Envisioning What's Next: Girl Scouts National Property Symposium

 Girl Scout CEO Sylvia Acevedo welcomes participants to the symposium.

Girl Scout CEO Sylvia Acevedo welcomes participants to the symposium.

This summer, Studio Outside has been working with the Girl Scout's leadership to create a framework that strategically consider their national property portfolio. The Girl Scout movement holds 112,000 acres in over 800 individual properties. Owned primarily by the 112 local councils around the country, creating a collective vision to maximize the value of this property is a great challenge.

The symposium took place over a day and a half at the STEM Center for Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedar. Near downtown Dallas and the wealth of national corporate leaders in science and technology, the camp sets an incredible example of how to join historically important activities (camping) and innovative new ideas (STEM).  It was a great setting to look at the larger issue of Girl Scout resources and the potential of their properties. Finding ways to maximize these opportunities to strengthen each council and provide girls the most engaging experiences is the ultimate goal.

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The gathering brought together over 60 individuals including Girl Scout national leadership, Girl Scout Council CEOs and leaders from councils around the Southwestern United States, and experts in a range of topics from real estate and economics to adventure play and camp design. We heard presentations from the Girl Scouts, the American Camp Association, Audubon, the Lower Colorado River Authority, HR&A Advisors, and Studio Outside Principal, Andrew Duggan. These presentations set the stage for an engaging day of work tackling the challenge of land ownership, management, and providing excellence in programming to girls.

This work emerged from a process that our studio has been through with the Girl Scouts of the Texas Oklahoma Plains and Northeast Texas councils starting in 2011. These initial projects introduced us to the challenges that the Girl Scout movement is going through as they consolidated from over 300 councils in the 2000’s to 112 councils today. This consolidation dramatically increased the amount of property a single council holds. Finding a way to effectively manage and maintain these properties, as well as providing diverse and exciting opportunities for girls is a huge challenge.  This process of study and engagement revealed a method to capitalize on the diverse natural environments of these larger council areas and create a progression of skill building and experience as girls move from camp to camp.

The symposium was focused on national issues, but used the context of Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma to drill down into the specifics of properties ranging from camps to headquarters. We used six themes that the Girl Scouts are developing to think about how to transform and maximize their opportunities; conservation and preservation, natural resources and agriculture, public/private development and investment, renters and outside uses, urban/suburban strategies, and programs.

 An ecological understanding of two northern Girl Scout Councils in Texas.

An ecological understanding of two northern Girl Scout Councils in Texas.

Using a series of activities, we strategized around each of the six themes and debated how they related to the Girl Scout mission, created financial sustainability, maintained historically important programing, and brought innovative ideas to the Girl Scout movements. Ultimately, diving into this challenging topic revealed a wealth of knowledge within the movement and the incredible opportunities and challenges that Girl Scout properties present.

By the end of the session we created a series of high level goals for each theme and five action items to achieve them. Together we explored ways to create new partnerships, share knowledge between councils, and expand the tools available for councils and the national organization to find innovative ways to maximize the value of their properties.