Can you guess the number one entrepreneurial training program for girls in the United States? Surprise! It’s the Girl Scouts.
National Girl Scout Cookie Weekend is February 22-24, and if you’d like to help empower the next generation of female entrepreneurs, go out and buy a box of cookies. (My favorite is Thin Mints, but you can find the whole line-up of cookies and locate a Girl Scout cookie seller near you at www.girlscoutcookies.org). Think of every girl selling a box of cookies as a budding small business owner.
Yes, the Girl Scouts, that 106-year-old organization that most associate with keeping girls busy after school and selling cookies, is actually running one of the country’s most ambitious programs to empower girls to become leaders, instill confidence, and learn financial and business skills. Entrepreneurship is now one of the four core areas that make up the Girl Scout experience (along with “Outdoors,” “Life Skills,” and “STEM” – science, technology, engineering, and math).
“When people first walk out of the store, (your display) has to be eye catching so that’s why we did it in a certain color,” said Sofia Estrada, 12, of the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles’ Troop 616 in Porter Ranch, California, who, along with Sarah Khaled, 11 (and their moms), had set up a sales table outside a busy restaurant—with a long waiting line—in Northridge, California. Estrada and Khaled could have been giving lessons in how to select a target market, merchandising, sales, and more.
“You have to learn the approach that you give when you’re selling cookies,” Khaled said. “Some people want people who are energetic, and sometimes you don’t have to be as energetic to get the sale. You have to know about your product…you have to know exactly about it. Because if you’re selling something and you don’t know what it is, that is not going to help you get sales.”
The Girl Scouts history has been highlighted by seeing girls and women as vibrant, capable leaders right from its beginning in 1912. A mere four years after its founding and only 13 years after the Wright Brothers flew their first plane, Girl Scouts could earn an “Aviation” badge.
Girl Scouts can now earn a range of badges dealing with owning or starting a business. Brownies—Girl Scouts in second or third grade—can now earn “Money Manager” or “Meet My Customer” badges. Older Girl Scouts can earn “Business Owner,” “Business Plan,” “Marketing,” and “Think Big” badges.
“Through the Girl Scout Cookie Program, cookie customers help fund life-changing Girl Scout experiences while building the next generation of female entrepreneurs,” said Girl Scouts USA CEO Sylvia Acevedo. “Selling Girl Scout Cookies changed my life forever, because it taught me that I could create my own opportunity. This is at the core of every entrepreneurship experience at Girl Scouts. Through the program, I learned the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, skills like making a business plan, how you handle money, how to treat customers, and how to break down goals into achievable steps. These are skills I’ve used throughout my professional life, so I know that more girls learning these skills early in life means more female business leaders and entrepreneurs.”
In fact, research conducted by the Girl Scouts shows that 53 percent of female entrepreneurs and business owners have been Girl Scouts. Every female Secretary of State has been a Girl Scout.
The Girl Scouts entrepreneurship program is designed for girls to learn five essential skills that would be a good core for most business schools:
- Goal Setting
- Decision Making
- Money Management
- People Skills
- Business Ethics
And as for building confidence, Estrada and Khaled, ages 12 and 11, were learning one of the most important entrepreneurial skills: how to confidently speak up. “No matter what, whenever they walk out of the restaurant, even if it looks like they’re not going to buy, you should always ask them because you really never know,” said Estrada. “They might be wanting you to ask them and they won’t buy otherwise.”
Both Estrada and Khaled feel that selling cookies makes it more likely they’ll want to own a business someday. “Because it’s practice for the future,” said Khaled. “It’s practice for your life, for what you’ll do later.”
“It’s practice for when you grow up,” added Estrada. “It’s helping us get ready for our future life.”
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2019
This article originally ran in USA Today on February 13, 2019