Washington Magazine reports that Washington University in St. Louis Alumna Villie Appoo employs social work principles to lead the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois in her role as CEO.
After 33 years with Grace Hill Neighborhood Health Centers, Appoo joined GSSI in 2009. With the new job, she inherited a $1.2-million deficit and a contentious merger of two councils that led to a reduction in force of nearly one-third of the staff.
“Girl Scouts is more than cookies, camping and crafts — it’s a leadership experience that helps girls discover who they are, reach their full potential, and it helps them become contributing members of society.” —Villie Appoo.
Facing challenges that might make even a good Girl Scout swear, Appoo guided the merger to a successful conclusion in four months and balanced the budget within the year. She emerged from the fray with some new skills — and goals.
“When I retire, I would love to do it again, to take troubled agencies and help them turn around,” Appoo says.
As a Girl Guide in Mumbai, Appoo experienced the rewards of service through camping trips with kids from the Society for the Education of Crippled Children. Later, as a student at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai studying sociology and psychology, she visited India’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences, where she later earned a master’s degree.
With a retention rate of more than 64 percent — enviable on a national scale and an increase in membership for the first time in many years — GSSI today boasts 14,000 girls and more than 4,800 volunteers. Part of the council’s success in reversing the national trend in declining membership and keeping girls interested stems from efforts to boost the “cool factor” of Girl Scouting. Some of these initiatives include creating opportunities such as earning trips to Puerto Rico, establishing a triathlon, and recruiting on Facebook.
As she shapes GSSI’s future, Appoo laughs about the one drawback to her work: putting on weight, thanks to the mountains of baked goods her mostly female employees bring into the office. But, overall, being at the helm of the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois is a great fit for a social worker like Appoo.