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International Scouting Organizations

From Brownsea Island in 1907, Scouting has spread to almost every country in the world. Indeed, most countries have more than one national Scouting association. While over 99% of the world's Scouts belong to national associations affiliated with the two largest international Scouting organizations, there are dozens of national and local associations affiliated with five other international Scouting bodies, and more that are independent of any international organization. There are also organizations that do not consider themselves to be Scouting organizations (they sometimes refer to themselves as "Scout-like" or "Scouting alternative" organizations), but nevertheless base their program ultimately on Baden-Powell's Scouting concepts.

So who is a "Scout"? The words "scout" and "scouting" are fairly broad terms that are used by many organizations. And there are non-Scouting organizations that include "scout-like" activities such as camping, hiking, and outdoor skills (some even wear a Scout-type uniform). For simplicity, I include in "Scouting" any organization that labels itself a Scouting program and which bases its program on Baden-Powell's Scouting concepts and ideals. I include both males and females in the definition of "Scout", and I include male-only, female-only, and coed associations in the definition of "Scouting". Note that there have been female Scouts since the earliest days of Scouting—female Scouts are often called Guides, and I include Guiding associations in world Scouting (Scouting and Guiding were both started by Baden-Powell).

There are quite a few individual Scout groups (especially in Germany) that operate their own local program independent of any national or regional association. These are difficult to find and track, and they can go into or out of existence when leadership changes. I don't attempt to list the unaffiliated single groups, and do not count them in the "organization" totals.

Brownsea Island—where it all began

Brownsea Island—where it all began

There are well over 600 separate national (or regional) Scouting associations in the world. Most have felt the need to create international Scouting organizations to set standards for Scouting and to coordinate activities among member associations. As a result, we know of seven international Scouting organizations that serve most (but not all) of the world's national associations, plus an eighth international organization that is just for adults.

The international Scouting picture is complicated somewhat by the loss of the old distinction between a Scouting Movement for boys and a separate Scouting (or Guiding) Movement for girls. Since about 1970, the trend toward coed Scouting has accelerated, and today coed Scouting is the norm in many countries. This has created difficulties for the two largest international Scouting organizations: WOSM (World Organization of the Scout Movement), which formerly represented only male-only associations, and WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), which formerly represented only female-only associations. Today, WOSM counts over a million girls and young women among its members, and has changed its mission statements to reflect goals for "young people" rather than "boys and young men". WAGGGS still sets its mission goals in terms of "girls and young women", even though it counts a small number of boys and young men among its members (about 11 000). WOSM and WAGGGS have discussed the possibility of uniting, but this is highly unlikely. [The other international organizations are all coed.]

Why isn't everybody in WOSM or WAGGGS? Those associations that prefer not to belong to WOSM or WAGGGS tend to share several viewpoints:

Click on the icons below for more information and a list of all member associations in each of the seven international Scouting organizations for youth and an eighth international organization for adults in over 60 countries. There are also links to a listing of all the non-aligned national Scouting associations that I have found, and to a page of 'Scout-like / Scouting Alternative' organizations. And finally, there are links below to our page showing the Scouting organizations in every country of the world, and to our page with pictures of the highest rank/award in many countries.

International Scouting Organizations

World Organization of the Scout Movement
World Organization
of the Scout Movement

(WOSM, 1922)
World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts
World Association
of Girl Guides
and Girl Scouts

(WAGGGS, 1928)
World Federation of Independent Scouts
World Federation
of Independent Scouts

(WFIS, 1996)
Federation of European Scouting
Federation of
European Scouting

(FSE, 1956)
World Organization of Independent Scouts
World Organization
of Independent Scouts

(WOIS, 2010)
Order of World Scouts
Order of
World Scouts

(OWS, 1911, 1991)
Confederation of European Scouts
Confederation of
European Scouts

(CES, 1978)
International Scout and Guide Fellowship
Scout and Guide

(ISGF, 1953;
adult-only fellowship)
One of at least 130 Non-aligned Scouting Associations

