I have been a member of the Girl Scout movement for over 50 years, and as an adult, I am still learning leadership skills through girl scouting. I stay involved because I enjoy being part of a sisterhood which is inclusive, girl-led, in which girls feel safe to succeed and unleash the power of the G.I.R.L (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader).

Girl Scouts Dakota Horizons serves girls throughout North Dakota and South Dakota, and parts of Minnesota and Iowa. If I could name only one thing girls learn when they’re involved with Girl Scouts, it’s that they gain the confidence to tackle new things. From building robotic hands to creating resources that enable new immigrants to learn to read English, our girls have done amazing things for more than 100 years. Through girl scouting, they receive the encouragement, guidance, training, and confidence they need to grow into women who lead by example and do great things for their communities, their nation, and the world.

In the Girl Scout movement, we have always known that girls are the key to our collective future. Gender balance in the workplace and in the public sphere are vital to ensuring that every voice is heard and every outlook is considered. To us, there’s no mystery why corporate boards with more gender balance outperform male-dominated boards. One of the best things we can do to ensure the long-term strength of the United States is to invest in girls. Women bring an invaluable perspective to the courtroom, the classroom, and the caucus room.

Girl Scouts is the best leadership experience for girls in the world, created specifically with and for girls. The Girl Scout Leadership Experience is a one-of-a-kind leadership development program that pairs girls with strong female role models and mentors who help each girl develop her potential. At Girl Scouts, girls find a safe space where they are free to just be themselves without the pressures and social anxieties that can come from a mixed-gender environment. Our leadership model is designed to meet their interests and needs because it’s collaborative and places importance on a diversity of perspectives.

Leadership doesn’t happen by accident, and because of Girl Scouts, I can look back on my career, and know the GSLE was responsible for my successes. I earned my master of public administration degree from the University of North Dakota, but before that, as a Girl Scout, I earned the highest honor you could achieve at that time — the Curved Bar award. (Today, it’s known as the Gold Award.) During my professional career, I was appointed to the North Dakota Public Service Commission in 1993 by then-Gov. Ed Schafer, as the first woman to serve on that commission. When I retired, I did so as president of the Public Service Commission.

Creating more female leaders means starting young and making sure today’s girls are acquiring the skills they will need to take on the 21st century leadership roles of their futures. Through our more than 100 years of experience, Girl Scouts has become the experts at giving girls the tools they need to empower themselves by teaching them that their voices count, they must stand up for what they believe in, and they have the strength to take the lead. Our programs are specifically designed with girls in mind.

I’m also author of the books "Spectacular North Dakota Hikes — Bring the Dog," and "Important Voices, North Dakota’s Women Elected State Officials Tell Their Stories," both published by the Institute of Regional Studies at North Dakota State University. Because of girl scouting, I followed where my passions led me, in both my business and creative life.

The Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award in girl scouting, is earned by fewer than 6 percent of Girl Scouts annually. The Gold Award requires girls to demonstrate their leadership skills by addressing a local or global issue. Girls typically spend one to two years on their project and must show the project will have long term benefits. Girls’ projects range from ones that address poverty to illiteracy to environmentalism. Girl Scouts who earn the Gold Award are truly noteworthy.

I encourage all former and current Girl Scouts to actively examine how girl scouting has made a difference in their lives and in their communities.

Susan Wefald is board president of the Girl Scouts-Dakota Horizons.

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