This month’s member spotlight focuses on Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) in an interview with their interim CEO Judith Batty. Batty is a lifelong Girl Scout, former troop leader, top cookie seller, and has served on the Girl Scouts of the USA’s National Board for the past six years. Girl Scouts was founded in 1912, and now includes over 1.7 million girls and 750,000 adults. The organization helps girls thrive through building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. Girl Scouts is also the newest member of the CivXNow Advisory Council, and we welcome them to the leadership team of the CivXNow movement!
Q: Can you talk about the history of the civic mission of Girl Scouts?
Batty: Girl Scouts has a long legacy of civic leadership and community service. Our founding in 1912 was based on Juliette Gordon Low’s belief that American girls needed to live active lives outside the home and contribute to society. That belief is the foundation of our history of developing girls into leaders who make a positive impact on society. Even as far back as 1937, in celebration of our 25th anniversary, Girl Scouts participated in a series of community civic projects that included safety campaigns, health initiatives, and clean-up weeks.
Civic engagement is in our DNA. From public service during world wars and pandemics, to the suffrage and civil rights movements, Girl Scouts have played a role in moving the nation forward. Through our new Civics badges, girls will gain insights into the workings of local, state, and federal governments so they can become confident and educated voters, activists, and political leaders. By offering civics education and mentorship to every girl, no matter her background or resources, we are building the female change makers of tomorrow who will help make our world a better place.
Q: One of Girl Scouts’ five key ways you help girls thrive through identifying and solving problems in the community. How does Girl Scouts work to empower girls to become active participants and problem solvers?
Batty: By encouraging our girls to explore a variety of fields like civics, STEM, the outdoors, and entrepreneurship, they are able to learn by doing through badge work, and discover what topics and issues drive their passions. From there, girls can pursue Take Action projects, where they identify an area where their community is suffering or could be improved and create change.
One of the best things about Take Action projects is they are girl-led, meaning girls decide on the project and take the necessary steps to bring it to life. Leaders guide the girls, but the girls reach conclusions on their own, which is why mentorship from volunteers and troop leaders is so important in helping to nurture a girl’s personal growth.
I would be remiss if I did not mention our highest awards. Many of our girls go on to earn their Bronze, Silver, and Gold Award — the organization’s highest awards for projects that make a sustainable impact in their communities and on a global scale. Our Gold Award Girl Scouts tackle issues that matter to them. Recent standout projects have addressed healthcare access and education, food insecurity, campus sexual assault, menstrual equity, and distracted driving. Girls have even engaged with local legislators and changed laws. Even now when our world is experiencing significant change, Girl Scouts are continuing to transform and improve their communities in thoughtful and innovative ways.
Q: What are some of the civics-related badges that Girl Scouts can earn?
Batty: This summer, we announced our new Civics badges in collaboration with the Citi Foundation. This new programming allows girls to gain an in-depth understanding of how local, state, and federal governments work, and will prepare girls to be voters, and possible activists and political leaders. Girls will learn about legislative history, the US voting system, the electoral college, the representation of women in government, and more. They will research their own government representatives and will be encouraged to meet them. Girls are able to go “behind the ballot box” to learn about civil discourse and finding common ground, to explore public policy, and more. And of course, all of our programming is infused with teaching girls how to make the world a better place, no matter where their interests lie.
While creating these badges, we were surprised to learn that just 24% of eighth graders are proficient in civics, and only two in five American adults are able to name the three branches of the U.S. government. This data increased our desire to ensure that every girl has the opportunity to learn about government and become civically engaged.
Q: Girl Scouts has taken a renewed interest in civics. Can you talk about what that looks like going forward — especially in relationship to policy?
Batty: Our girls are speaking loud and clear — since we launched Girl Scouts at Home in March, our most popular badges, across a wide range of ages, have been related to our Democracy programming. Last month, we announced our first ever national civic action, “Promote the Vote,” a national civic action to engage Girl Scout troops in the democratic process.
We have endorsed Educating for Democracy Act, csponsored by Congresswoman DeLauro and Congressman Cole, which would significantly increase investments in civics education. We want to harness the current societal momentum and channel that energy toward policies that assure all girls — all children — have access to strong civics education, and we want to be included in policy discussions that inform legislation. We look forward to working with members of Congress and the CivXNow coalition to pass this legislation in the next Congress.
Q: Why is this so important right now?
Batty: Now more than ever, it is critical that we have informed leadership who understand the workings of government and who can make the world a better, safer place. During this current health crisis, many global leaders who have been effective in addressing the pandemic have been women. Looking ahead, Girl Scouts will continue to offer programming that builds the transformational female leaders of today and the future.
Q: Why did Girl Scouts join the CivXNow Coalition?
Batty: Our Girl Scout Movement understands the value of civic education and engagement. In the past twelve months, Girl Scout alums were more likely than non-alums to have worked with others to address an issue facing their community, advocate for a cause on social media, and haven written to, called, or visited an elected official to express their views.
GSUSA supports efforts that will generate greater commitment to, and investment in, civic education, through federal funding, state commitments, and private investments. We look forward to working with CivXNow Coalition to achieve these goals!
Q: Why was Girl Scouts interested in serving on the CivXNow Advisory Council, and what perspective do you feel the organization brings to the leadership of the CivXNow movement?
Batty: We believe Girl Scouts brings an important voice to the Advisory Council with real-world, real-time information to bolster our collective interests in civics education. CivXNow’s mission is closely aligned with Girl Scouts. As a nonpartisan organization, we are dedicated to improving policies and promoting research-based, results-driven practices in K-12 civics education. Girl Scouts’ DC office, in particular, is working very closely with CivXNow around opportunities for collaboration in order to continue to promote Girl Scouts’ Civics badges and other ongoing civics programming.
Q: How have you dealt with tension within Girl Scouts around this election, and even around the social issues that the country is dealing with now?
Batty: As you know, GSUSA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, but throughout our history, we have encouraged girls to participate in actions and activities they themselves are passionate about. The uncertainty of this past year has affected the entire nation, including the girls, parents, and volunteers, that make up our Movement. I am especially proud to have witnessed our girls stand by and support one another during these unprecedented times. Whether it’s connecting virtually with their troops for community and support, organizing contactless donations to first responders and frontline workers, making masks for those in their local communities, spreading awareness by promoting equality and inclusivity, or encouraging those of age to vote and educate themselves around present political matters, Girl Scouts continue to create positive change during times when we need it most.
Q: What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie? (And how many times have you been asked that question?)
Batty: If I had a box of cookies for every time I’ve been asked that question since stepping into the CEO role, I could fill my whole house! They are all delicious, but I would have to say my favorite is the classic Trefoils/Shortbread cookie. If I am in the mood for something a little sweeter, I also love the new Toast-Yay! cookie.