“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”

i Feb 15th No Comments by

Four years ago, I had a vision for how women could take up greater political space in this community. I knew that if women came together and reached out to other women to support and amplify the under-heard voices of our community, we could make a difference. And so I convened a conversation of politically active women and asked the question: what can we do to better support each other, include more women, and together drive political change in our community? From that conversation, a group of women took up the challenge and together we created Women & Politics.

Over the years, there have been many incredible women who have been a part of W&P, some at the board table and many others throughout the community. They have all done the hard work to amplify the voices of women and push for political and social change. I have been one voice, one person and one part of Women & Politics. I have contributed to an organization and community that I absolutely believe in and have received so much more in return. I have been lucky to love what I do, the people I do it with and the vision we’ve co-created together. I also know that part of loving something deeply is knowing when to let go, step back and recognize that others have it well in hand.

I am formally stepping down as Chair of Women & Politics. I am doing so for several reasons: to create space and opportunity for different leaders; because there is work to be done in other places; and, because my heart is calling me to new opportunities. As the founder, I will always be an enthusiastic champion of the work, the women, and the mission of W&P, but I will no longer have a formal role in the organization. My role will be as one of the many women who will benefit from the work the team of W&P does on behalf of our community. I will be working on some political campaigns this election year, supporting women and others to solve the big issues of our city, and continuing with my consulting, teaching and other community work. My love of politics and the potential it has to drive change and create better realities for everyone will continue.

Anne-Marie Sanchez was at that very first conversation 4 years ago. Since that beginning, she has been a core part of the leadership of W&P and a driving force behind so much of what we’ve accomplished. I am very pleased to welcome her as the new Chair (former Vice-Chair) of Women & Politics. Anne-Marie’s deep understanding of organizational change, her commitment to every aspect of equity, her ability to work across difference and her purpose-driven style of leadership is exactly what W&P needs at this time. Alongside Anne-Marie, Marci Easton will be taking on the role of Vice-Chair. Marci has been on the Board for over 3 years and her extensive community organizing and political experience, her strong leadership skills, her deep connection to social issues and her ability to genuinely connect with anyone and everyone means that W&P is going to thrive. Alongside Anne-Marie and Marci are an incredible team made up of Sue Hillis, Sarah Emms, Maria-Fernandez Medina, Najia Mahmoud, and Louise Pitre.

Over the last four years together, we have led campaign schools (and are in the process of organizing another one for March 24th – save the date!), run all-candidates debates, addressed how to get more diverse women into local government, educated young women on politics, successfully advocated for a gender lens in municipal policy, helped tell the stories of diverse women leaders in our community, and much, much more. We have accomplished a lot and yet I know the best is yet to come. I look forward to being part of the community of women that W&P continues to support, amplify and drive towards change.

See you in the community – the social media one and the real life one.

Shawna Lewkowitz

Title quote is by A.A. Milne.

A look back at the Women & Politics Election Strategy

i Nov 3rd 1 Comment by

In planning for this 2015 election cycle, the Board of Women & Politics set out a strategy to identify the election issues most important to women in London and area. We started off with a survey to the community that identified 4 priorities:

  • missing and murdered Indigenous women,
  • proportional representation,
  • affordable housing and homelessness, and
  • refugees, newcomers and healthcare.

From there, we organized a Women’s Issues Forum in June where we invited four women leaders to speak on these issues and invited discussion from the broader community. That event was well attended and sparked the formation of a sub-committee focused on election issues relating to young women. Women & Politics, along with the London Youth Advisory Council, successfully obtained a grant from the Laidlaw foundation to hold three evening events for young women. The topics chosen by the committee were, politics and youth, the future of work, and young women’s healthcare. These small group events created some interesting discussions with attendees, and several small election strategies were implemented, including a commitment to talk to young women in our community about health and politics.

Our biggest event was a World Cafe style All Candidates Meeting, organized in partnership with Business Professional Women London (BPW), which was held at Riverside United Church on September 29th. Over 100 people came out to the event, with eight candidates in attendance. Each candidate rotated between tables of their riding made up of 6-10 participants and a facilitator. Candidates were asked a variety of questions by participants and were also asked to respond to questions on the four women’s election issues, previously identified in our survey. The feedback on this event was very positive, with both candidates and participants expressing that the format allowed for deeper discussions and a unique opportunity for participants to engage with candidates.

We also participated in the World Homeless Action Day on October 8th, which raised awareness about homelessness in London and was organized by the London Homeless Coalition, London CAReS and United Way’s GenNext. Women & Politics offered up election information and questions one could ask candidates about how they and their party would address homelessness. It was privilege to attend this event and have the opportunity to share information on a key election issue, identified as a priority by women in our community.

Lastly, there was plenty of action happening on our website and on social media with an election resource page, regular blog posts on the identified key election issues, and regular posts related to election issues.

As promised when we initially sent out the survey at the beginning of the election cycle, we intend to hold candidates and their parties accountable for their promises. As such, we are posting the elected MPs survey responses on our website and we will be providing an updated report card on their progress in relation to these issues You can find the surveys here. Additionally, below you can see a quick summary of what Prime Minister Designate, Justin Trudeau and his party promised in relation to these issues. We are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that these promises will be upheld. It is vitally important to women in our communities that these and other issues are addressed.

On issues related to women and the election, on his first day as Prime Minister Designate, Trudeau stated the importance of holding an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. He also made a campaign promise to consult the Canadian people on electoral reform and institute some kind of change from the previous first past the post system, prior to the next election. In his party’s campaign platform, Trudeau pledged to commit $20 billion over 10 years to social infrastructure and to create a national housing action plan that would theoretically provide affordable housing for Canadians at all income levels. Trudeau’s party committed to providing “$125 million per year in tax incentives for developers and landlords to build and renovate rental units.” And lastly on the issue of health and refugees, according to the Liberal Party’s platform, the Liberal government promised to fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program for refugees. While C-24 is not directly mentioned in the Liberal platform, Trudeau has said throughout his campaign that the Liberal government would repeal C-24 and its second-class citizenship. We are pleased with these developments and will be watching local MPs and the larger government to see if and how they fulfill these promises.

Community Engaged Learning with Women & Politics – Part 1

i Dec 11th No Comments by

This Fall Women & Politics was fortunate enough to work as a community partner with the Community Engaged Learning Program at Western University. We had 4 women students from the course, Interest Groups and Social Movements, who did some background research for our organization related to women and politics. The students’ research provided some data and evidence that will inform the direction of our work in regards to encouraging more women to get involved in politics. The areas that the students looked at in their research were: soft entry points for women hoping to get involved in politics, barriers that exist that prevent women from entering politics, best practices from organizations with similar goals to Women & Politics, and lastly government policies that facilitate women’s participation in politics.

You can accesss the student’s full report here but we are going to provide a brief summary of each of the areas of research.  Their research is in no way an exhaustive search of the literature, similar organizations or government policy, but it does provide some evidence for the work and future direction of Women & Politics.

Section I: Women, political ambition & soft entry points to politics

Some of the key findings of this section comes from a study done in the US of College students and political ambition.  ( Lawless & Fox, 2014).  The men and women surveyed were of comparable age, race, religions, household income, and party affiliation.


  • Men said they were twice as likely to have considered running for political office someday, while women were 50% more likely to say they would never run.
  • 40% of male students had been encouraged to run for office later in life by at least one parents, while only 29% of women said the same.
  • Men were more likely to have taken political science class, discuss current events with friends and have run for student government positions in college.
  • Encouragement to run for office is one of the strongest predictors of political ambition. 35% of women vs. 49% of men given political encouragement by at least one source.
  • But 66% of women who received encouragement reported interest in future candidacy
  • Women who played sports were 25% more likely to show political ambition

Other study & literature findings:

  • Women were more likely to participate in informal political efforts and organizations (easier for them with other time commitments and less financial resources)
  • Women DO vote as often or more than men but are less active in formal politics
  • Important to target where women predominate – part-time work and in caring professions, networks and websites.
  • UK expanded opportunities for internships & targeted them at women with much success
  • Childcare and having meetings at different times can be helpful.
  • Women generally more interested in local politics

What this means for Women & Politics?

  • Important to encourage girls at a young age
  • Including families in political participation could  positively impact children
  • Programs in schools directed at girls are important to nurture (HeadStart)
  • Asking women to run is a vital step in getting more women to run
  • Seeking out women who are engaged in more informal political endeavours may be useful
  • Training programs to encourage women into political participation could be used
  • Internships and mentorship are important.
  • Outreach strategies need to reach women where they are at
  • Childcare, meeting times are  important
  • Local politics is a good place to engage women so target municipal level

Family Matters on Council

i Dec 4th No Comments by

This week, we welcomed in a new City Council.  One that, in the eyes of the public, represents broad change from our previous Council.  We have 11 new Councillors, many who come from community-based backgrounds, several who ran grassroots campaigns, plenty that are young, and all who are keen.  What we don’t have is greater representation of women and diverse communities on our Council.  We elected four women; Maureen Cassidy, Anna Hopkins, Virginia Ridley and Tanya Park, and two people of colour, Mohammed Salih and Harold Usher.  Our female representation actually went down in this election, from 30% to just under 27%.

When we started working toward electing more women to Council, we knew this election year was going to be a difficult one.  The lack of women at all levels of government isn’t an easy fix, it is rooted in systemic issues that make it more difficult for women to run for election.  Women still carry the load of domestic responsibilities.  Four out of five sole-parent households are led by women, women spend twice as much time as men taking care of children, and women spend 40% more time on domestic responsibilities.  We are more likely to live in poverty, with women of colour, women with disabilities, aboriginal women, and senior women being even more likely.  Well-documented issues, such as less access to networks, financial connections, scrutiny of women’s appearances and actions, as well as the logistics of government life, make it less likely women will run.  To change the numbers, we need to address many of these issues, and that just doesn’t happen in a short amount of time.  This is long-term change that requires long-term vision and work.

Despite the odds, there were many women who stepped up to run for election, and there were several positives.  We had three strong women Councillors, Nancy Branscombe, Joni Baechler, and Judy Bryant stepping down and not running for re-election.  This meant we weren’t necessarily going to be adding to the women we had on Council, we would be fortunate if we replaced them.  Two of those three departing seats did in fact go to women, with Maureen Cassidy replacing Joni Baechler in ward 5 and Tanya Park replacing Judy Bryant in ward 13.  Virginia Ridley also beat long-time incumbent Paul Van Meerbergen in ward 10 and Anna Hopkins won in a very crowded race in ward 9.  These wins were successes for representation and for women in general, as all of these women are strong advocates for their entire communities and understand the importance of making sure the needs of women and families are considered when making decisions.

We also elected the youngest Council we’ve ever had, and many of these young Councillors have children, including our new Mayor, Matt Brown.  Women & Politics stresses the importance of representation because we need people who hold diverse views and lived experiences at the table for decisions to be made that truly impact everyone.  Once a certain number of people representing those views are present, decisions are more easily made that reflect the needs of the communities they represent.

We now have a Council with plenty of involved parents and the conversation about the value of including families in Council activities and city wide events is already starting to shift.  We see that having many parents at the Council table translates into the perspectives and realities of families’ lives becoming an important consideration in how our Council operates. Just look at the picture from a tour of City Hall that Councillors and their families were given last week.

Council Kids

The Council chamber is full of families and children.  This picture is symbolic of the lives of many of our Councillors, and it demonstrates that children and families can’t help but be considered in the decisions that will be made about our City.  They are being welcomed into Council chambers and symbolically given a seat.  That is how representation matters, and how it ends up making a difference in the decisions and in the climate that is created.

Recognizing the value of families is one step. We need representation.  We need to know that the people at the decision-making table understand the varied needs and lived experiences of the people they are representing.  Most importantly, we need decisions to be made that positively impact the entire community.  We may not have adequate gender or diverse representation at our current Council table, but what we do have is a committed set of Councillors and a Mayor who can reach out to the community to ensure they are representing the needs of women, people of colour, LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, low income people, seniors, and others who may not be well represented. We have a Council who is already making change and taking steps to be more inclusive in regards to families. For that we are thankful and we are also hopeful that this is only the beginning of broader inclusivity by this Council.

(Photo Credit to Councillor Josh Morgan)

Street Harassment and Active Transportation

i Jul 16th 1 Comment by

I have been thinking a lot lately about how women move through our city and what compels people to choose driving over walking, cycling or taking transit.

When I was younger and without a lot of money, I walked, cycled and took transit regularly as these were my only options. I experienced a hefty degree of street harassment that I chalked up to the realities of being a young woman in a world of gendered harassment and violence. As I got older and became more financially stable, I bought a car, moved to the suburbs and used active transportation a lot less.

These changes in my lifestyle corresponded with a decrease in my experience of street harassment. At the time, I attributed this change to ageing and being less of a sexual target, and not to the forms of transportation I was choosing and the amount of time I was spending in public spaces.

Last year we moved to a new neighbourhood – a change that was motivated partially by my family’s desire to be able to walk, cycle and take transit more often. I spend time almost daily now out walking or on my bike and my experience of harassment has correspondingly increased significantly.

I started to make connections (that I am surprised I never made before) about the vulnerability of any woman who spends time in public spaces and the level of harassment she will feel as a result. Being outside and moving in a city means that women will often be subjected to unwanted comments, threats and even assault. A quick read of@everydaysexism on twitter shows just how common place this kind of harassment is.

Harassment in public spaces is also very much tied to race, sexual orientation and gender identification with racialized people and people within LGBTQ communities experiencing higher rates of harassment and assault. Being a woman of colour, a trans person or being identified as lesbian/gay in our community puts one at risk for being followed, cat called and experiencing assault and violence. Taking transit or walking – even in broad daylight – can be a risky endeavour.

Given the option, many women will choose to get into their car, rather than subject themselves to the unsafe atmosphere that can come with transit, walking and cycling.The car becomes a safety box in which a woman can somewhat safely navigate her city. This is often an unconscious decision. You will frequently hear women say that they are going to drive because it is late at night, they are going to an unfamiliar place or it is just easier. From my own experience, “easier” is often a synonym for “safer.”

Because the ability to own a car or afford cab fare is very much tied to class, race and income stability, transportation also becomes a social justice issue. Women who have the means are able to access safer options for transportation over those who don’t. This is inequity.

It also means that cities need to account for women’s safety concerns in their planning efforts for public transportation. If they don’t, not only are they discouraging women from using transit, they are also putting women at risk – particularly low-income women who have no safer options.

A good example in London is our network of trails and paths that politicians and others often cite as part of the cycle/walking network that allows people to move through our city. Many of these paths travel through secluded areas that are unusable at night, dawn or dusk. Even in the light of day, these public spaces are routinely places of harassment for the most vulnerable people in our community. Although it is wonderful to have these paths and connections through our city, they don’t serve as a viable, safe transportation link for many of our city’s residents.

Initiatives likeThe London Plan, our city’s draft plan for the next 25 years puts an emphasis on active transportation and its importance in creating a vibrant city. Transit Villages, increased biking infrastructure and prioritizing walkability in neighbourhoods are all worthy endeavours but unless the planning of these includes the experience of women and the reality of safety concerns, the efforts will fall short.

We will continue to create options that, while unintentional, discourage women and vulnerable people from utilizing these choices and put the safety of our community at risk.

