In 2018, Chamathya Fernando was first elected to serve on the World Board of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) at just 25 years old.
Her appointment was the outcome of an unexpected vacancy, due to a resignation, and a board that was ready to push the needle having identified young women’s leadership as a new strategic priority. They chose to ring fence the opportunity specifically for young women.
Chamathya has been with the Movement for over 20 years, first joining the Sri Lankan Girl Guides Association (SLGGA) as a Little Friend at eight years old. She got her first taste of decision making while working towards her President’s Guide in 2010, the highest obtainable award of the SLGGA.
Chamathya said: “For my Presidents Guide project, I conducted health camps and provided reading glasses and medicine to low-income communities. It helped me learn lots of new skills. Because whether it is raising the funds, reaching out to stakeholders, or putting together a budget, you are essentially the decision maker within your own project.”
Chamathya gained exposure to national level decision-making processes when she became a member of the National Executive Youth Committee. And then became the founding member and campaign coordinator of the WAGGGS Stop the Violence (STV) campaign in Sri Lanka, with a team of 65 young women across the country. She then had the opportunity to take the STV campaign to Bangladesh, when she worked on a Asia-Pacific Membership Organisation to Membership Organisation (MO) outreach project.
This regional experience exposed Chamathya to different cultures and enabled her to better understand different country contexts. This global mindset was further expanded when at the age of 19 she had the opportunity to be a WAGGGS youth delegate to the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW), the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to promoting gender equality, alongside other young women from across the Movement.
Chamathya puts a large part of her success down to the support she had from her own leaders, and the examples that they set.
“From my Little Friend days, right up to the World Board nomination, my leaders gave me space to design, develop and execute projects, but they also knew when to provide critical guidance or help.
“This type of support is crucial when a young woman first steps up in her MO. Helping them to navigate the bureaucracy and processes that are so often hindrances to the creativity and ideas that drive us.”
With so much experience and support behind her, Chamathya felt ready to take on the challenge of serving on the World Board, but she admits now that when she first stepped into the role, she was looking to learn from other young women.
“At the time I was the only woman under the age 30 on the World Board. I had no direct peers to learn from so in many ways, I had to forge my own path.”
Chamathya was mentored on the World Board by its then chair, Ana Maria Mideros Gadea, who helped her get to grips with the responsibilities and challenges that came with her position. They worked together to ensure she had the skills and knowledge she needed to thrive. This proved particularly important as she joined in the middle of a WAGGGS restructure, and just before heading into a series of important regional conferences, and then of course, COVID-19 hit.
“I didn’t have a typical board experience, but I am thankful for the learning curve because the circumstances demanded that I adapt to different situations and it drove me to put in the extra effort to understand everything.”
Chamathya also found that much of her experience came in handy at the Board level. Her involvement in CSW and other intergovernmental processes helped her to navigate the various legal documents, and her negotiation skills were put to use as she navigated the diverse interests across the Movement. Additionally, she found that her professional experience gained in the corporate world in the areas of strategy, standardization, marketing, HR and accounting, applied well to her work on the board.
One of Chamathya’s highlights as a World Board member has been acting as the board’s focal point for the ground-breaking M32 Research project. Working with a team of young women researchers, the research sought to understand why more young women aren’t in governance roles – with its results set to transform the Movement.
“What we found in the research is that young women are ready to take up these positions. We just need to address the internal barriers that are holding them back.”
Martina Micaela Rial became a Girl Guide at eight years old and now sits on the National Board of Asociación Guías Argentinas.
Martina has felt empowered to make decisions ever since she joined the Movement.
Martina said: “I was always listened to about my personal progression and interests. I remember deciding my badges, selecting activities and expressing my views.
“When I was 13, I was on a camp when a major storm broke out and, alone with my Guider, I had to make decisions that affected my entire branch.
“That situation convinced me of the importance of making decisions in a timely manner in all areas, taking responsibility for the consequences of those decisions and bearing in mind that not making them can have undesirable consequences.”
After six years of being a Guider, Martina and her unit partner attended a training where they had inquired about outreach materials. A few days later, they were put in touch with the Chief of the National Communication and Outreach Committee, and she invited them to support the Committee in developing communication guidelines. While Martina didn’t have expertise in the field, her desire to help drove her to learn how to use graphic tools. She went on to become a member of the Committee for more than a year.
It was exactly Martina’s motivation, positive attitude and energy that led the Chief of the Committee to recommend her as her replacement, when she planned to step down at the next National Assembly.
Martina’s arrival at the National Board was not something she had planned: “It was something that was too far away, a very big responsibility and one I didn’t think I was qualified for.”
