Finish Line: Investing in the Next Century of Female Leaders
How the Girl Scouts prepares young girls for a lifetime of personal and business success
Sandra Day O’Connor, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Vera Wang, Katie Couric and SGR’s Kristen Lewis have more than their gender in common. Each of these women is among the 80 percent of the 59 million Girl Scout alumnae who attribute their personal and professional success to Girl Scouting. As the nation’s premier leadership development organization for girls and young women, Girl Scouts currently boasts 3.2 million active members aged 5 to 18, and almost one million adult volunteers who support the delivery of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE).
Kristen herself was a Girl Scout from age 5 to age 16, as part of Troop 23 in the Hudson Valley Council in upstate New York. When she chaired the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, Inc. (GSGATL) annual meeting in April, she wore her Girl Scout uniform from high school (lovingly preserved by her mother), complete with a badge-filled sash evidencing her many years of scouting achievements, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scout Movement.
As an adult Girl Scout volunteer, Kristen served as a troop leader for several years while her daughter, Savannah, was actively engaged in the Girl Scouts. Kristen then served on the GSGATL Board of Directors for 10 years, the last two as Board Chair. “Investing my time and energy to develop the next generation of female leaders has been an honor and a privilege,” Kristen states. She also commends Smith, Gambrell & Russell for its support of her efforts as Board Chair. Last year, the firm sponsored a team that participated in the Top Cookie Chef Competition, which saw 25 local businesses, financial institutions and professional services firms vying to create award-winning desserts using Girl Scout cookies as the primary ingredient.
The Girl Scout Cookie Program, a much-beloved annual tradition, “is an unparalleled personal finance tutorial for girls of all ages,” Kristen notes. Nationally, the Cookie Program raises $760 million each year to support Girl Scout activities, while teaching the girls essential financial literacy skills including goal setting, time management, marketing, inventory management, supply chain management, money management, team-work, budgeting and business ethics. This year, GSGATL sold 4,555,500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies – the seventh-highest number of all 112 councils in the country.
In addition to the financial literacy programmatic platform, the GSLE supports leadership development in the areas of healthy living – healthy lifestyles; environmental stewardship; community outreach and education; personal leadership and self-esteem; and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Last year, GSGATL collaborated with Emory University, Kennesaw State University, Georgia Tech, Southern Polytechnic State University and Lockheed-Martin to offer innovative STEM programs that are relevant to 21st-century girls who will change our world as the next generation of leaders. STEM programs now account for more than half of all Girl Scout awards, including many Gold Award projects.
The Gold Award represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, recognizing girls who demonstrate extraordinary leadership through remarkable take-action projects that have a sustainable impact in their communities and beyond. Awarded to fewer than six percent of Girl Scouts each year, approximately one million girls have earned the Gold Award (or its equivalent) since 1916 (including Kristen Lewis, who earned what was then known as the First Class Award in 1975 as a high school sophomore). In recognition of the extraordinary achievement represented by the Gold Award, a recipient who joins the armed forces is automatically entitled to enter at one full rank higher than other recruits.
A unique local opportunity to foster direct interaction and engagement between such successful Girl Scout alumnae and current high school Girl Scouts is Camp CEO, held each spring at GSGATL’s Camp Timber Ridge in Mableton, Ga. Two dozen local high-profile female business executives, professionals, philanthropists and community activists are paired with an equal number of high school Girl Scouts for a four-day mentoring and bonding experience that transforms both the adult and girl participants. For the inaugural Camp CEO sponsored by GSGATL, Kristen lent her amateur photography skills to chronicle the remarkable experience, culminating in a published book of her photographs entitled Discovering the Leader Within. As Kristen reflects on her Camp CEO experience, as well as on her broader experience helping to lead GSGATL for the past decade, she recalls the words of Juliette Gordon Low, “The work of today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers.”
A tax attorney at SGR, Kristen Lewis recently completed a two-year term as Chair of the Board of the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, Inc.