The thriving World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) is one of the world’s largest and most proactive community-based youth groups. It currently has 32 million young members in more than 200 countries.
The idea of establishing a scouting organization was not a No. 1 priority in the mind of its founder, British Lt. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell — it just sprang to mind adventitiously. Over the course of time, the idea snowballed into the widely acclaimed organization the WOSM is today. It is grounded in the ideas laid out in Baden-Powell’s 1899 handbook for soldiers titled “Aids to Scouting.” Not only was the book useful for his soldier colleagues, it also attracted the admiration of a large group of young leaders and teachers from all over the UK, who had a keen interest in teaching the powers of observation, ingenuity and woodcraft — survival skills. The handbook was a surprisingly spellbinding and riveting read and it ushered in the movement that we know today.
In 1903, Baden-Powell revisited and reworked his handbook to tailor it to a younger audience. Four years later, he organized an experimental camp under his leadership on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbor in the county of Dorset, England. To put his theories into practice, Baden-Powell brought together 20 boys from different social classes. This camp and the publication of Baden-Powell’s seminal book “Scouting for Boys” in 1908 were the springboard for the launch of the Scout Movement. The Girl Guides followed just two years later.
Baden-Powell was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on numerous occasions in recognition of his enormous efforts to promote community service among the youth.
Scouting teaches physical, emotional, cognitive, psychosocial, environmental and bio-empathetic intelligence. It also promotes the core values of teamwork and the sense of giving, coexistence and community service in an atmosphere that combines adventure and fun. The positive impact of scouting on individuals has been reported in many research studies, which reveal that people who participated in scouting in their youth have a lower risk of mental illness.
Saudi Arabia has had an impressively successful experience in modernizing the scouting initiative. This idea began in 2001, when King Abdullah received a delegation of Saudi scouts in the city of Jubail and congratulated them for their good deeds in the community. That was the day that gave birth to the Messengers of Peace (MoP) initiative. Another similar big event, the Gifts for Peace program, followed and gained prominence. Later, in September 2011, the WOSM witnessed the official launch of the Global Messengers of Peace Initiative by Saudi Arabia at the second World Peace Camp in Jeddah, in the presence of King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, who is the honorary chairman of the World Scout Federation.
The vision of the MoP initiative is based on three objectives: To contribute to development locally and globally, to promote peace, and to enhance dialogue among peoples. It aims to translate feelings of patriotism into positive civic responsibility and citizenship practices.
The initiative has identified citizenship as a springboard for individual and collective practices at the national and global levels. The MoP has over-delivered on the mandate it was tasked with. In the eight years since its official launch, the MoP’s scouting activities have delivered more than 1 billion hours of community service and 8.3 million projects globally.
Imagine if this initiative was integrated at a local level all over the world, such as how the activities of the Scouts and Girl Guides are incorporated into educational curricula, with students evaluated on activities, projects and programs that serve the community and local and global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This would allow students and youths in any country to volunteer and apply their knowledge in an entertaining, engaging and recreational atmosphere, as well as exercise their citizenship responsibilities while serving the community, motivated by the WOSM’s core values and principles of peace.
Investing in the rising generations through such initiatives is crucial to the betterment of our planet. MoP, which was led jointly by Saudi Arabia and Sweden, has had a big international impact, contributing immensely to development agendas and being an active and productive partner to the UN, the main body in charge of the global SDGs. To complement the concept of patriotism internationally, responsible citizenship is becoming trendy in Western societies and de rigueur in global discourses. But we must look at it through a wider lens, as we are all citizens of humanity.
I will conclude with a timeless quote from one of Earth’s most inspiringly peaceful figures, Prophet Muhammad, who said: “Strive always to excel in virtue and truth.”
Abeer S. Al-Saud is an Op-Ed writer for Arab News exploring development, peace, and cultural topics. The views expressed in this piece are personal. Twitter: @asmalsaud