Scouts on world stage at United Nations

Published Fri 27 Oct 2023

From starting as a seven-year-old Cub Scout to stepping up as a World Scouting Youth Representative, Meg Cummins has embraced every opportunity Scouts has offered.

As part of Scouts NSW’s celebrations of 50 years of female youth members (1973-2023), we sat down with Meg to talk about all things Scouting and explore the incredible experiences she has had. At the time, she was working at the Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland and was looking forward to heading to New York for the United Nations’ SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Action Weekend and Summit (held from 16-22 September).

Tell me a little bit about yourself
I’m Meg, I’m 25, so I’m at the tail end of Rovers and I’m part of 1st Austinmer Rover Scouts. I just finished up my term as Assistant Chief Commissioner – Youth Engagement for Scouts NSW.

What was it like holding that position?
It was an amazing experience. I had an incredible privilege of being in our State Team from when I was about 19, which isn’t something all youth members had previously had the opportunity to do. It was a chance to continue to empower other young people to make sure we are truly youth-led, adult supported at every level of our state.

When did you start with Scouts?
I started as a Cub Scout when I was seven. I had a friend at school who was really into it and I begged my family to. I didn’t have to beg hard because my Mum was a (Girl) Guide and then she became a Scout in Rovers as well.

I love the community that Scouts builds. I love that I can travel across the world and have this thing in common with people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures. I love that we’re all a big family and that extends to our capacity to create change.

I love that Scouting is the world’s largest youth contributor to the Sustainable Development Goals and we are working so hard to make a difference in every aspect of our community. I think that’s a really special, unique thing that young people desperately need right now in a world that’s continuously changing.

Tell me about what you’ve been doing with Scouts
I am currently spending three months at Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland, which has been an amazing opportunity. I’m a short-term staff member, which basically means I’ll be here for their summer period. I’m here alongside about 40 other short-term staff members from many different countries.

My “job”, which I don’t think I can call a job because I have too much fun, is I get to work as a rock-climbing guide. So, I’m out in the Swiss Alps every day, I’m taking kids from the age of 10 all the way through to adults, who are all Scouts, into the Alps. 

It’s a really easy way to show people what’s happening in the world, with the glaciers melting and climate changing and I think having the capacity to help be a part of a young person’s story from across the world as they start to understand climate change more and they start to understand their capacity to create change and to work towards climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals has been really special.

Something extra special has been the celebrations for Kander100 – the big 100-year celebration of Kandersteg International Scout Centre. It was awesome having the Australian Contingent come over ahead of the main celebrations. I had been here for about three weeks – I was the only Australian and then about 250 of them appeared and at first I was like “ohhh, I’m not going to be the only Aussie”, but I think I was just beaming with pride, because every program guide would come up to me and personally thank me for how awesome the Aussies were on their program.

It was awesome to have a taste of home and just to see everyone from Australia appreciating being here and understanding how special of an opportunity it is.

Tell me about your role with the World Organisation of the Scout Movement
I’m a World Scouting Youth Representative – we work towards advocating for the Sustainable Development Goals. The really unique part about it is we are externally faced.

There’s a lot of work that happens within World Scouting to do with the SDGs; we have Scouts for SDGs, which is a program that runs across the world that works with 57 million young people. We’ve contributed almost 3 billion hours of service across the world.

I get the opportunity alongside two awesome other Scouts, one from Lithuania and one from Argentina, to share that journey external to Scouting. This means I have discussions with people from lots of different stakeholders, including the United Nations, and go to awesome conferences that happen across the globe. We’re at the halfway point of the SDGs this year, so we’re working out how we’ve gone and how we’re going to go in the future, as well as asking the question of what happens afterwards – what do the SDGs look like in 2050?

I’ll get to go and attend United Nations conferences and speak on behalf of Scouting and young people, because we know while young people are 50 per cent of the population worldwide, we are 100 per cent of the future.
I feel very privileged to be able to take the stories I’ve been hearing from Scouts across the world to the international stage and really make sure we are part of the story now, but also for the future of the SDGs as well.

Watch Meg speak at the United Nations' SDG Summit here

Do you think if you were not in Scouts that you would have these opportunities to have your voice heard?
I think I would be a totally different person, because of the skills I built through Scouting. Whenever I have had anything I’ve been passionate about, there’s been a platform for me to create change. When the SDGs came out and I was trying to work out what they looked like and how I could contribute to them, Scouting was there.

Scouting has always been an opportunity for me to build relationships with people and start to develop my own skills.

I think of the opportunities I’ve had – I’ve attended an InterAmerican Leadership Training course in Ecuador, I’ve gone to a Rover conference in Singapore, I’ve represented Scouts Australia at the Asia-Pacific Youth Forum in the Philippines, I’ve gone to the World Scout Moot in Iceland and now I’m volunteering for three months at the Kandersteg International Scout Centre. My exciting new World Scouting role means I will have conversations with the United Nations, which has always been something that’s been on my bucket list.

