By Belinda Francis, Deputy Chief Commissioner (Growth, Strategies and Group Support)
Life goes by at a pretty hectic pace for me.
I’m one of millions of women whose life is filled with commitments and responsibilities: husband and children, family and friends, full time work. I’m also one of thousands of women in Australia who volunteer with Scouts – the largest youth development organisation in the world.
On International Women’s Day 2020, I’ll stand tall as I say that I’m a proud wife and mother, a proud woman and a proud Scout.
When my sons were young boys, they attended an ‘open night’ at the local Scout Hall. I had no expectations other than hoping they would have fun, make friends and learn skills. They did this. So did I. That decision changed my world. And still does, on a daily basis.
In addition to a professional career in financial services, technology and higher education, over the last 20 years I’ve also volunteered at schools, on committees and with sports clubs to support my children’s learning paths. The change in cultures I’ve experienced – from corporate finance to global tech to higher education to not-for-profits – has been a learning experience. But mostly I’ve learnt about me.
A few months after I walked into my first Scout Hall, I agreed to be the PR person to help promote the Group; not difficult given my background in marketing and communications. Then I became Group Leader (sort of a General Manager of a Scout Group) and gained formal qualifications through the Scouts Australia Institute of Training. In the years that followed I mentored and supported many young people. I coached other adults and was, in turn, coached by them. I took part in outdoor activities and gained skills in project management, risk management, negotiation, logistics and event management (even though we knew it as camping and having fun outdoors). Scouting is much more than you would expect.
As well as being Group Leader, I attended two Australian Jamborees; in 2010 as a journalist/photographer working on the daily paper, then in 2013 as the Director of Media and Promotions. A Jamboree is the most fun you will have with 10,000 children from all over Australia and around the world!
Following a three year break to focus on family, study and work, I returned to Scouts in 2017 in the role of Deputy Chief Commissioner. While this was not the position I expected to take on (I pictured myself helping with the Pen Pal Program), it has provided me with some amazing opportunities that would never have come my way in my professional career. I have been stretched beyond what I would have thought possible. And I’ve learnt skills and developed capabilities that have benefited me in my professional career at the university.
Is my story unique in Scouts? No. While our Founder, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, originally developed Scouts as a movement for boys, women have played a significant role since 1907.
Audrey Wade established the world’s very first Scout Troop in 1907. During WW1, women made up 65% of UK Group Leaders and this increased membership dramatically. Girls and young women were warmly welcomed as youth members of Scouting in NSW in 1971 and now are some of our most active Scouts, from aged 5 right up to 85 years of age. Women in Scouts now hold some of our most senior positions and are role models to our younger women.
All these women believed and continue to believe in Baden-Powell’s vision to empower and provide young people with life skills, discipline and an inclusive support network.
This same belief is what brought me and many girls and women of all ages and backgrounds to Scouts and keeps us active in this fabulous organisation. They support activity programs and are trainers. They are abseiling instructors and canoeing guides. They are youth support advocates. They manage grant applications and organise fundraising. They write strategy and lead our relationships with government and other community organisations. They are younger and older. They are sisters, mothers, aunts and grandmothers. They are strong, determined women who care deeply about young people and their place in our world. Females now make up around one third of our membership.
So, my message on International Women’s Day 2020 is you’re never too old and it’s never too late to learn new skills, to make a difference to others and to find ways to contribute to your world.
I’m a woman. I’m a Scout. And like most Scouting women, every day is an opportunity to do our best to make our world a little bit better than the day before.