The city is facing an upcoming municipal election in October. Many candidates are speaking positively about the need for active transportation and better transit in our city. As a citizen and on behalf of Women & Politics, I want to know how well candidates understand and acknowledge the role of gender in transportation planning and how they would address the issues of safety that women and many others in our city feel when using public spaces.

The London Plan: We Need a Gendered Lens

i Jun 25th No Comments by

On behalf of Women and Politics London, I want to state my support for the London Plan and also commend City Staff and Council on their extensive work in engaging Londoners. This forward-thinking plan for our city is the result of a thorough and focussed engagement process that I enthusiastically applaud.

London Plan

The London Plan

There is much to like about the plan and the vision it sets out for London over the next 25 years.

There is a strong commitment to diversity and inclusiveness embedded throughout the plan. Recognizing that our city thrives best when we have a city where everyone feels welcome and where all people’s needs are considered, is a real strength of the London Plan.

The focus on cohesive neighbourhoods with access to amenities is a really important one for women. Given that women still carry the bulk of the load of domestic responsibilities, having neighbourhoods with good access to shopping, banks, daycare and more is extremely important to the quality of life of women and families. In addition, having a section that focusses on housing and homelessness recognizes the importance of secure and stable housing to the health of all people, including women.

The London Plan includes and emphasizes improved transit and active transportation, which is vitally important to the realities of women’s lives and the need for them to be able to move efficiently through the city. Being connected to major areas of our city allows for the greatest access to jobs, healthcare, childcare and community connections.

Women who are low-income will also benefit greatly from creating a local, vibrant food system where food is readily available and located close by.

As I said there is much to like about the London Plan and these are just a few of the highlights that relate to women.

Despite these strengths and many others in the plan, we do think that gender and the way women and men use a city differently, hasn’t been considered enough in the London Plan.

Gender Mainstreaming

The Fair Shared City concept, also called Gender Mainstreaming, is a public policy strategy that makes women and men’s concerns and experiences an integral part of any planned actions or policies. In a municipal setting the goal is to have cities that meet the needs of everyone.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and many cities have included Fair Shared City Planning or Gender Mainstreaming into their decision making processes and policies.

Montreal’s Women and City program led to the building of new metro stations surrounded in glass so women could be seen more easily, as well as buses that let women off between stops at night, and the training of 200 small businesses with signs in the windows to indicate safe spaces for women. These and other initiatives are a large part of the reason that Montreal was ranked the 4th best major-city to live in for Women in Canada.

Vienna has prioritized gender mainstreaming and is often used as a global example of a city that is designed well to meet the needs of both men and women and the City of Ottawa has included a gendered lens in many of its initiatives.

Understanding the Stats

In looking at the London Plan and some of the statistics that helped shape the plan, we also see an information gap regarding how many men and women make up our city or how they may use our city differently.

Although we know that the City has been very inclusive in their Rethink process and that gender is likely assumed in the intent of many of the policies, unless gender is explicitly looked at, the default is that men and women are the same.

The United Nations and others recognize the importance of using a gender lens in planning and policy making and so should London.

Gender Differences Matter

There are examples of items in the London plan where gender differences matter, and may not be fully addressed.

For every 3 men who cycle there is just one woman doing the same. In study of why women don’t bike, women cited safety as major concern; both being hits by cars and where bike lanes/pathways are located. Another reason cited for this gap was the inability to bring children or cargo.

Given that women continue to carry the bulk of childcare and household responsibilities, how and where cycling infrastructure is built has a strong impact on whether women will use it.

We also fully support the idea of transit villages. How these hubs and other transit links are built will impact how and if women use them. Women tend to multi-trip when using transit; they stop and pick up things along the way instead of going point to point and are more likely to have children with them.

Where and how transit is designed needs to incorporate the needs and realities of women’s lives and it can’t be assumed that they are the same as men’s needs. The process needs to be deliberate.

