Girl Scouts: A Business Case of Pivoting in a Pandemic

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Care for people, Rising to the Challenge

Girl Scouts are providing cookies to first responders as they pivot from their normal troop activities.

When the coronavirus shelter in place began, it was in the middle of cookie sales season for the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois (GSNI). More than just a delicious annual activity, the cookie sales are a tremendous learning opportunity for the girls.

“The cookie program is the largest girl-led entrepreneurial program in the world,” says Fiona Cummings, CEO of GSNI. (Cummings is a current student in our Center’s Ph.D./D.B.A. Program in Values-Driven Leadership.) In her council, over 80% of girls participate in the program, learning basic entrepreneurial skills.

The cookie program is also the main source of revenue for Cummings’ council, and one of the ways the troops fund their own activities.

“Obviously COVID-19 has turned a lot of this on its head,” says Cummings. “We had cases and cases of cookies left and needed to find good use for them.”

Cummings and her team were quick to pivot, finding ways to use the remaining boxes of cookies as an asset to benefit the organization’s goals and care for the community.

First, Cummings and her team decided to borrow an idea from another council and launched GSNI CARES. The GSNI CARES campaign allowed customers to donate funds so troops can give donated Girl Scout Cookies to those on the frontlines as soon as it is safe to do so. Cookies will reach first responders, health care providers, and other essential workers as a way to show appreciation for their service during the coronavirus pandemic. Donations help show love to essential workers while helping Girl Scouts reach their entrepreneurial goals and also supporting their future community service projects and troop activities.

Thanks to the generosity of community members, over $6,000 was raised to buy cookie treats for first responders and essential workers.

At the national level, Girl Scouts USA also took cash donations through the Cookie Cares program to provide cookies to first responders and others.

Next, GSNI realized they could turn some of the cookies into free advertising for the council. Cases of cookies were donated to local radio stations to be used as prizes for callers, in exchange for on-air mentions of the Girl Scouts. The advertising helps GSNI advance their recruitment goals, and the free cookies bring good will to the community.

Finally, GSNI wondered if they could use the cookies to help in their advocacy work. The council raises awareness of human trafficking, which is believed to have increased during the COVID-19 lockdown. In Illinois, the average age of the girls who are exploited is 12 to 14 years old.

To raise awareness of this social problem, GSNI attached notes to boxes of cookies, and handed them out at three truck stops in the district. The notes thanked truckers for keeping the nation moving during the coronavirus, and shared resources for reporting suspected incidents of trafficking.

“I am immensely proud of the courage, confidence and character of our girls and equally the determination and resilience of our volunteers during these challenging times,” says Dr. Kathy Hannan, chair of the national board for the Girl Scouts USA, and also a graduate of our doctoral program.

Reflecting on what this season has meant overall, Cummings says, “We have pivoted.” Like many other businesses and organizations, the Girl Scouts have scrambled to find new products and services, and new means of delivery. The result is an example that the girls can learn from, but so can other leaders.

For more examples of values-driven leadership during the coronavirus, visit our Rising to the Challenge archive.

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