International Women’s Day offers the opportunity to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in lives of others in our country.
When mentioning the word “Scouting” people picture it to be an organisation which is predominantly male. However, in South Africa, Mrs Milly Siebrits has been leading the way for SCOUTS South Africa for the past 11 years. Initially as the project manager and since 2007 as Chief Executive Officer. She has been instrumental in spearheading the revitalization of South African Scouting in order to ensure a holistic approach to youth development and to address the current societal and environmental needs.
We spoke to her about being a woman leading a predominantly male-perceived organisation where adventure, environmental preservation and values prevail.
Milly joined the Scouting Movement in 2003 just after returning from Ireland where she had worked for Ernst & Young for a number of years. “When we came back to South Africa I wanted to work for an organisation where I would be able to give back to communities. The Scouting Movement gave me that opportunity, the chance to make a difference”, she explains with a smile. “When I was given the position of Chief Executive Officer in 2007 it was a challenge I was more than ready to take on! Yes Scouting is perceived as a predominantly male organisation, but I am very driven and at times headstrong and I had the mentorship of the late Garnet de la Hunt. Working for the Scouting Movement is very different as we live according to the Scout values and promise, as such open-mindedness and respect are held to the highest standard and most people accepted my appointment. I say most people because it does require a mind shift to have women in Scouting, not only me as the CEO, but since 2000 the Scouting Movement in South Africa is open for both boys and girls. Many of the sisters of the Scouts also wanted to join the Movement where their brothers had so much fun. Additionally we saw the need to provide activities in rural and disadvantaged areas for girls who had no outlet for their creative and adventurous spirit. We do cater for that adventurous girl,” she smiles. “At present 35% of our national membership are girls and in provinces like KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo this number rises to 50%. In reality this means we have a lot of mixed gender Scout Groups and more female Scout Leaders as it is our requirement to have female adult leaders if you have girls in your troop.”
When it comes to her management –style Milly laughs and says “Sometimes people say that women have a more emotive management style, whereas men are more goal orientated. For an organisation based on volunteerism, values and youth empowerment I think I have developed a management style that is a little of both. Managing a volunteer organisation is very different to being CEO of a corporation. Changes and new initiatives need to go through consultation processes and hence everything takes a little longer than in the corporate field.”
So what keeps Milly in the Scouting Movement? “The impact Scouting has on both children and adults cannot be found anywhere else! Scouting changes their lives, allows them to find strength within, push their boundaries, lead and succeed. It is rewarding to be a part of this. Over the years I have witnessed so many precious moments and it’s hard to pinpoint my favorite ones but the Food for Life programme is dear to my heart. SCOUTS South Africa initiated FFL whereby children and youth are trained to establish and maintain vegetable gardens and hence contributing to the alleviation of hunger in communities. This programme has now been rolled out all over Africa and is helping thousands of people. I was also very proud when we received the “Gift for Peace” Award for our HIV/AIDS Programme from the World Scout Bureau. The Scouting Movement is currently undergoing a revitalization and when the former National Scout Council unanimously voted for the change to go ahead, that was a great feeling and an exciting path to venture on.”
In addition to being the CEO of one of the biggest youth movements in the country, Milly is also a wife and a mother of two young children. When asked how challenging it is to combine her position as CEO and being a mom she laughs and says “Very! But I have a very good husband! I do feel though that it is important for woman to take on these positions in society, despite what the perception on women in leading roles may be, as it sets a good example for our children and youth today. My mother was a strong role model for me, she raised us, worked and got her doctorate. I hope that I am setting a strong example for my daughter in that she can be and do whatever she wants to do in life! All she needs to do is “Be Prepared…” which just happens to be the Scouting motto!”
More information or an interview with Mrs Milly Siebrits: