By Girls, For Girls, with Meridith Maskara
Episode 119: By Girls, For Girls, with Meridith Maskara
A third generation girl scout, Meridith Maskara, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York is not just passionate about girl scouts, but about supporting the generation of young girls and women who will be the change agents of tomorrow. This week, we talked about inclusivity and diversity within Girl Scouts, their active involvement in legislative decisions, the new programs Girl Scouts is offering including fields of STEM, advocacy, and entrepreneurship and how Girl Scouts are adapting to the fast-paced technological world of today. Meridith also discusses the role Girl Scouts’ program Troop 6,000 plays on girls and women in shelter, how to include men in conversations around equality, as well as teaching girls confidence at a young age.
00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Network podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host Maricella Herrera.
00:20 Maricella Herrera: Hey, Kristy.
00:21 KW: So we have a phenomenal guest today.
00:25 MH: I know.
00:26 KW: Meridith Maskara, who is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. And you and I are both huge supporters of the Girl Scouts.
00:34 MH: Yep.
00:36 KW: I was a formal Girl Scout.
00:37 MH: I was not.
00:38 KW: You were not.
00:39 MH: I like the cookies.
00:40 KW: But we both believe in supporting girls reach their true and full potential and being there every step of the way. So, it was so much fun to have Meridith visit us at the Ellevate Network Podcast Studios to talk about what is happening with the Girl Scouts.
01:00 MH: Yeah. I'm really excited about this, and I love Meridith. I think she is fantastic. I think she came in as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York and just hit the ground running. She was their COO before. And so she was there. But she's incredible. She's just so on it.
01:21 KW: She is. When you think about the Girl Scouts and what a huge task it is to support girls in New York City, because we're talking about community, education, supporting girls that are in homeless shelters, supporting girls that are lower socioeconomic, different backgrounds, providing community and resources to help them from little five-year-olds through to high school and beyond, every time I get the opportunity to meet a girl scout, I'm blown away. And you know that so much of the character that is coming out in these conversations I have is driven by the support that they receive through that Girl Scouts community. And so it's really inspiring to see that type of impact and to know as a parent and as a community member that there's resources like that available for my daughters and for the other girls in my community.
02:27 MH: Yeah, I love it. I love it. And like you said, it's a community of girls from all different backgrounds. So it really, to us we talk about so much about diversity and hearing people who are not like you, it's a great way to do that from a very young age.
02:46 KW: So true. Absolutely. So, Meridith, we have a great conversation. She's got just some really phenomenal insights to share. I really hope you enjoy this. And if you are not in New York City, there's Girl Scout councils all over the United States likely in your area. So check it out. It's a great way to get involved with a organization that's having a huge impact whether you have daughters or not, whether you were a Girl Scout or not. We all like the cookies. So that's an added bonus. But I would encourage you to learn more about organizations in your community like the Girl Scouts and others that are having a positive impact on future generations. Because if there's one thing we've really seen this year and more prevalent, I think, in the media this year is the power of this next generation and future generations and what they're doing to change the world, to start new businesses, to solve problems, to innovate. And I'm excited about that and I wanna be part of supporting that happening.
03:56 MH: Love it.
03:56 KW: Thanks so much for joining us on the Ellevate Podcast. If you find something during this conversation with Meridith that you are inspired by or excited by please share it. We wanna hear from you. We're on all the major channels, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. So let us know. You can share a photo of you listening to the podcast or your favorite quote or tidbit, and we love hearing from you and we'll share it and retweet it as well. So looking forward to meeting you back here next week on the Ellevate Podcast.
04:41 KW: Meridith, thank you so much for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast.
04:45 Meridith Maskara: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
04:48 KW: I'm excited to have you here. You are one of my favorite people. I love the podcast. It lets me tell people things like that in this truly intimate space. But you are the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. Many of our listeners know that that is a cause near and dear to my heart and certainly something that is near and dear to your heart given just the pure passion and enthusiasm and action that I've seen from you in the short time of your tenure. So you're just, I just have to tell you you're having such a huge impact, which is inspiring, I think, to all of us, but also inspiring as leaders and seeing what good strong leadership looks like. So thank you.
05:33 MM: Thank you, and thank you for... You have been a diehard supporter and committed Girl Scouts and a voice and an advocate and leading a generation of women who generally were not thinking of them as being in the Girl Scout realm. But the new look of Girl Scouts is for girls of all ages and for young adults and young women who are working their way up the ladder and breaking glass ceilings every day, and we need to include them in our Girl Scout family and in the voice to show girls that they have role models of every age.
06:02 KW: Oh, that is so true, absolutely. Talk to me about this new age of Girl Scouts. What is happening and what is a G-I-R-L?
06:11 MM: It is an exciting time to be a Girl Scout. I can tell you. I'm so proud to be in the role that I am. My history has been deep in girl scouting roots. I first put my uniform on at the age of seven and I also have five daughters of my own, ages three to 14. So that is certainly a drive and an impetus of my commitment to the organization. I'm a Gold Award Girl Scout as well. And we grew up doing girl scouting, and there's traditional values culturally that have always been part of the organization, the values and the morals and the laws and the promise that we live day by day. But we're in an exciting time. There are great conversations happening in our country and in the world, and we're also living in an age that our girls are growing up in digital and technology and media focus and something that we've never seen come so fast in one generation.
07:04 MM: And we have to move at their speed, and we have to deliver programs in the way that attract them and are relevant. And that means constantly changing. And we tend to think that our roots and our mission are deeply, deeply rooted in these values, but we have to understand that that's... We have to be pliable and flexible and deliver it how the girls will respond to it. And right now, they're responding. They're responding. The youth movements out there, outside of Girl Scouts is remarkable and things are happening and voices are being heard and they have a megaphone and a medium to be able to express that, and we're now using that as a tool to enhance their voices and developing new programs through advocacy and through STEM and technology that girl scouting 10-20 years ago never even thought that it would be here.
07:53 KW: Yeah. And that's powerful because I think in my mindset, when you think of non-profits, they tend to move a little bit slower and clunkier, but that's not the case. I mean, you are, the Girl Scouts, and you particularly are so intuned with the girls and putting the girls first and giving them that voice and then taking action on that voice, which is surprising to me in a truly positive way.
08:23 MM: We're very plugged in. And in New York, we have come up with our own internal motto, which is "By Girls, For Girls." And as an organization, we ask for everything that we do and every program that we deliver to think about that first. Are we considering what the girls' needs are? Are we listening to their response and are we having them at the table? So one of the things that I'm very proud of what we're doing is we're not just saying, "Oh, you're gonna be at the table. We're giving you the tools to be at that table when you're 20, 30, 40, 50." [chuckle] We're inviting you to the table now. And we're validating girls' voices at an age where historically and even in our generation was sort of like, "Oh, we'll listen to you when you get X, Y or Z education or when you have this or that experience." And I think it's really disingenuous to our girls today, especially here in New York City. They have information and they are fully capable of making decisions and they are fully capable of having input into strategic development for our organization and if we're not listening to them, we're not planning ahead for their kids and their grandkids.
09:30 KW: And as a parent myself, I'm constantly struggling with what's happening in the online space and how to talk to my kids about different social issues. And we recently were having a conversation around gun violence and what that meant for them, but also talking about gender equality and sexism. I mean there's so much happening today and here you're almost like the mother of 28,000 girls in New York City. So I mean is that, does that keep you up at night? Is that so overwhelming?
10:02 MM: It does keep me up at night. The things that keep me up at night are prioritizing what those conversations are and how we can be responsible leaders as an organization into steering the girls into the right way of having those conversations. And that's a lot of responsibility. That's, you know, 28,000 girls. There's a spectrum. We serve every girl. We are the most inclusive organization I think you could possibly ask for for everything from political views, socio and economic status, raise. We represent everything in New York City. We are in all five boroughs, every single zip code. So we couldn't ask for a better diverse voice to bring to the table when it comes to our youth. But that's a lot of responsibility. So how are we... A lot of girls' first experience online can be through our organization now.
10:47 MM: Girls come in at the age of five and they know that there's a social media platform for them to sit there with their parents on and talk to about issues. So one of the things that I've tried to do as a CEO is bring those conversations to the dinner table. And unfortunately, we have a younger generation that the dinner table has cell phones on it for most of the time. I mean, I have teenage daughters. You know as much as we wanna make rules and say this is never going to happen, the reality is this is their world, this is their communication tool. So if we can bring those conversations to the table through a responsible organization like ourselves of how to introduce those conversations into family talk and to making sure that girls are engaging in a very responsible way of teaching them the right way to behave online, to represent themselves, all of those things in our Girl Scouts promise and laws are the things that we want them to exercise online as well, to be a sister to every girl scout, to be a sister to every person on social media.
11:43 MM: How are you not doing the bullying online? And then when you're talking about those hard issues, where are you going for your resources? Where are the girls going to say, "Oh, I heard this, I heard this, I heard this." Where can we channel them into saying, "Here's the organizations and here's the news outlets and the media outlets that I know and trust because they're validated by something that's near and dear to me. So that's a big difference as an organization that we hold responsibility for now.
12:06 KW: Well I've also seen some of the Girl Scouts have been testifying in political hearings and that's the extension of that is where do you get your knowledge. How do you have that, form your own opinion, and then how do you take action on that? So talk a little bit about that.
12:23 MM: I'm so excited about this part of our programming because for me, advocacy and girl scouting has always gone hand-in-hand. And I think one of the reasons why I'm so supportive of that is I had the opportunity as a young girl to testify on behalf of girl scouting for rules that were gonna be changing funding for non-profits when I was in high school. And again, there's that validation. Wait, you want me to speak? I'm only 14. What could I possibly have to say that will change or affect policy? And as soon as you show a girl that that can happen, it's mind-boggling and it just opens up all of those doors to say I can go and do something and there's an instant change that can happen or an adult or a group of adults who are policymakers are listening to me and validating that.
13:10 MM: So in our new advocacy program, we're developing it as we go out, but for the past three weeks, we've had a girl at City Hall testifying everything from educational funding to youth, youth group funding, to sexual harassment issues in the workplace. That has been identified by a group of girls who range in age, and I can tell you the age as young as nine have identified sexual harassment as one of their biggest concerns. Nine. And that can be shocking, but we know the world we live in. This is being discussed and it's being talked about. And whether it's that they've experienced it themselves or whether they've seen their mom or their aunts or some other family member experience that and be traumatized by it, they know that it's a concern that they don't wanna tolerate. So they're looking at that for advocacy issues. But it's really, it's part of the girl scout magic which is identifying, identifying a problem, collaborating with a group of girls in that safe space to figure out how to solve the problem, and then girl scouting doesn't stop there. Then it tells the girls and gives them permission to go take action on it and solve it, which means sometimes just going straight, directly to City Hall and saying we identified a problem, we wanna change it.
14:19 KW: Yeah. And as you're saying that, I'm thinking that is the ideal employee, right? Did you want someone who's gonna be like, "This is a problem. Let's be innovative. Let's collaborate on how to solve it, and then I'm gonna take action to do that." And I know that's a big part of what you're working on too, which is that pipeline development, helping girls get that courage confidence in character to succeed, what are the skills and the resources, many of which they're not accessing through traditional means to help them really identify that path forward. The GSLI program is one that comes top of mind for me and I would love for you to share a little bit more about that.
14:56 MM: Sure. So our Girls Scout Leadership Institute is exactly that, which is creating a pipeline. And it's really in response to not only what the girls need. It's in response to what we're hearing from business women and business owners and large corporations and organizations who are saying we need a solid pipeline, a diverse pipeline that brings girls of every aspect to the table. And what I'm loving it, is it's not bringing them to the table as interns. It's not bringing them in for a show and tell day experience. It's bringing them in to give them that full experience of what it would be like to be in that workplace and to set the role model. And so, example. So with our leadership institute, we take girls through an extensive, just over a year long journey, where they commit to numerous hours in leadership programming.
15:48 MM: It's personal identity leadership. There's a STEM aspect to it as well because everything that every girl is going to do from here on out will involve technology. There's no denying that at this point in our lives. And we give them the coding skills so they code an app then they present it. They give business a mapping of how they would set up their small business, and they do a pitch, and then all at the same time, they're being introduced to young professionals and large organizations and large corporations to do workplace visits and work site visits to get a better understanding of how all of those skills that they're learning in the Girl Scouts program translate directly. And we're creating really incredible employees and organizational leaders is what we're doing by that collaborative process by teaching girls to think outside of the box, to push their boundaries, to not take no for an answer, to introduce a program like the Cookie Program, which is one of the most popular things that people think of when they come to girl scouting.
16:46 KW: Of course.
16:47 MM: However, it's a business model that girls are learning at the age of five on how to make a sale and how to set up their own business. So all of that just interprets right through. And we encourage our girls to always put these skills on their resumes starting at a young age. When you go for your first job, talk about your girl scouting experience. Talk about it when you're going to college. Because I can tell you, when I hire people, even prior to working at Girl Scouts, if they had that Gold Award on their resume, I know what kind of employee I'm gonna have. I'm gonna have a girl who committed at the age of 16 to doing an 80-hour take action project and changing in her community in some way. So that's the employee I want. Those are the people I wanna have in my leadership positions.
17:26 KW: And all of that, it's so important. And we talked today, you know today in this current state, so much about how to position yourself for success in the workplace, how to tell, own your story and talk about what you're bringing to the table. And here we have girls at a young age starting to develop that skills and the confidence. And confidence really translates as well into being out there and advocating for yourself and fighting for what you deserve. And today when we know that pay parity doesn't exist and gender equality, we're not there yet and women's representation in politics and in business leadership is lacking. We have girls that are advocating in city council meetings. We have girls that know how to build a resume talking about their skills and girls that are in the workplace becoming more comfortable in that situation and gaining those role models that can help them really drive for that success that they, however they define it.
18:29 MM: And girls who have asked for us to, as an organization, indoors, the Equal Rights Amendment, there's a generation of young women who are baffled that there isn't any equal right including myself I have to say...
18:41 MM: They're like every day, I'm like wake up, and like, "Wait a minute. Is this the reality?" So there's these girls who were saying, "How is this possible? How is this my world?" And realizing that they are in the next... There's no denying in the next four years, we've got a generation of new voters coming in who are not afraid to speak up and speak out who've been given that permission at a very young age, and validated and have this courage to call out when it's wrong, and to question it. And I think as a parent, we're like, "Wow, I've encouraged to my daughter do this. She's questioning me on everything, that I get to say too," but this is where we want these girls to be... We want them to call to call out when something is not right or it's not equal and to demand change, and I think it's as the temperature of today's conversations, we can go home and bang our head against the wall, a number of times. I feel very lucky because I get to go to work every day, and I hear from girls who give me absolute hope and inspiration that it's gonna change, and it's gonna change faster than I think we've ever seen change before.
19:52 KW: It's exhilarating. I mean it's exciting. It is exciting. And I think back to when I was a Girl Scout and the programs that we focused on, and I know there's still camp Kaufman, and there's a lot that's really helping girls connect with nature and sort of very holistically the world around them, but this aspect of really owning your role in society and the ability to not just be a player but to be a driver, a big part of equality and of social change is also being aware of and supportive of those that have access to different or less than you do, right? No social inequalities. Economic inequality is something that's very top of mind for me and something that... Or when I was growing up, didn't think about it because you think, you always have it the toughest as a teenager and mom won't buy the new shoes I want or whatever it is, but... But the reality is that that is a very privileged life, and I know more than half of the 28,000 girls that you service live under the poverty line.
21:04 MM: 70%.
21:05 KW: And wow, 70%, that's huge. And recently you launched Troop 6000. And I wanna talk about that because that is having such an impact. And the program's grown quite rapidly since the initial launch just about a year ago.
21:20 MM: Just a year ago. Yeah. And actually this week is a one-year marker for when the New York Times article came out about it. So let me just give a little bit Troop 6000 is a troop that is established now networked across the city for girls living in homeless shelters and for their moms or their aunts or their family members also to become part of our volunteer core and to... For professional development and personal development as well. First of all, we've always served girls of every socio-economic status and that's, again, our inclusivity, policy with Girl Scouts is just... You identify as a girl, you have absolutely every right and every skill to become a leader of tomorrow. So you're part of us, and... But what we did in the past, the burden, I call it the burden, the burden of enrollment was on the parent or the girl. And their ability to get to and from meetings, or to be consistent. And I had some experiences working with girls who were in the shelters who couldn't have that consistency and would be moved.
22:31 MM: And there's a transient part of that life here in New York where the shelter system is one of the most complex ones in the United States, but a family can be moved at any time, so a girl would be lost. She would lose her program. Because the priority of the family is not about an extra-curricular activity. The priority of the family is to find housing, it's to establish yourself in the community to make sure that your kids are in school, and to make sure that your job isn't disruptive during all this other transit portion. So the question was, how can... How can we... What are the great things that girl scouting offers? For those of us who are in the program, we know it's a network. It's a community, it's a sisterhood, it's a sense of belonging, to something bigger, and it's a very grounding. It's also consistent. We're a national program. So, when you move, if you do move from state to state as a girl scout, if you move from Maine to California, girl scouting would be there, and you would have the same badges and you would have all of that.
23:29 MM: So there's this synergy that what we could do within the shelter system was offer an anchor, a program of support, of a sense of community when we see it on a daily basis. When a new shelter goes into a neighborhood, the first thing the families are met with is not a warm welcome, is not open arms, is not saying, we're gonna be here to help and support you. It's through protest, and it's through community members saying "We don't want you here. Not in my backyard," right?
23:55 MM: And it's becoming more and more prevalent across the city as the homeless rate rises, it's a 115% increase in the last 10 years in New York City. It's about 63,000 homeless people at anytime... Families at any time and about 23,000 kids, and of that, anytime between 8,000 and 10,000 girls between the ages of five and 17, which is where we really wanna focus on that. So how can we... How can we provide that? And by establishing a troop and we were told, a number of times I was told, "You can't do it." DHS, there's very strict rules and regulations and you can't get into the shelters, you won't be able to do it in the shelters. But we're not ones to take no for an answer. Especially when it comes to identifying girls and giving them that leadership opportunity. And we got into one shelter and we had the opportunity to prove that this was a remarkable program and that it worked and that in a short period of time, it affected not only the girls and not only the women and the moms who became part of the program, there was a change in the community, in the community interest, in the community volunteers who were interested in helping support change and an awareness.
25:08 MM: And when the New York Times article came out, we all knew that this was the right thing to do, that no one ever doubted whether this was the right thing to do. We also knew it was not going to be an easy thing to do, but I think the biggest impact that shocked us all, was that we changed a little bit of the social conversation, around homelessness because no one ever thought of, no one ever saw a girl in a girl scout uniform and said, "That's a homeless girl." It's a very Norman Rockwell Americana privileged, right? This is... Everything's happy. Girl Scouts is fun, this is not, this is not somebody who goes home and lives with seven other people in a hotel room out of a backpack. That's not what you think of. So now there was this shifting conversation where people stopped and may be questioned. When I think of homelessness, I'm not thinking about the man on the street begging and following me and disrupting my day. I'm thinking about a girl, about her mom, about somebody who has a job, who just can't afford housing. And someone who lives in my community and whose daughter also has the same experience as mine. And that's a whole different... That's a whole different shift. And when that conversation hit was really when the momentum of the need to say we've got to take this city-wide.
26:24 MM: We can't do this piece by piece. We need a partner. We need that network, and we need it to happen quickly. And that was when we were able to establish a partnership with the Department for Homeless Services here in New York City, which was a remarkable feat, and it fast tracked it, [chuckle] and we are now, we are now serving nearly 500 women and girls in shelters across 13 different shelters in the city and it's an incredible feat. But we have a waitlist. We have 20 some shelters who are knocking on our door to say we want this program, how can we get it? So that's where we are now is looking at the continued growth, sustainability and how we can also just step and repeat this to make sure that girls outside of New York are also served by it.
27:08 KW: Do you have Girl Scouts as helping to solve that problem?
27:11 MM: Of course we do. [laughter]
27:13 KW: We know they got the creativity and the skills. It's like, alright help us do this.
27:17 MM: Of course we do. I think the most powerful message from that was one of our girls, Sonai, who when asked what the girl scouting experience for her in Troop 6000 meant, and she said, "I've learned that you do not need to be worldly to belong in this world." Well, there's nothing else to say, but that. [chuckle]
27:37 KW: Yeah, absolutely. How do we engage men in this conversation? And that's something we talk about. A lot of elevate and we are hearing more and more than our fathers, uncles, brothers, big have a lot of influence in this world that we're looking to change, and so how do we engage them in making a better world for our girls?
28:01 MM: This is a great conversation because I'm always talking about... We can't just be in our bubble, and we're not doing any justice to our girls by saying this is our conversation, this is our world. Because then when they go out, when they leave girl scouting, when they go out and when they get those first jobs, they're not gonna hear all of this all the time in the same way and if we're not engaging men and young boys especially in these conversations and educating them on the sensitivity issues, on vernacular, on perception and it starts, it has to start at a really young age, but the importance of the role of fathers and uncles and bosses and co-workers and their sensitivity to these conversations and to just elevating the issues is key. We can't do it alone. We don't wanna do it alone. Because we're never gonna be alone in the world just doing this on our own. It is all collaborative. So for me, I keep going back to... We have to have conversations at younger ages, we have to have... There are moms of boys who are asking these questions. How can I have a conversation with my son? I don't want my son to be having those stereotypical roles on the playground. So where are we starting that? How young are we starting it, and where can we bring that into the educational system to look at?
29:29 MM: It's in text books. It drives me crazy. Still in the text book of Rand McNally textbook publication of the job description of the President of United States still says he and it's a job description and to me that's a huge message because yes, currently there is a man, and historically there have been, but when you post a job description, we stopped that. We stopped that with laws, employment laws that changed it, you couldn't list it as his or her job or a male job or women jobs. And how come we are still listing a job description for the President as using only only masculine terms? So we have to look at all of the educational system from where are we're learning to identify and where young men, identifying that this is a masculine ownership of it and that it's not a universal ownership. But for here and now, encouraging dads to have those conversations with their daughters to encouraging bosses to allow, allow women work groups within male-dominated companies to allow those work groups to start into purposely positioning more women and allowing their voices be heard at the table. It's not too late to start like we don't have to always just go back to the beginning, we can start at a certain place within the workforce now.
30:52 KW: So one last very important question, which is for our listeners who have been as inspired by this conversation as I have and moved by what is happening in our world and the role that girls are playing in driving that. How do they support efforts like this?
31:09 MM: There's a number, there's a number of ways, first of all, no matter where you are there are organizations and especially with girl scouts, everywhere. So whether you're in the city, or whether you are in the middle of our country, wherever you are. And if this touches you if you were a girl scout, if you have connections, and roots and wanna reconnect, I encourage you to reach out, reach out to your counsel here in New York City, we're very accessible. You can find me anywhere online. [chuckle] And I will always respond. You can always reach out to our offices, we're right downtown, but it, it is the time. If you're feeling that inclination of where can I make a difference? I do think that right now our organization Girl Scouts and Greater New York were poised to make that change and to lead that conversation. We're no longer gonna sit and have those conversations happen around us.
32:01 MM: And you can join in those conversations and volunteer is always the first step in the door. I always urge everyone connect because as soon as you see the power of what our girls are doing, it's very addictive and it's very encouraging and you know that you're part of something that's gonna be bigger. So, obviously volunteering, we're always in need of volunteers for a number of different programs and none of those programs can happen without financial support, and we have numerous events, but there's always ways to give and donate for specific programs. If you have a niche that you're interested in, in STEM and business entrepreneurship environmental leadership, we can find a program to connect you with. You know that your support goes to a girl right here, in New York City.
32:47 KW: Wonderful. Thanks so much for joining us today, Meridith. It was great chatting with you on the Ellevate podcast.
32:52 MM: Thank you.
32:56 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out, subscribe to the Ellevate podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also don't get to follow us on Twitter @EllevateNTWK, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, www.ellevatenetwork.com. That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E network.com. And special thanks to our producer, Catherine Heller. She rocks, and to our voice-over artist, Rachel Grasinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.
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