Smart Cookies

It’s a lot more than just selling cookies. Led by CEO Gail Hannemann, the Girls Scouts of Hawaii are on the move

Susan Sunderland
Wednesday - May 04, 2011
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Gail Mukaihata Hannemann and caroline Hayashi (chief operating officer) discuss the Girl scouts’ concept of transformational leadership

more than 23,000 cases of cookies baked in Kentucky and shipped to Honolulu.

But it’s not just a matter of making dough.

The $700 million Girl Scout cookie program is the largest girl-led business in the country.

“It is an educational tool and economic literacy program,” Kaneko says. “Through the cookie program, girls learn the importance of setting goals, developing individual and team strategy, collaborative decision making, earning money through hard work, sales techniques, business etiquette and budgeting.”

Today’s Girl Scout is being groomed to be a “smart cookie” for the new world order.

This strategic focus comes from five years of retrenching and reinventing the century-old tradition of Girl Scouting. As Girl Scouts of America embarks on its 100th anniversary next year, it is revealing itself as a new force in the global community.

“How so?” you ask, biting into a Dosido oatmeal-peanut butter cookie.

It is a tough crumb to swallow when an organization takes an honest look at itself in the face of possible extinction.

Over the years, America’s largest girls club has maintained its membership well enough, reaching more than 10 percent of girls ages 5 to 17. But the century-old organization was rattled when girls said adults weren’t paying attention to many issues they face in daily life.

These include over-scheduling, bullying (especially over the Internet and via cell phone text-messaging), “cutting” (self-mutilation) and teen pregnancy. Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of girls aren’t raising their hands in class because they’re afraid of being labeled smart - and being bullied for that.

After more than two years of research and input from tens of thousands of scouts and non-scouts, volunteers and staff, Girl Scouts of the USA undertook its first, wide-ranging overhaul.

Today it is a mean, lean, nimble machine advocating for programs that prepare young girls for responsible roles in life. Character-building is not a curriculum per se in many classrooms, so organizations such as the Girl Scouts are happy to fill that niche.

To motivate participants it has modified everything from its uniforms to the ways one can participate in its programs. One can be a member of a troop - preferred by younger girls - or participate “episodically” in a series, event, camp, travel pathway or virtual program.

Caroline “Carrie” Hayashi, Girl Scouts of Hawaii chief operating officer, refers to this as “transformational leadership” that implores young women to “discover, connect and take action” as empowering strategies.

Armed with Girl Scouts’ new program tools, publications and focused curricula, troop leaders are able to be effective counselors and facilitators. At

Nanakuli Intermediate, for instance, sessions on self-discovery are facilitated by slam poet Kealoha, who ignites a new approach to introspection and candor.

One girl writes: “I am not what they think I am. I am smart. I am sometimes funny. I am creative. I am not ugly. I am not hardcore. I am not a beach babe. I am not a streeter.”

The personal growth and self-esteem building process begins from there. Without an organization like Girl Scouts to guide the process, the situation could lapse into despair.

This is not a whim, Hannemann and her staff assert. The Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) today is a significant national resource on girls’ issues and a pre-eminent authority on youth leadership development.

Its research suggests that the model of one individual leader is moving to a model of shared leadership. Girls no longer identify with the command-and-control definition of leadership prevalent in our culture today.

(Hear that, bosses?) Clearly, the national and local organization has “changed it up.” It’s definitely not your grand-mother’s Girl Scouts anymore, or even your older cousin’s. And although cookie sales are still at the heart of its revenue-generating engine (about 40 percent in Hawaii), the resources are being allocated to more accountable and transparent measures of leadership development.

So there you have a big picture. Think about the contribution you make in helping the Girl Scouts reinvent itself and sustain its powerful influence on our community’s young people.

Those boxes of cookies nourish not only your snack cravings, but young minds that will manage our public and private enterprises tomorrow.

As for Gail Hannemann and why she shunned the focus on herself for this article - even challenging our request for a front cover photo - we now realize it was not false modesty or celebrity stigma. After all, she is an accomplished woman who’s been a U.S. congressional aide, public policy advocate, the City & County of Honolulu’s first lady - married to Mufi somebody - and patron of Hawaii’s Alliance of Arts Education.

Hanneman is a model of the Girl Scouts’ redefined leader. You can’t sell it if you don’t live it and personify it.

Smart cookie, eh?

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