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The Largest Girl-Led Business in the World Teaches 5 Essential Leadership Skills

The young girl who knocks on your door to sell you Girl Scout cookies is actually preparing to lead a multinational conglomerate.

When I speak to audiences around the country, I often get the same reaction: "You're with the Girl Scouts? I love Girl Scout cookies." I have a confession to make: I love Girl Scout cookies, too. Granted, that may not be such a startling admission given that I'm the chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of the USA. And Girl Scouts across the country do sell more than 200 million boxes a year—so clearly, I'm not alone in my affection for these tasty treats.

But while our cookies are a great product that millions of Americans enjoy once a year—we only sell cookies for three months—invariably I turn the conversation away from the cookies themselves and toward the program that has been the springboard for some of the nation’s most accomplished women in business and beyond. You see, Girl Scout cookies are so much more than an after dinner snack, and our cookie program is so much more than a fundraiser. You may not realize it, but when you buy a box of Girl Scout cookies, you are participating in the largest youth entrepreneurial program in the world—a program that does more than any other to teach girls basic business acumen and interpersonal skills that will serve them the rest of their lives.

When we talk about cookies as an organization, we call it the Girl Scout Cookie Program—all uppercase, with the emphasis on program. Through the program, girls build a lifetime of skills and confidence. They learn about goal setting, decision-making, money management, people skills, and business ethics—all vital tools for leadership in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Cookies actually weren't in the mix at the start of the Girl Scout Movement in 1912. In fact, they did not make an appearance until 1917 when a troop in Oklahoma decided to sell cookies to raise money. A good idea is hard to repress and so the cookie program grew right along with Girl Scouting. Think about all the changes our society experienced throughout the 20th century—the corporations that came and went, the wars we fought, the economic booms and busts. Through it all, the Girl Scout Cookie Program endured and continues to thrive because of the amazing ability of girls to set goals and achieve them.

If you think about it, it's a remarkable idea—the notion that the young girl who knocks on your door to sell you Girl Scout cookies is actually preparing to lead a multinational conglomerate, or to start a global hedge fund, or to be the chief financial officer of her family. Girl Scouts have helped produce amazing and accomplished women from Ellen Kullman, chairwoman and CEO of DuPont, to Christine Osekoski, publisher of Fast Company magazine. Every box of Thin Mints you buy is helping that girl learn the value of the money she's earned, how to handle it, reinvest it, and, with the guidance of her adult Girl Scout volunteers, use it to build a better world for herself and her troop.

It's about the skills and learning a girl gains from interacting with you—not just as another grownup in her life, but as a customer. It's about the experience of running her own cookie business and working with others to achieve a goal. When they hear this, people develop a new appreciation for what Girl Scout cookies are all about, and the power of girls to turn the program into such an enormous success—a beloved American tradition.

Whenever I speak with people about the Girl Scout Cookie Program, I always save the best for last. Once I've told them all about the great thing girls learn as part of the program, I inform them that the money the girls make from the sale stays right there in their own communities. Many girls and Girl Scout troops reinvest their earnings in community projects, like Troop 3573 in Colorado, which this year plans to sell 5,000 boxes of cookies. Their plan? They'll use the money to complete a community service project that will benefit Alzheimer’s patients.

That's an amazing thing, and it's replicated thousands of times across the country every year. And that's why we're celebrating National Girl Scout Cookie Day on February 8th. So the next time you see Girl Scouts selling cookies, you'll know that while the cookies are delicious, to be sure, what you're really seeing is our future. You are looking at the next generation of CEOs and professors, mothers and world leaders, who are learning by earning and in the process, making our world a better place.

All of us have a role to play in making sure girls realize their full potential and you can learn more about how you can advocate, participate or donate (and sign our pledge to do your part on behalf of girls) by going to our cause campaign site

Click here to add signing the ToGetHerThere pledge to your GOOD "to-do" list.

Image courtesy of Girl Scouts of the USA

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