(130 associations
in 35 countries)
One of at least 25 Scout-like and Scouting Alternative Organizations
Scout-like &
Scouting Alternative

(we've found 25 so far, and
there've got to be more)
All Scouting Assocations in Every Country
All National Scouting Associations
in Every Country

(all 196 countries in the world,
listing all known Scouting associations in each)
Highest Rank / Award in Many Countries
Highest Rank/Award in Many Countries

Comparison of International Scouting Organizations

Membership Numbers

Approx. Number
of Members *
WOSM 217 196 21 164(+1) 40 000 000
WAGGGS 192 176 16 142(+5) 10 000 000
[WOSM+WAGGGS **] [58] [51] [7] [35]
WFIS 89 88 1 43 200 000
FSE 23 23 0 21 65 000
WOIS 20 20 0 16 15 000
OWS 21 21 0 15 4000
CES 9 9 0 9 3000
Non-aligned 130 126 4 35 100 000
TOTAL 643 608 35 191 50 387 000 ***

*—Only WOSM and WAGGGS provide a public estimate of their total membership. I have found unofficial estimates on the Internet for WFIS, FSE, & WOIS, and I have made very approximate estimates for OWS and CES. I have also made a wild 'guesstimate' of the number of non-affiliated Scouts in the world. If anyone has better numbers, please let me know.

**—The 51 associations and 7 federations that belong to both WOSM and WAGGGS are counted in each group's total, but are counted only once for the grand total.

***—With a world population of about 7 billion, and about 38 million in Scouting, that means that one out of every 184 people on earth is directly involved in Scouting.

Relative Membership of the World Scout Organizations for Youth
World Scout Organization Relative Membership

Membership Requirements

WOSM (open)—Will recognize one national Scout organization per country; when there is more than one, they must create a single federation to represent them in WOSM (except Canada, where WOSM allows 2 separate national Scout organizations with no umbrella federation). Organizations can be male-only or coed. All members must "adhere to a Scout Promise and a Law reflecting ... the principles of Duty to God, Duty to others and Duty to self".

WAGGGS (open)—Recognizes female-only programs, and often the female membership of coed organizations. "Girl Guiding/Girl Scouting is open to all girls and young women whatever their religion, ethnic group or background. A Girl Guide or Girl Scout accepts the Promise and the Law based on spiritual values, personal development and commitment to helping others."

WFIS (open)—Open to any Scouting association that is not affiliated with another international organization. They require that member associations "follow, and use, B-P's original program, traditions, uniforms, morals, ethics, and structure as laid out in B-P's Scouting for Boys", amended only for "health, environmental, first-aid, and safety reasons".

FSE (Christian-only, predominantly Roman Catholic)—A European (plus Canada), Roman Catholic Scout organization recognized by the Holy See. "The International Union is composed of Catholic scouting associations. It acts and makes decisions according to the rules of this faith. However, with an open mind towards ecumenism, the International Union welcomes associations to other Christian confessions, in the conditions defined by the Religious Directory." Membership is thus Christian only, under Roman Catholic practices. Scouts from 'different confessions' (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) are not allowed to mix in the same group: "The intangible rule of the International Union is not to gather in the same group youths of different confessions, in order to avoid in their minds any risk of relativism or scepticism."

WOIS (open)—Open to any independent Scouting association that agrees with their Scouting philosophy. I am not clear why they split from WFIS.

OWS (Christian-only)—The OWS constitution requires that all members "demonstrate by teaching and example of life the Christian Faith". The policies of the BBS (British Boy Scouts), the founding member of the order, presumably reflect OWS policy: "The Association is first and foremost a Christian organisation and seeks to serve the Christian Church as a means of advancement of the Christian Faith." The BBS defines 'Christian' as a person "who can accept the ecumenical version of the Nicene Creed".

CES (open)—Split from FSE due to disagreements over religious philosophy. "CES stresses the European dimension of its Scouting program", and emphasizes that it is "open to all, without distinction of confessional [religious] or social origin."