Last month, Scouts Canada held its Annual General Meeting in Ottawa. The AGM itself is pretty short – it only lasts about an hour and is very structured and formal – but it overlapped with the National Conference for Council Key 3s and the national leadership teams. This made for a great chance to catch up with Scouters from across Canada and to hear about what is going on with our Groups and Councils. Some of our Voting Members (representatives from each Council who vote at the AGM) also attended in person, with others participating online, and it was great to spend time with them.
The conference saw a lot of open discussion about the state of Scouting in Canada. There was a good overview of some of our newer programs, including Group Commissioner Training (over 330 GC’s trained in 2018-19, with 93% recommending the program), as well as updates on longer-standing priorities such as Safe Scouting and property operations. I thought there was a real sense of energy and momentum in all the sessions, matched with robust conversations about where we need to focus in the coming year.
This focus needs to continue to be on driving membership growth and welcoming more youth into Scouting. Like similar organizations in Canada and in other countries, our numbers have seen a long-term decline, compounded this year by the decision of our largest partner to establish its own youth programme. Addressing this decline is the top priority for the Board of Governors, and it’s why we have supported and funded programs such as Group Commissioner Training and the Group Support Model. We firmly believe that action at the local level will be most successful: Scouting is local, happening in neighbourhood Groups with locally-based Scouters. We want to reinforce Group Commissioners and Section Scouters, and enable them to deliver amazing programming while building up (growing) their Sections.
As well as those programs, the Board has also approved a significant increase in investment (spending) in this new Scouting year to drive membership growth through extra initiatives to support new Group start-ups and to help train Scouters on the skills they need.
These new programs and the new investments mean change: a shift away from Areas, greater emphasis on the role of the Group Commissioner, and new support models. I know that every organisation struggles with change – it doesn’t matter if we’re a not-for-profit, a small business, or a big corporation. Nobody enjoys the process, especially when we’ve invested so much time and energy in the previous model, and it’s even harder when we feel the pressure of having to grow our membership numbers.
My ask is that we tackle this change as Scouts. That means helping one another, helping people who may have a new role, asking questions to fully understand what is going on – and fully answering questions when asked. It also means we should assume ‘positive intent’ when dealing with our colleagues or hearing about something new, and remembering that we all share the goal of helping develop well-rounded youth.
Our Annual Report is now available online, and I’d encourage you to take a look at the summary of our activity from the past year. Our youth are having meaningful Scouting experiences at jamborees, moots and camps, and (most importantly) at regular weekly programming with their Groups. From the number of nights camped or kilometres hiked, through to the number of STEM activities or trees planted, we’re having a truly positive impact.
The report also has a view of our financial position, which I would characterise as strong. We’re a not-for-profit organisation, but we can use language from the business world to describe how we’re doing. Scouts Canada is well capitalised (we have a strong asset base); is not reliant on debt (we don’t borrow money); is leveraging alternate revenue streams (using fundraising income and bequests to invest in new initiatives: the best example being Group Commissioner Training); and is profitable and sustainable (we are able to fund ongoing operations from in-year revenues).
I hope you are able to continue having great Scouting adventures as we get deeper into winter — all the best for the holidays!
Yours in Scouting,