As the first Latina CEO to head the iconic girl-power organization, the Girl Scouts of the USA, Anna Maria Chávez shoulders a lot of responsibility. After all, 3.2 million Girl Scout members across the country and around the world look to the 44-year-old Mexican American as a powerful role model. “You have to believe in what you are doing and why you are doing it,” Chávez says. “I have the best job in the world because I get to go work every morning for millions of girls in every zip code in the nation and 92 countries. It’s an incredible thing and such a privilege.”
Growing up in small town of Eloy, Arizona, with her parents and grandmother, Nana, joining Girl Scouts helped open up Chávez’s eyes to the world beyond her town walls. “At the age of 10, I decided to become a lawyer due in large part to my Girl Scout experiences in rural Arizona,” she says. “Girl Scouting truly broadened my horizons and allowed me to dream about the world beyond the city limits of my hometown and inspired me to become a public servant. I’ve been on this path for 30 years.”
After graduating from the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law with a Juris Doctorate and a bachelor’s degree in American history from Yale University, Chávez launched a career as a public servant. She served as deputy chief of staff for urban relations and community development for the governor of Arizona and current US Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. She also advised the governor on housing and economic development issues, as well as issues impacting the Latino community. In fact, she was a catalyst behind the creation of the Raul H. Castro Institute, described as a “do tank” focused on issues that affect the Latino community in Arizona, including education; health and human services; and leadership and civic participation.
Still, “the most pivotal moment in my career came when I decided to leave public service,” Chávez says. “I’d spent my entire career in government service, but felt compelled to work with young people, and then the call came from Girl Scouts and the opportunity to serve as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas in San Antonio. I knew it was the opportunity I’d been waiting for and here I am today, chief executive officer of the entire national organization.”
Under her watch, Girl Scouts has broadened its ongoing efforts (over the past 10 years, the number of Hispanic Girl Scouts has increased by 55 percent) to welcome girls from all walks of life and to continue cultivating a new generation of young Latina entrepreneurs. “The country is going through demographic changes and that means the Girl Scouts has to change right along with them. We serve all girls and it’s imperative we remain an inclusive organization,” she says.
Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, describes Chávez as a “true inspiration” for young women in America. “She is already shaping the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators, academics, and corporate leaders,” Palomarez says. “At the helm of the Girl Scouts, Ms. Chavez is an admired role model and American leader who is well positioned to make a positive impact in the lives of millions among a strong and growing segment of the population—our young girls.”
Known for her hearty laugh which colleagues can hear all the way down the hall (“If my staff needs to find me, they just listen for my laughter!” Chávez jokes), boundless energy, and unwavering faith in what she does, she is a natural líder for the millions of girls who look to her—and the Girl Scouts—for empowerment. “My entire professional career has been about service, whether in government or now as part of the Girl Scouts,” she says. “That’s not going to change.”