Leading Girl Scouts Through COVID

COVID-19 is challenging American leadership across every sector of the country. Our ability to act nimbly and to quickly land on solutions and a way forward are being tested like no other time in recent memory. During times of crisis, it’s how we face challenges and solve problems to better our communities that defines who […]

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COVID-19 is challenging American leadership across every sector of the country. Our ability to act nimbly and to quickly land on solutions and a way forward are being tested like no other time in recent memory.

During times of crisis, it’s how we face challenges and solve problems to better our communities that defines who we are as leaders, whether we are working from behind a C-Suite desk or from the living room couch. Whether you are leading a business, a nonprofit, a community, a house of worship, or a family, you are being counted upon to set direction, to be strong, to listen, and to keep the ship as steady as possible. Our impact and ability to help others is amplified, as are our challenges.

I’m honored to be CEO of an organization—comprised of 111 councils across the country, plus our international arm USA Girl Scouts Overseas—whose leaders have come together in this time of great uncertainty to chart a course of action that ensures we are able to continue delivering on our mission of building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

The Girl Scout experience encompasses many things, but for more than a century our core programming has revolved around face to face meetings and activities, community engagement, outdoor adventures, and, of course, Girl Scout Cookie booths and door-to-door cookie sales. The current health crisis we face has forced us to rethink in the short term how we keep our girls, families, and volunteers engaged in the Girl Scout experience so that girls continue to have access to the learning opportunities, fun, and friendship that Girl Scout programming provides.  

We have quickly pivoted, during this time of necessary social distancing and isolation, to a Girl Scout experience that is 100 percent virtual. Through an initiative called Girl Scouts at Home and in collaboration with Girl Scout councils nationwide, Girl Scouts is helping volunteers and troop leaders keep their girls and troops connected through online badge experiences and activities that they can participate in and complete at home via a dedicated website. 

Through this initiative, we are bringing the exploration and interactive learning of Girl Scouts to both members and the general public. Girls everywhere can access self-guided, free activities that keep them engaged, active, and connected to their community and a larger sisterhood of girls. They can explore a variety of activities in entrepreneurship; life skills; arts exercises like drawing, painting, screenwriting, and comics creation; and STEM subjects like cybersecurity, space science, coding, and computer programming through guided videos, text-based instructions, virtual events and troop meetings, and service projects.

The COVID-19 crisis has also greatly disrupted Girl Scout Cookie sales nationwide, meaning that many girls and councils haven’t been able to sell their inventory. This is a critical problem to mitigate, as councils depend upon the revenue generated by cookie sales to deliver Girl Scout programming to the girls they serve in their communities. That’s why we have introduced Girl Scouts Cookie Care, a dedicated website that offers a way for cookie customers to safely order cookies for home delivery or to donate cookies to first responders, volunteers, and local causes in need. Consumers can also purchase cookies from Girl Scouts they know who are selling through digital platforms.

Girl Scouts at Home and Girl Scouts Cookie Care represent quick pivots in program delivery that speak to the absolute necessity of out-of-the-box thinking and active collaboration during times of crisis. Like other companies and organizations, GSUSA and council teams across the country have had to shift our thinking and operationalize quick solutions for the communities we serve, all while connecting and collaborating remotely and acclimating to new ways of work, juggling professional and family needs, and keeping our loved ones safe and healthy.

I’ve learned many lessons on leadership in my career as a rocket scientist, engineer, tech entrepreneur, and now as CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. Effective leaders are problem solvers—they are able to break down big challenges into small, achievable goals and can identify the strengths and weaknesses of team members and delegate accordingly. Most critically, they are approachable. Open and honest dialogue is very important and helps avoid misunderstandings, build consensus, and bring out the best in everyone so that they can do their best work.

Finally, leaders should stay curious. From a very young age—I was always trying to figure out how to get around roadblocks and obstacles that were preventing me from achieving my goals. Now I have the honor of working with the many Girl Scout council CEOs across the nation to pivot, in an agile way, this 108-year-old organization to meet the challenges of our new reality, and bring Girl Scouts through to the other side. We may be nonprofit CEOs, but we mean business. 

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