Cookie Sales, they have developed a program that teaches girls 5 essential business skills: goal setting, decision-making, money management, people skills, and business ethnics. The Girl Scout entrepreneur badge is a symbol that girls have confidence in themselves and their abilities to achieve their goals.

    So the next time a young girl rings your doorbell with her Girl Scout vest and order form,” she’s not raising money for her local troop she’s learning how to start her own business, or become a CEO. The Girl Scout cookie program is not just a fundraiser, but also an entrepreneurial program for girls, teaching girls what it takes to be one smart cookie.