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Girlguiding UK on its online overhaul, social influencers and helping young women find their way in an ‘always-on digital world’


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

October 11, 2016 | 7 min read

The Guide Association started life in 1909 after a handful of girls gatecrashed the first ever Scout Rally, refusing to accept that scouting was "just for boys". Over 115 years later, the organisation has kicked off the first stage of what its describing as a “girl-led,” digital transformation.

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Girlguiding UK on its online overhaul, influencers and helping young women find their way in an ‘always-on digital world’

The modernisation of the charity’s digital platforms follows on from a renewed focus on keeping pace with the issues girls face in society, a mandate that has been ongoing since Julie Bentley was announced as chief executive in 2012. Within days of her appointment she had proclaimed Girl Guides as “ultimate feminist organisation,” and early last year the group launched a ‘Breaking Barriers’ badge girls can proudly display on their sash to show they understand the limitations faced by women and girls around the world.

As the first part of its plan, and following extensive consultation with girls and young women, the parent group of the Rainbows, Brownies, Girl Guides and Senior Section has overhauled its website to feature examples of the impact guiding has had on girls’ lives and within their own communities.

“Girlguiding has always changed as the lives of girls and an important part of what that means today is embracing digital transformation – to help us bring fun, adventure friendship and new experiences to lives of even more girls and young women,” Girlguiding’s director of PR and communications, Becky Hewitt told The Drum.

“We know that digital can make us an even more effective charity - our new site is just the first step. Our aim is to look at all areas of our strategy, being our best, and asking ourselves the question: ‘how can digital help us to do this better?’”

Creating a 'girl-only space'

Just three years ago, Girlguiding altered the wording of its oath “to serve God and country,” instead asking girls to promise to “be true to myself and develop my beliefs,” as well as serving the Queen and their community. The change was implemented to ensure all young women, whether they're religious or not, feel welcome in the Guides and was undertaken following a public consultation which courted responses from 44,000 people.

Following further open discussions, digital agency Zone has designed and created the charity’s new website to tell Girlguiding’s story in girls’ and volunteers’ own words as well as enhance what the charity offers its members offline. The new device-responsive site consolidates previous sub-sites into one online hub for the charity’s half a million members, parents and other supporters. According to the company the online refresh marks the start of Girlguiding’s journey to co-create with girls what digital guiding could mean in the future.

The charity wants girls to be able to participate in guiding digitally as well as face-to-face, build up their confidence and help them foster their interests in a "girl-only space," according to Hewwit, who asserts that the new site is just the first step.

“Girlguiding is all about offering girls adventures like flying down a zip wire for the first time, encouraging them to get outside and explore the world around them and try new things, and empowering them to make a positive difference in their communities,” notes Hewitt.

“We wanted our new website to bring to life the fun and adventure on offer – to help everyone understand the positive difference Girlguiding makes to girls every day. None of this would be possible without the support of our 100,000 volunteers so we also wanted our website to be a real support to them – and offer them all the inspiration and information they need to deliver brilliant guiding.”

Helping girls navigate an 'always-on digital world'

Beyond its own website, Girlguiding UK also runs initiatives to help girls thrive in a digital society.

Its 2015 Girls Attitude Survey found that thousands of girls as young as seven years-old are concerned about their mental well-being, and that 62 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 know a girl their age who has experienced a mental health issue. Meanwhile, this year's study found that close to half (49 per cent) of girls aged 11 to 21 said fear of abuse online makes them feel less free to share their views, but 46 per cent agree that social media empowers them to speak out about things they care about.

On this point, Hewitt nods to the group's Think Resilience Peer Education programme which gives girls the tools to build their mental well-being.

"We know that girls can do anything if they’re not held back by the stress and pressure of every day life. This includes living in an always-on digital world," she adds.

In 2014, the group launched its first 'Body Confidence' badge and just this week it unveiled a social media campaign to make the public rethink the language they use to praise or compliment young women. The #YouAreAmazing push looks to inspire adults to laud girls for their achievements rather than their appearance.

Championing role-models

As social media influencers like Zoella and Michelle Phan continue to redefine celebrity and grow in popularity among brands, The Drum quizzed Hewitt on her thoughts on influencers and whether they could play a role in Girlguiding's digital plans.

"We absolutely believe that girls should have strong, positive and inspiring role-models from all walks of life – and we are always open to building those relationships," she says.

When the Guides asked its Senior Section members (girls aged 14 to 26-years-old) who their most inspiring role models under 25 were they named stars like Emma Watson and The Hunger Games' Amandla Stenberg.

"They inspire girls to make change and have a positive impact on the world around them, whether that be through campaigning and social action or sport and adventure," she continues.

"Just this week, we’ve been celebrating the fantastic success of Paralympian and Brownie Leader Ellie Simmonds and tennis star Laura Robson was our Big Brownie Birthday Champion - we look forward to working with many more amazing women in the future."

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