But with the National Board’s recommendation, she started to take the offer seriously.
“I had to consider the potential others saw in me and I finally decided to apply. From then on, for the remaining eight months until the Assembly, the outgoing Chief conducted a mentoring and transition period which helped me gain a much better understanding of the scope of headship and governance.
“When I was elected, I found that it was a space where all opinions were respected and heeded, which gave me more confidence and motivation because I felt supported in all I needed to do.
“I realised, too, that some of the barriers I’d put up existed only in my head. For example, I believed that distances were too large, but the reality is that technology facilitates fluid communication despite large distances.”
Since stepping up, Martina’s biggest challenge has been a lack of confidence in her own ability. But Martina has been able to overcome that thanks to the support of her colleagues.
“I’m glad I decided to listen to those people who were seeing qualities and capacities in me that I hadn’t. They helped take away some of my fears and enabled me to visualise myself in the role.
“As a result, I felt I could take on the challenge, to be more proactive, to be supported by others and share my fears with the rest of the National Board, who have welcomed me with open arms.”
Joelle Fausta Monsi is 27 years and has been a Girl Guide since she was 9 years old.
Joelle got her first taste of leadership when she unexpectedly became unit leader at a Guide camp in 2017. Since then, she’s risen through the ranks to become acting Administrative Secretary of the National Board of the Girl Guides in Benin.
Joelle first began developing her leadership skills by taking part in numerous national, regional and international training courses and programmes, designed specifically to help young women grow in confidence and prepare for decision-making roles.
She learned how to make decisions in the face of rapidly changing events at the Girl-led Action on Climate Change course. And she discovered how to devise project plans and make decisions to best implement it at WAGGGS’ Juliette Low Seminar. This international programme helped Joelle develop the self-confidence and self-esteem she needed to make decisions.
She also found the communications training particularly useful as it helped her to use language to get the best out of people and achieve her desired result.
Alongside training, Joelle has been supported by colleagues throughout the Movement. In Benin, there is a mentoring system so young women can learn from their colleagues and vice versa. Her current mentor is the Chief Commissioner for Benin - she gives her the technical know-how and space she needs to make decisions.
Joelle said: “Offering someone the opportunity to lead means believing in them and encouraging them to surpass themselves, to flourish.”
Although Joelle has always felt valued, it hasn’t all been easy.
“Every mission entrusted to me, even the smallest, was a challenge because responsibilities are challenges. Adapting and integrating is always the hardest thing to do in any new adventure.
“I also felt I had to prove to myself that I was worthy of the honour of being part of the National Board.”
But Joelle has been able to overcome even the toughest of situations through a mixture of tenacity, dynamism and perhaps even a little stubbornness. Some of the projects Joelle’s most proud of have involved difficult decision-making processes.
“When you have a problem, you have to calm down, reflect and work it through.”
Joelle’s passion for our Movement, along with her desire for new experiences and personal growth, motivated her to apply for her current role on the National Board. And since joining, she has made a huge contribution to Girl Guiding in Benin.
Joelle also helps the older members of the National Board know and understand young women. She enables them to plan activities and initiatives, using modern technology, that are relevant and impactful. She is proof that young women have the skills, motivation and energy needed to get things done!
Saudia Edghill has been in Girl Guiding since she was a child. She joined the Western Hemisphere Regional Committee in 2019, after being active in the Guyana Girl Guides Association for many years.
Saudia played an important role in Cultural Connections, a pre-conference event for young women in the Western Hemisphere, attending workshops and seminars on leadership, governance, decision making and networking. But it was at her very first regional conference that she decided to stand for the Regional Committee.
Saudia’s Chief and Deputy Chief encouraged her application. But despite their support and her experience both within her Membership Organisation (MO) and the Free Being Me programme, Saudia still had doubts about stepping up to the Regional Committee.
Saudia said: “I felt both ready and not ready to take on the position. I thought I knew what the role was about at a high level, but then I quickly learned there was a big difference between my understanding and reality!”
Since joining the Regional Committee, Saudia has impressed her colleagues with her ability to get things done. And she’s proud of the teamwork that’s helped her do so much, including creating a series of webinars for the Western Hemisphere related to COVID-19.
Saudia feels she’s benefitted from efforts within the Movement to get more young women into decision-making positions. For example, there’s a slot on the Western Hemisphere Regional Committee reserved for young women.
But not everyone Saudia has met on her leadership journey has been as encouraging as she would have liked.
