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Leadership's Gold Standard: Being a Girl Scout prepares girls for a lifetime of leadership!

By: Audrey Burri, Founder of Pair Necessities, Inc., and a Gold Award Girl Scout

People often say that, in life, what’s truly important is the journey, not the destination. When setting a goal or taking on a project, success is about more than just the final outcome. It is about personal growth, connections, commitment, and all the other skills acquired along the way. Earlier this year, I earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, and discovered the truth of this message for myself.

If you haven’t heard of the Girl Scout Gold Award, it is the equivalent of the Eagle Scout rank for Boy Scouts. The Gold Award is the highest accomplishment and “the most prestigious award in the world for girls—and the most difficult to earn—and it’s only available to Girl Scouts,” explained Girl Scout CEO Anna Maria Chavez. “Once achieved, it shows colleges, employers, and your community that you’re skilled and ready to get out there and change the world!” Many universities and colleges offer scholarships unique to Gold Award recipients, and girls who enlist in the U.S. armed forces can receive advanced rank in recognition of the achievement.

Earning the Gold Award is a challenging process. It requires a minimum of 80 individual hours, two large-scale prerequisite projects (the Bronze and Silver award), and a series of leadership training programs known as journeys. Girls may spend one to two years on their Gold Award project, which must be created and implemented directly under their leadership. To earn the Gold Award, a project must demonstrate extraordinary leadership, have a measurable, sustainable, and long-term impact, and address a local challenge related to a national and/or global issue. Because of this, not many scouts attempt or complete the project. Nationally, about 5.4% of Girl Scouts earn the Gold Award, compared to 5% of boys who earn the Eagle.

For my Gold Award project, I created a project that addressed poverty and homelessness, both of which are sad realities around the globe. Among the many hardships associated with being homeless or living in poverty, one recurrent problem is the lack of access to the most basic of clothing items. To address this, I created Pair Necessities, an organization committed to providing new socks and underwear to people in crisis, or who are part of vulnerable populations including: the homeless, veterans, victims of crime, people impacted by disasters, school children, and the working poor.

The impact caused by this tangible need, especially the emotional toll taken, is one that many people are unaware of. Socks and underwear cannot be donated second hand, and thus are always in the highest demand at shelters or with groups serving those in need. The extreme personal nature of these items makes lack of access to them critical to personal dignity. Not only can the shortage cause real health issues, but it can also have a dehumanizing effect on those already in challenging circumstances.

To help those who lack access to these needed items, Pair Necessities established a sustainable means of collecting and distributing new socks and underwear in a way that can easily be replicated within any given community around the world. Pair Necessities has donated to groups throughout the United States, and in Kenya and Honduras. My project is now a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charity that has collected more than 10,000 pairs of socks and underwear. Something as simple as providing access to new socks or new underwear can empower people in crisis and that’s what Pair Necessities is doing, one pair at a time!

Some people have asked me why I chose Girl Scouts for my project, rather than carrying it out independently. The reasons are many. Scouting has had an important role in my life for as long as I can remember. I started my scouting journey in Kindergarten and, at the time I earned my Gold Award, I have been active in scouting for 12 years. In a time when many young girls are fixated on social media, some may downplay the importance of Girl Scouts, a more-than-century-old organization. However, the truth is quite the opposite.

Girl Scout CEO Anna Maria Chavez recognized the relevance and importance of Girl Scouts to developing lifetime leadership skills. "The need for what Girl Scouts has to offer is not decreasing -- more than ever girls need our time and our commitment," she said.

If you take a close look at the women holding leadership positions around the globe, you might be surprised to discover that they acquired the tools and training needed to empower themselves as leaders in the exact same leadership development program: Girl Scouts.

From news rooms to boardrooms, and tennis courts to court houses, you will find successful Girl Scout alumni. These extraordinary leaders confirm that there is no better program than Girls Scouts to mold female leaders.

The secret to Girl Scout’s ongoing success (and thriving for over 100 years) is the creation of programs that instill courage, confidence, character, and the other critical skills needed to lead. They also make sure that all programming is designed with girls in mind, intended to be girl lead, and is adaptive to today’s youth. These core principles exist at each level of scouting but culminate with the highest award in Girl Scouts: The Girl Scout Gold Award.

Where can you see the Girl Scout leadership program in action? The answer is nearly anywhere you look. In the Congressional elections of November of 2018, women made history by claiming a record number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Of the 106 women currently serving in the House, 55% were Girl Scouts. In terms of other women in political roles: 73% of U.S. Senators are Girl Scout alumni (making Congress 58% Girl Scout alumni); 4 of 6 current female Governors are Girl Scout alumni; every female Secretary of State in U.S. history was a Girl Scout; the first female Supreme Court Justice was a Girl Scout, as are 3 of the 4 women who have served on the US Supreme Court; and the first female vice presidential and presidential candidates were both Girl Scouts.

The significance of the program does not stop with politics. In the business world, 53% of female entrepreneurs and business owners were Girl Scouts and Girl Scout alumni are more likely than other women to have a business degree. Some well-known examples of business leaders who are former girl scouts: Tyra Banks (executive producer & CEO); Melinda Gates (philanthropist); Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube); Dionne Warwick (famous singer and a UN Global Ambassador); Gloria Steinem (legendary feminist devoted to helping girls and women pursue their dreams); and the late Dr. Sally Ride (Stanford-educated physicist, the first American woman in space and STEM inspiration of millions of girls).

You can also find former girls scouts among the most successful ranks of journalism, entertainment, and sports. Katie Couric (first female anchor of a network newscast) Lisa Ling (credits Girl Scout with teaching her that women can do anything); and Barbara Walters, Star Jones and Jane Pauley. In sports, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the Olympic gold medalist, and tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, are all former girl scouts. The list of Girl Scout alumni in the entertainment world rivals politics and includes: Taylor Swift (youngest Grammy for Album of the Year and youngest woman to make Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list); Vanessa Hudgens; Queen Latifah; Gwyneth Paltrow; and nine-time Grammy winner, Sheryl Crow

So, it’s not just about the cookies! It’s all about leadership and preparing girls for the future. Girl Scouts of the USA is the largest leadership organization for women in the world. As the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, Barbara Murphy-Warrington, said: “There isn’t any activity in life that doesn’t require some form of leadership.” The lack of opportunity to learn how to be a good leader, is the biggest barrier to girls succeeding, and that is where Girl Scout’s steps in to provide invaluable training.

When people who have never heard of the Gold Award ask me about it, I am very proud to tell them all about Girl Scouts’ highest award and the leadership training the organization provided. I am also happy to share that my project was just nominated by North Carolina Girl Scouts, Hornet's Nest Council, for consideration for the National Girl Scout Gold Award, which is awarded to only 12 Girl Scouts in the U.S.

It’s an honor to be involved in the same organization that includes the long list of amazing women who make up Girl Scout alumni. Just as they have had a positive impact on my life, I strive to be a role model in my community, especially other girls and teens. Many years ago, John Quincy Adams said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” I think he must have foreseen a future that included Girl Scouts.


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