This story comes to us from NBC Latino.
Thirty years ago, a little ten-year-old Latina girl in rural Arizona joined the most American of institutions, the Girl Scouts. Three decades later, that former little girl, Anna María Chávez, is none other than the Girl Scouts’ CEO, in charge of one of the most influential non-profits around the world.
As the now global Girl Scouts turns 100 years old on March 12th, Chávez reflects on the significance of her position as its first Latina CEO, and her role in helping shape the next generation of girls in the U.S. and around the world.
“I truly believe girls are the answer to the future of our country,” says Chávez, who grew up in a Mexican-American household in the small town of Eloy, Arizona. Her intelligence and hard work led her to study history at Yale University, then become an attorney, and then work in public policy and government before this new and very visible position. “I am living the American dream,” she says.
On March 12th, Chávez will mark the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary in Savannah, Georgia, in the same place where Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low organized the first Girl Scout troop in 1912. Some things, the Girl Scouts’ new leader says, have not changed all that much.
“As girls, we want the same things we wanted 100 years ago,” says the dynamic 43-year-old, who is married and has a young son. ”We want to be happy, fulfilled, and have an impact in our community.”
To ensure the organization is truly impacting the lives of the over 3 million girls who call themselves scouts, Chávez decided to “go big.” The non-profit has embarked on what it calls “the largest, boldest advocacy and fundraising cause dedicated to girls’ leadership in the nation’s history.”
Called “ToGetHerThere,” and in Spanish, “Juntos Por Ella,“ the Girl Scouts is launching a $1 billion-dollar campaign to focus national attention on girls and the issues they face, including a “leadership gap."
The organization hopes 90 percent of the $1 billion campaign will go directly to services and programs which serves girls across the nation and in 94 countries. Part of Chávez’ campaign is to encourage more adults to give their time and talent to help empower and educate girls.
“When it comes to philanthropic dollars, girls’ programs do not get a large percentage,” says Chávez. “Yet girls are half the population, and they are being asked to solve some critical issues. We need to invest in their lives.”
Though the Girl Scouts are known for teaching girls skills such as leadership, financial knowledge (who does not know a girl who sells Girl Scout cookies?) and community service, Chávez says there is one area which could use more involvement from girls - and that is the areas of science and math.
“What we have found through our studies is that 74 percent of girls love STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), but they don’t choose it as a potential career,” Chávez says. In fact, their study found only 13 percent of girls said STEM careers are their first choice.
So one way the 100-year-old organization is empowering girls is by making technology a bigger part of the girls’ lives. While generations of Girl Scouts might remember badges involving camping, cooking, sports and leadership, now girl scouts can earn badges for “digital movie making,” “geocaching,” conducting an energy audit of a building or assessing air quality.
As a former Girl Scout herself, Anna María Chávez says she is aware her role goes beyond teaching girls skills and exposing them to new experiences.
“Girls tell us they want to see role models,” says the Mexican-American Girl Scout turned CEO, who says she knows personally how hard one has to work to achieve success.
“I hope to give the girls hope,” Chávez says.
Sandra Lilley is a reporter with NBC Latino.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.