Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock sits down with Scouting magazine’s editors to discuss his vision for the future of Scouting.
WAYNE BROCK: In the broadest sense, it’s about delivering a quality Scouting experience to the youth of America by ensuring that Scouting remains appealing, relevant, and accessible regardless of someone’s cultural heritage or economic circumstance.
SCOUTING: What else do you plan to do in this role?
W.B.: Introduce technology to enhance the experience for youth as well as remove administrative burdens from leaders and councils so they can spend more of their time delivering the program. There is a high demand for this, and we have a very dedicated team working on it, although it’s a multi-year project.
SCOUTING: We’ll discuss technology more later, but first tell us what you learned from your predecessor, Bob Mazzuca.
W.B.: Bob was willing to take bold action. One example is the Summit Bechtel Reserve. If that’s not a bold action, I don’t know what is. Bob had the managerial courage to do what is right for the BSA. If there’s anything I’ve learned from him it’s get your facts together, listen to all the input, then make your decisions and move forward.
SCOUTING: Except for recently, the BSA membership has been declining slightly each year, especially in Cub Scouting. Why the retention problem with Cub Scouts?
W.B.: I think it has more to do with retaining the leaders. It appears from our research, if we retain the leaders, the kids seem to stay. The question is: What do we have to do to make it easier for leaders to understand and implement the program?
SCOUTING: Any ideas?
W.B.: There were significant membership declines from 1972 to 1978, so this big study was done. If you read it, the study was about the changes that were going on in society and figuring out how the Boy Scouts could adapt to those changes but still remain true to our mission. Back then, it was going from a rural to an urban society and from mom staying home to mom working or single-parent families. Today, it’s cultural changes with more diversity. They said in 1978 that Scouting must adapt to these changes. They were right!
SCOUTING: You’re saying we didn’t adapt?
W.B.: We did, but now the circumstances are different. The thing is, there is no simple answer. We are competing with programs where parents just drop off their child. They’re not asked to get involved like they are in Scouting. Let’s face it: For a boy to fully benefit from Scouting, his parents have to be engaged, too.
SCOUTING: So, we’re doing our best to adapt.
W.B.: Right, but it’s not easy. One of the attempts to adapt happened in the ’70s, and it backfired on us.
SCOUTING: De-emphasizing the outdoors in Scouting?
W.B.: Yep. That is how many interpreted it, although that was not the intent. If you take the big cities—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles—a lot of things you have to do to be a Scout are not accessible to those kids. To try to reach them, there was a path to Eagle Scout that didn’t require Scouts to camp. This change was not well accepted. We have to be very careful not to get away from our mission. Kids of all cities and cultures benefit from an outdoor experience, so we need to keep the outdoor experience as a terrific tool to teach kids.
W.B.: Yes, but it’s somewhat different today. I think most people now realize you have to adapt to remain relevant.
SCOUTING: Is technology the BSA’s biggest competitor for gaining kids’ interest?
W.B.: Our national president, Wayne Perry, said in his introductory speech at the National Annual Meeting that he believes it’s electronics. It’s kids staying inside and playing video games. Other people are going to tell you that it’s sports. I think it’s a combination of these things and others.
SCOUTING: So how does the BSA compete?
W.B.: Have you ever heard the dog food joke? This company sells dog food, and their sales are going down, down, and down. The CEO calls all his top managers together, and they are talking about how they can turn themselves around. They start saying, “We’ve got to get better placement on the store shelves.” “We need better packaging.” “We need more salesmen.” Then this new man raises his hand and says, “There’s one other problem: The dogs don’t like the food.” We have to make sure we have the best food.
SCOUTING: But Scouts love the BSA’s “food,” right?
W.B.: Right. It’s more about image, especially for older youth. I’ll never forget this quote from a study we did. This one boy said, “What Scouts do is cool, but being a Scout is not cool.”
SCOUTING: What’s being done at the national level to make Scouting cool?
W.B.: The question is not how do we make it cool; it’s how do we let youth know how cool it really is. One thing we’re doing is a new TV show scheduled to air in early 2013 on the National Geographic Channel called Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? Boys will see just how fun Scouting is.
SCOUTING: What’s the main argument from Scout leaders against technology?
W.B.: Some leaders don’t think there’s any place for technology within Scouting. They say Scouting is a place where youth should go to experience nature and should not have their devices around. Others think technology is necessary to be relevant. That’s the cultural war we’re in today.
SCOUTING: What are some examples of ways the BSA plans to use technology?
