"Want to join our Girl Scouts troop?"

It was 2016, and to Sofia Chang’s five-year-old daughter, the invitation from her preschool friend could not have been more exciting. Could she please join? she asked her mom. Now that she and her friends went to different schools, she explained with a maturity beyond her years, she never got to see them anymore. Up until that moment, Chang, who immigrated to the United States and grew up working in her parents’ restaurant, had never imagined being involved with Girl Scouts. However, inspired by her daughter’s enthusiasm, Chang not only signed her up but also dove into volunteering with the troop herself.

Six years later, at 11 years old, her daughter remains an active member of the same troop. As for Chang? In January 2022, she became the first Asian-American CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. in its 110-year history. 

Chang, who arrived at Girls Scouts after a two-decade career at the television network HBO, views her new role as “the perfect marriage of my personal and professional journeys.” Just as HBO had to reinvent itself for the streaming-video era, Girl Scouts is being reimagined for current and future generations of girls in the wake of declining membership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enrollment trends are already starting to reverse, however, and Chang says the current environment presents an unprecedented growth opportunity for Girl Scouts. She explains how that could create a new generation of leaders for tomorrow.  “Our vision of female empowerment is stronger than ever,” she says. “But girls are different than they were 10, 15, 20 years ago.” 

Chang, who was recently named one of the 100 most impactful Asian-American leaders in the US, spoke with Korn Ferry about her vision for Girl Scouts, reaching girls of today, what her childhood taught her about leadership, and what it means to represent both women and Asian-Americans as a CEO. 

KF: You are just over 100 days into the job. Any surprises so far?

Chang: It has been a pleasant surprise to walk into a boardroom where being a woman of color made me part of the majority and not the minority. The incredible human force behind this organization—we have a network of 700,000 volunteers, for instance—has also been really invigorating and inspiring.

How does being one of the few female Asian-American CEOs in America tie into your vision for Girl Scouts?

Representation matters, and it is something I take very seriously. It’s an impactful role to be in, and I'm grateful and humbled by the opportunity. I also believe you don’t have to wait to be first to have an impact. Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to mentor, advocate, and bring people along whenever I could.

What role does diversity and inclusion play in your growth plans for Girl Scouts?

There are 25 million girls in the United States between the ages of 5 and 17. We are only reaching a small percentage of them. There is an opportunity everywhere in every demographic. My job is to make sure this organization is relevant and inclusive for everyone. 

How are you going to do that?

We are a 110-year-old brand that people love. We have been around this long because we know how to stay relevant. We do this by creating programs that girls need and want. Girls want to take on the biggest challenges of our time—from inequality and food scarcity to mental health and sustainability, and more. What you’ll see from Girl Scouts is more of what girls today are asking for: to pursue their passions, and for us to incorporate that goal into our day-to-day leadership activities.

You've been on a listening tour over the last few months. What are you discovering from the feedback?

There’s so much heart for Girl Scouts, and it’s gone through so many generations. If you speak to Girl Scouts, there’s a deep connection to this organization, and I think our goal, my goal, is to bring that connection to more girls out there who may not know what Girl Scouts could mean for them in their lives.

How do you plan to bring that connection to more girls?

By expanding how Girl Scouts thinks about community. Historically, our focus has been local: my town, my troop. But girls today want to operate on a bigger stage and have access, which means we need to think about community differently. It isn’t just your neighborhood or the people around you. Now you can grow community globally. We will continue to grow and support our individual troops; I would also like to connect them beyond their local community—partnering with other women and leadership groups, brands, and donors, for instance. We have more impact when we’re standing beside each other, right?

What did you learn from helping lead HBO’s transition from pay-television network to digital streaming service that can help you reimagine Girl Scouts?

It comes down to a single question: How do you bring your product to consumers today? At HBO, it was a digital transformation—rethinking delivery models and engagement experiences. At Girl Scouts, it’s the same thing. We need to evolve to meet the female leaders of tomorrow where they are today. It’s still early days for me, but we will continue to build on the breadth and depth of our girl programs, evolve our engagement experiences, and consider new delivery models. We live in a tech-intense world, so there’s opportunity here.

But parents likely won’t be on digital platforms, and a lot of your job will be convincing them about the value of Girl Scouts to their child’s development. How do you plan to win them over?

I think the mission of Girl Scouts, the opportunity to gain life skills, and to develop a network that girls can have for life will resonate with parents. It did with me. As a parent, what is most important to me is what appeals to and engages my daughter. Beyond parents, though, it’s also important for me to think about how to provide mentorship and advocacy by engaging with more segments of the population, such as young women who are just entering the workforce. This would provide an incredible learning opportunity for the girls to gain those experiences firsthand.

“I believe my purpose is to utilize my business skills and experience to create impact, mentorship, and advocacy for more women and girls around the world.”

How does your personal experience as a child of immigrants inform your values and purpose, and how do they align with those of Girl Scouts?

I came to the US from Brazil, where I was born. The first languages I spoke were Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese. My parents never learned English, so from a very early age I was helping the family. As children, my sister and I started working in our family restaurant in Philadelphia to help make ends meet. I was talking to adults, translating, negotiating, thinking on my feet, problem-solving, and making decisions, decisions that came with responsibility—all to help my parents run the business. These experiences helped me learn business skills, build great communications skills, and develop resilience and courage, all of which helped connect the dots to becoming a leader. 

I believe my purpose is to utilize my business skills and experience to create impact, mentorship, and advocacy for more women and girls around the world. That’s what Girl Scouts does—it provides an environment for girls like my daughter to develop those same skills early on so they can practice leadership before they’re in the high-stakes environments where it really has to be second nature. At Girl Scouts, girls get opportunities to learn life skills in a fun, dynamic, and supportive environment. 

​​What can the corporate world learn from Girl Scouts about increasing equality and elevating women?

We are the largest girl-leadership organization there is, we have a presence in every zip code, we serve as a unifier. We have more than 700,000 volunteers, and we provide our girls with peer networks, access to mentors and sponsors, and opportunities to learn and grow as leaders. Creating that type of environment in a corporate setting is crucial to advancement in the workplace, and it is certainly part of our mission. We are not a single-focus organization like a sports team, or a music or technology program. Girl Scouts is a melting pot of diverse programs, people, and places.

Last question: What’s your stance on the cookies?

Who doesn’t love a Girl Scout cookie? The first year my daughter was a Girl Scout, I volunteered to be a “cookie mom,” which is the Scout mother who collects all the shipments from everyone in the troop. For weeks there were boxes of cookies everywhere. You couldn’t get through my front door. There were boxes in the shower—all over the place. While it is the ultimate entrepreneurship program, it is one of many programs that we offer. And picking a favorite cookie is tough—but I do love the classic shortbread Trefoils.