“As a young person, there are older folks who are bent in their ways. Sometimes, they make remarks. Those remarks impact you as a young person, they can impact you negatively and it’s very demotivating when it happens.”
These comments may have been hard to take at times, but Saudia hasn’t let them hold her back.
“Despite negative remarks, which have been demotivating, I believe Guiding has helped me understand I have a voice to speak.
“And taking on decision-making positions within the Movement has also helped my professional career and education. The skills that I bring to my current job have evolved from Guiding.”
Saudia now wants other young women to grow and thrive within our Movement. She believes that every MO has a duty to do all it can to encourage and support young women to take on decision-making roles.
“By helping young women understand the benefits the Movement has to offer, MO’s can create an environment where every girl feels they can be the person they’re supposed to be.”
Carla Bou Aoun has been in Girlguiding for more than 20 years and is a member of the Executive Body of the Lebanese Girl Guides Association.
Carla’s leadership journey began when she became a commissioner at 22 years old. She progressed quickly after taking on numerous different roles and running many successful events, including a role that made her responsible for all of the logistics for her local Guiding branch. After mastering this role, Carla set her sights on becoming head of logistics at the national level.
However the National Board had other plans for Carla, offering her the role as the Assistant Head of Guides. Carla found the opportunity to work on a much larger scale too good to miss and accepted the role.
“I was a bit confused at the start because I was appointed to a role that was bigger than the one I had planned to undertake” Carla said. “The biggest challenge I faced was time management and juggling my responsibilities.”
But Carla received lots of support from members of the Executive Body and her Head of Branch, who helped motivate and encourage her. And she took the time to get to know people who had previously held her position, often asking them to act as mentors.
“My Member Organisation played an important role [too] by regularly organising training camps/days to remind leaders about the soft skills they need to overcome difficult and challenging situations, giving them the confidence they need to be able to adapt and overcome the challenges they might face.”
Carla also found international seminars and training courses really useful.
“Giving young leaders the opportunity to participate in international trainings and programmes is very motivational to young women, because it makes them realise they are part of the bigger picture and that they are not alone in the challenges they face.
“Taking part in WAGGGS’ Helen Storrow Seminar was a big plus. Having the opportunity to learn from others and share my own knowledge and experience was very constructive to me as a leader. Being able to see and understand how things work globally was also very enriching. And I felt more confident in my work with the branch when I got back to Lebanon.”
With the support of her colleagues and the knowledge she gained through training, Carla has thrived in her role.
“My biggest accomplishment to date has been to continue the work on the branch level throughout the pandemic, despite all the constraints it inflicted.
“I believe that as a young woman myself, I am very much aware of all the challenges and needs of younger members.”
Carla hopes that more young women leaders will share their stories as she has done.
“Success stories make young leaders realise that others have been able to successfully occupy decision-making roles. Highlighting the positive impact and support they got while being in these roles is also an utterly important source of motivation.”
After more than 20 years in Girlguiding, Sarah Hammoud is now a member of the Arab Regional Committee, a member of the Lebanese Federation Board and a member of her Component Association’s National Board.
“I started thinking about running for the Regional Committee right before the elections. I had been inspired by previous Arab leaders that had progressed to the Regional Committee and were good role models. And fortunately, I had the support of my Component Association, the Federation and all the members of the National Board.
But my path to leadership really all started when I attended World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts’ (WAGGGS’) Juliette Low Seminar in Kenya in 2009. Seeing the whole world in one room, made me feel passionate about being part of a global association - it made me realise that I wanted to make decisions at the highest possible level.
I became a leadership facilitator with WAGGGS and had the opportunity to facilitate sessions and trainings during seminars, regional conferences and international programmes. These helped prepare me for the leadership role I currently have.
Being in this role, I learnt how WAGGGS as the global body for the Movement functions and had the chance to expose myself to people from other cultures and countries. This helped a lot in getting me my role on the Regional Committee for the Arab region. Building contacts on both regional and global levels and speaking three out of the four WAGGGS official languages additionally helped me build my profile as a candidate.
When I decided to put myself forward for election, I still didn’t know what to expect or what was expected of me as a Regional Committee member I was also afraid of becoming part of a board that had no young women on it. I kept asking myself how would I cope? Would they accept me? Would they take my opinions into consideration? Would I be able to integrate?
But now I am on the Regional Committee, I find that having a mix of young members and others with more experience is actually very fruitful. I’ve also found that good communication is key.
I would say that all Regional Committees should actively look for engaged and motivated young women in their regions, because they are the ones who will pour unbelievable amounts of energy into the regional work.
When you find a motivated young woman, support her, empower her and she will give back more than you can imagine”