W.B.: If you come to the jamboree in 2013, technology will be very integrated into the program. There will be an app for your phone that will show you all about the jamboree and where you are, what your schedule is, where to find the different activities. To take full advantage of all this, Scouts will have to bring their mobile devices with them.
SCOUTING: What else will be cool about the Summit?
W.B.: All of our high-adventure bases are pretty unique. The Summit is going to be unique also. It will have things that you can’t get at the other three, such as whitewater rafting and mountain biking.
SCOUTING: And zip-lines. Didn’t you go down one there?
W.B.: It was great! It was a lot of fun. The one I was on, you get up to about 40 miles an hour. [Laughs] My biggest fear was stopping.
SCOUTING: It’s clear the Summit is designed to help with recruiting at the national level. But what makes volunteers so uniquely qualified to recruit at the community level?
W.B.: The main thing is they are passionate about the program. We need leaders to step forward because people respect them, respect what they have to say about Scouting. One-on-one communication recruits more youth than any advertisement or e-mail. Your next-door neighbor or someone at your church has a lot more impact.
SCOUTING: And that applies to recruiting Hispanics or other underserved ethnic groups?
W.B.: I’ve often wondered what it would be like to move to another country, have a child of a young age, not speak the language, not understand the culture, and have someone invite my son to join a program that I know nothing about. Would I let him? It would be difficult. For me, what it would take is for somebody who I respected to endorse the program, to say this is a good thing for my child.
SCOUTING: Scouting’s not the only game in town, though. What would you tell parents to convince them that Scouting is the best place for their son?
W.B.: We are values-based, and Scouting teaches them how to make ethical decisions over a lifetime, like our mission says. It’s one of the greatest places for youth to learn about leadership, service to others, and being an active participant in the community. In Scouting, it’s about making the person a better person, not just learning a skill. It’s nice to learn how to build a fire and cook, but that’s the means, not the end.
SCOUTING: And, of course, the BSA helps Scouts be “Prepared. For Life.” What does that mean to you?
W.B.: To me, it means preparing young people to face whatever challenges lie ahead of them as adults. I really think we have better brothers, uncles, fathers, and citizens in general because of Scouting. I’ve had so many people tell me over the years about the impact Scouting has had on their lives. It’s not just those who earned Eagle. Some guys just had a great Scoutmaster who took an interest in them and made them feel good about themselves.
SCOUTING: Another aspect of “Prepared. For Life.” is preparing a boy for a career, right?
W.B.: That’s right. How many times have you heard people say that what they ended up doing as their vocation was introduced to them in Scouting? I’ve heard that Steven Spielberg credits Scouting for getting him interested in cinematography and making movies.
SCOUTING: For you, it’s been a lifelong career in Scouting. Once that chapter of your life is over, what’s the legacy you’d like to leave behind?
W.B.: I want people to see that the decisions I made, the things I did, were in the best interests of Scouting and for the young people we serve. I’d like to be known as a servant leader. I do think we are at a pivotal time in Scouting, and we have been for the past several years. I’m hoping that people will see that I did all I could to ensure the future of the Scouting movement.
SCOUTING: But whatever change takes place, you want people to know the motivation behind it?
W.B.: Exactly. It’s about awareness—getting people to understand if we change something, why we did it. We have to say, “You’ve always loved this part of the program, but the fact is that the 6- or 8-year-old who comes along today doesn’t love that part of the program, even though you did.” That’s the challenge we are faced with.
SCOUTING: What do you see as Scouting’s future?
W.B.: I know Scouting has a bright future because of the millions of people who give so generously of their time, talent, and treasure to this movement they love. We share a common goal no matter what our role in Scouting—providing a quality Scouting experience to as many youth as we can. We may not always agree on the best methods, but we’ll always agree that our focus remains on serving the next generation of Scouts.
Bryan Wendell is Scouting magazine’s Senior Editor. John R. Clark is Scouting magazine’s Managing Editor.
Read Wayne Brock’s first message “From the Chief Scout Executive” published in the September-October issue of Scouting magazine. And you can share your feedback with Wayne, as he suggests above, at his email address: Wayne.Brock@scouting.org..
Current scouting role: National BSA President, the top volunteer position in Scouting
Past Scouting Positions: Scoutmaster, district chairman, Chief Seattle Council president, Western Region president, National Executive Board member
Education: B.A. from University of Washington, J.D. from Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College, and Master of Laws in Taxation from NYU School of Law
Day job: CEO of Shotgun Creek lnvestments, LLC, a private-equity investment fund; part-owner of the Seattle Mariners
Family: Wife, Christine, and four Eagle Scout sons: Kevin, Gregory, Douglas, Justin