These are all things that continue to develop me, but what really developed me was the time I had at my local Scout Group and the time I spent with all the people who were just like me, trying to navigate being a kid, trying to navigate being in a changing world where everything seemed to be going wrong, trying to navigate how I could actually be a better person and Scouting was always that avenue for me to create change, to build my relationships with people, to build my capacity as a Leader and as a team member.

Were there any women in Scouts when you were younger who inspired you?
There are definitely more female role models now than when I first started, which was almost 20 years ago now, but when I first started as a Cub, I had this amazing Cub Leader, her Scout name was Rikki. She was always very passionate about the environment and has since been working in our Region Environment Team and has always involved me in her journey to change the world as well. She definitely shaped who I wanted to be and what I thought Scouting was.

I think having those types of cheerleaders in your lives and people who you can look up to and understand where you can be is really important. I know the more girls we get going to Joeys, Cubs, Scouts, Venturers and Rovers, the more women we’re going to have who are going to be inspirational role models for anyone else who decides to start in the Movement. 

Do you have any women in Scouts who are inspiring you now?
I have women that are inspiring me in every part of my life, especially in Scouts. One of the unique things is in my role as Assistant Chief Commissioner – Youth Engagement, I had the opportunity to work with our State Youth Council and the thing is that often people that inspire you do not have to be older than you.

The girls and women that inspire me the most are those on our State Youth Council, who are out there in our communities creating change, advocating for themselves, who I can see are building a better world and are inspiring others in their communities.

Yes, all women in Scouts inspire me, but it’s the girls that are coming through now, the girls who understand their capacity to create change, the girls who are just seeing things that are going wrong and making a change and making a difference. I can see they’re inspiring so many others and whenever I have a conversation with them, I leave absolutely buzzing, because they are our future. They’re the reason we’re here, the reason we’re doing Scouts, the reason we’re working so hard to create a difference is for them.

What do you do outside of Scouts?
I studied Civil and Environmental Engineering at university and I work as a water engineer, which is designing drinking water and wastewater treatment services with my engineering consultancy and with Sydney Water. I have just taken two years off work, so I’m here in Switzerland, then travelling and  doing some work in my World Scouting role and then I’ll be spending a year working with Engineers Without Borders in Cambodia working in water sanitation and hygiene. 

The space I really enjoy and I’m really passionate about is ensuring that everyone has equal access to drinking water and equal access to spaces where their wastewater is not contaminating them and not impacting their health as well.

How has your time in Scouts helped your non-Scouting life?
By being able to have conversations with people from across the world, I started to understand what I have and the opportunity that I have to make sure that everybody else has equal access to clean water and sanitation as well.
I have always had an almost obsession with volunteering. I think that definitely started in Scouts, but it was actually when I took some time after finishing high school to go to Borneo and volunteer at an international animal rescue centre for orangutans, I lived in this community and realised they were very remote. They had the newest smartphones, but they didn’t have access to clean drinking water and that was mostly due to climate change. 

So, starting to understand that and then coming home and understanding my space and the capacity I have to create change definitely started in Scouting. I want to make sure I’m always leaving a legacy, that I’m making a difference, and I think that core value that I have definitely started in Scouting.

What advice would you give to any girls or young women thinking about joining Scouts?
Do it. I think the only regret I have is that I didn’t start Scouts earlier. It’s an incredible opportunity. It’s an amazing space to meet people who are not just friends – they become family. The relationships you build when you’re camping, when you’re sitting at the edge of your comfort zone, when you’re abseiling or canyoning or learning public speaking or leading or working with a team, it’s a different relationship than what you would build at school and those people will stay with you forever.

If you try it and you don’t love it, it means that you’re not in the right Scout space, but you’ll find the right Scout space. I think there’s always the right Group for you, there’s always the right people for you.

What does your family think?
My family are also very Scouty. I think it’s made my relationship with my family a lot stronger, but they’re also very happy with the opportunities that have come with Scouting. I think the only thing my parents might have said when I was younger a few times was you need to stop saying yes to things. But the amazing opportunities that came up with Scouting I just could never say no to.

I think it’s very much as soon as one door opens you find 12 more doors behind it and the fact that I look back and every decision that I made, every yes that I said in Scouting, every time someone said “hey Meg, could you do this, or could you represent this, or could you have this conversation with Members of Parliament or could you go internationally and represent Scouts Australia” and I’ve said yes, there have been so many more opportunities that have come out of it.

Any closing thoughts?

I just want to say thank you. I’m really grateful for everything Scouting has given me, but I’m also very grateful with the decision that was made 50 years ago to involve girls in Scouting.

I think Scouting has been such an important part of the lives of so many girls from across Australia and I know that it’s a part of every single one of their legacies. I know that every single girl who’s been through Scouting has grown, has changed, has started to become changemakers themselves. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity that Scouting has given me and I’m excited to see what happens in the next 50 years.

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