Why 80% of Female Entrepreneurs Were Once Girl Scouts

by: Maria Wynne

An astonishing 80 percent of female entrepreneurs were once Girl Scouts.

Eighty. Percent.

Considering eight percent of all women in the U.S. were Girl Scouts at some point, this is an impressive ratio.

Before Pam Fields founded Mrs. Fields Cookies, she was a Girl Scout.

Before Anita Roddick opened her first retail store, The Body Shop, she was a Girl Scout.

Before Martha Stewart created her empire, she was a Girl Scout.

And before 17-year-old Kaylin Fanta started the non-profit Watts’ Backpack Baggers to provide children in need with school supplies, she was – and still is – a Girl Scout.

This is no small feat. Nor is this pure coincidence. Girl Scouting, for the past 100 years, has been giving girls the necessary skills and experiences to develop their entrepreneurial abilities. So what makes for a successful entrepreneur? Is it an MBA in finance? A strong interest in innovation? A passion to lead rather than follow? Maybe, but that’s not all.

Before a woman gets to that point, she has had childhood experiences that have opened her eyes to the world of entrepreneurship. And this is where the Girl Scout organization shines.

As the CEO of the largest Girl Scout council in the country, I am responsible for leading more than 84,000 girls and 24,000 volunteers. I meet budding new entrepreneurs every day – girls such as 14-year-old Olivia Ottenfeld, who sold more than 2,000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies this year to fund her trip to celebrate Girl Scouting’s 100th anniversary in Washington, D.C.

Through the annual Girl Scout Cookie Program, Olivia builds on skills she will undoubtedly take with her into adulthood:

  • Goal setting - Whether it’s taking baby steps or making one giant leap of faith, discussing and meeting goals and deadlines is important in any job.
  • Decision making - Having the confidence to make decisions – sometimes quickly – isn’t always easy. But true leaders know when to assert themselves and make the tough calls.
  • Money management - Balancing profits and expenses is becoming even more relevant as girls begin to accept credit card payments for the first time this cookie season.
  • People skills - Understanding each customer enables business owners to anticipate customer needs and develop appropriate marketing and sales strategies.
  • Business ethics - Developing honest, trustworthy, and reliable future business owners starts early.

Olivia has a good approach to business: “I would tell my [younger] self that if a customer was looking to buy 4 boxes, ask them to buy 5 boxes for an even $20. I’d also tell myself to stay in [Girl Scouts] because it’s going to open up a world of opportunities.” With the new packaging of the Girl Scout cookies being unveiled later this year, Olivia will find it easier to share the lessons she’s learning through the Girl Scout Cookie Program:

“Keep good records, be polite, smile while selling, and keep your promises. Also, never burn a bridge. You never know when you might need that person.”

Good advice at any career point.  And keenly reflective of the soft skills developed through Girl Scout programs. Girls are encouraged to work cooperatively with each other; set achievable, action-oriented goals; and think creatively to solve problems.

In downtown Chicago, students – both boys and girls – look into the realm of business ownership through Journey World (an idea powered by the Girl Scouts). Students visit Journey World and adopt a “job” of their choice – civic leader, reporter, banker, business owner – and live life as that profession for the day in this simulated city. Business owners take out loans, purchase advertising, and develop creative ways to sell their products in order to repay their loans and make a profit.

At the end of the day, Girl Scouts is providing girls with a better understanding of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. We are indeed building girls of courage, confidence, and character to make the world a better place. Olivia is already thinking beyond the cookie program: “I would open a sports complex for kids and teens who could not afford to play on a club or travel team. I would do this because I love sports and kids. I think I’ve learned a lot about team building through Girl Scouting and my sports programs.”

Odds are, she’ll do just that.

About the author Maria Wynne @Technori
Maria Wynne is Chief Executive Officer for Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, the largest Girl Scout council in the world. The council brings leadership development opportunities to more than 84,000 girls ages 5-17 and 24,000 volunteers across six Illinois counties and four Indiana counties. As the CEO, she ultimately oversees the flagship financial literacy program - Girl Scout Cookie Program. What is the secret to selling Thin Mints? She credits running the program as what it is: a girl’s first entrepreneurial experience. Last year the girl entrepreneurs sold a combined 4.9 million boxes of cookies. For more information visit: www.girlscoutsgcnwi.org.

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