Creating opportunities for girls to learn leadership skills

Meet Sophie. She is a 7-year-old girl who experiences her world with confidence. If you ask, Sophie will tell you she is a leader in her class, on the playground, and at home. She is happy with who she is. As Sophie turns eight, she becomes aware of external influences. Without consistent positive role models, her confidence slowly begins to drop. By the time Sophie reaches 14, her confidence has decreased by 30 percent. She is no longer happy the way she is. If you ask, Sophie will tell you she does not consider herself a leader.  

Our team thinks about Sophie a lot. Her story compels Madam President Camp forward. While Sophie is fictional, her story is based in data.

Three girls hold up a poster covering single use plastics.

In 1991, the groundbreaking study Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) revealed 60 percent of elementary-age girls said they are happy the way they are. By middle school, the number drops to 37 percent. Two generations later, in 2018, pollsters from Ypulse and the Confidence Code for Girls found that between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels fell by 30 percent. Conversely, even at their lowest point — age 14 — boys’ confidence remains 27 percent higher than girls’ confidence.  

Additionally, according to the 2015 KPMG Women’s Leadership Study: Moving Women Forward into Leadership Roles, a woman’s view of leadership begins to take shape early in childhood, starting with the values she learns, her exposure to leadership skills, and whether she has positive leadership role models. A full three-quarters (76 percent) of women stated they wish they had learned more about leadership and had more leadership opportunities while growing up.

This data tells us that supporting girls as they grow is critical to create a future where women not only see themselves as confident leaders, but also hold positions of influence in the community, and are actively engaged in the decisions that affect their lives. 

Twelve years ago, local Kansas City business woman, Lee Smithson Burd, had a vision for her daughter, and all young girls. That vision was to create an opportunity for girls to learn how to become leaders in their community and beyond. Partnering with Pam Kelley, the two women founded Madam President Camp. 

Since its creation in 2012, Madam President Camp has served hundreds of Kansas City girls, ages 11-13, by creating an environment that encourages their natural leadership skills. Beyond leadership, Madam President Camp supports girls as they learn to put their voice into action to create change in their communities. The mission of the organization is to inspire girls to become leaders in their communities now and in the future.

Supporting girls as they grow is critical to create a future where women not only see themselves as confident leaders, but also hold positions of influence in the community, and are actively engaged in the decisions that affect their lives. 

Our program is based on a cognitive learning approach that fosters a connection between the girls’ existing knowledge and new concepts in the area of leadership and community engagement. It provides recognition that each girl has experiences that shape her beliefs, opinions, or perceptions of the information she encounters during the Madam President Camp curriculum.

Celebrating those experiences creates an opportunity to deepen the memory and retention capacity. Cognitive learning has demonstrated an ability to increase confidence of the learner, which is foundational to the needs of the girl based on our assessment.

The curriculum themes, or modules, serve as a scaffolding of knowledge, which has been demonstrated to increase confidence: girls begin by gaining a clear understanding of leadership and civic engagement. They practice how to communicate those goals and topics and lastly, through self-discovery, create a path to their own personal action. 

A woman’s view of leadership begins to take shape early in childhood, starting with the values she learns, her exposure to leadership skills, and whether she has positive leadership role models.

At Madam President Camp, we continue to imagine a future where women leaders thrive. A future where women are celebrated for their unique abilities and can freely use their voice to create impact in their community. The organization is demonstrating that by strengthening the health of a community through its commitment to civics, democracy, leadership, and equal representation of diverse voices in policy creation, the health of a population can be improved.

With the support of Health Forward Foundation, we are thrilled to conduct research and expand our programing to reach more girls and set them on a strong path to their future.

To learn more about Madam President Camp, find them on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.


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Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006