The London Plan: We Need a Gendered Lens

Women and Politics supports the London Plan. But we do think that the perspective of gender has not been included in the strategy and directions of the plan and that this is an oversight. The potential for the London Plan to enhance the lives of all residents of London is huge, but we need to ensure that we are meeting the needs of women and men.

Women’s Campaign School: what we learned

i Apr 10th No Comments by

On Saturday close to 40 Londoners come out to our first Women’s Municipal Campaign School at Goodwill Industries to learn about the ins and outs of running and volunteering in a Municipal campaign.

With the leadership of experienced City politicians Joni Baechler, Judy Bryant and Gina Barber, we heard about the importance of communicating your candidacy, the logistics of running a campaign, fundraising ideas, legal requirements and more.

Members of the media were also present to give tips on dealing with the press. Candidates also had the opportunity to participate in mock media interviews.

For me, it was especially wonderful to see many new faces in the room and a balanced representation of men and women. Many familiar faces of were present, but there were also fresh people who were interested in learning more about how to become involved in a municipal campaigns. The connecting and sharing between all of these participants was key to the event’s success.

Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of the training was the opportunity to ask questions of the many women political leaders in the room. In London, we are fortunate to have a wealth of women politicians who are willing to share their time and experiences with other women.

Many campaign school participants commented on how helpful it was to be able to talk one-on-one with women who had been there and done that.

As a Women’s Campaign School looking at campaigning through a gendered lens, the realities of being a woman in politics came up frequently.

Many challenges were acknowledged and yet the best examples of how these can be overcome came from the many successful women politicians in the room. In their stories they exemplified how standing strong in your values, surrounding yourself with people who support you and not getting distracted by your detractors is key to succeeding. I know that their stories inspired many and served as an example of those who have paved the way for others.

The team at Women & Politics believes that when women support one another and work to amplify each other’s voices, we can change things for the better. We can stand behind one another, not because we always agree but because we believe that diverse women’s voices need to be heard.

Our Women’s Municipal Campaign School obviously didn’t solve all the barriers to women’s participation in politics, but we hope it was one small step towards helping women in succeed in our community.

We need more women

i Jan 7th No Comments by

London’s 2014 election cycle took off over the past week with the nomination of several candidates for City Council, and the announcement by a few incumbents declaring they are not planning on running for Council again.

Already we see trends indicating Women will be under represented on Council in 2014 unless something changes. Out of 15 nominations filed as of January 6th, 12 were men and only 3 were women. In addition, Joni Baechler, Nancy Branscombe and Judy Bryant, 3 of the 5 current women City Councillors, announced their decisions to step down and not run in the upcoming election.

All of this potentially leaves London with a lack of women candidates. It is still very early in the election cycle and more women may step forward, but it will take an active approach by the London community to ensure we have gender representation on our future Council.

Why gender representation is important
The United Nations says that at least 30% women representation is needed before political bodies like City Councils, produce public policy representing women’s concerns and before political institutions change how they operate. Without representation, issues that impact women are easily overlooked or thought to be included in male perspectives. Women don’t always agree on what issues matter, nor are they are a homogenous group, but if women only hold a fraction of the seats on Council, there is little chance that the broad range of views held by different women will be well represented in decision making. We need diversity and not just gender diversity – race, income, ability and language to name just a few.

What we can do
Each of us needs to ask women we know in our community to run for City Council or the Mayor’s chair and we need to ask them many times. It has been shown that women in particular need to be asked more than once, before they will run for office.

Most importantly, we need to show them they have our support – financially, organizationally and also once they get elected. This isn’t just a call to women in London to support other women, but a call to everyone. A community thrives when its diverse interests are represented in government.

Fortunately there are initiatives already happening. Head Start London, with the leadership of Joni Baechler, has been hosting events with young women, encouraging them to get into politics as well as providing mentoring. The City has also committed to funding a video project to further this work and ensure the message about  the importance of women in politics spreads widely.

In addition, we at Women & Politics are hosting a meeting on January 20th to plan how we will actively encourage and support more women to come forward and run in the 2014 election. Join us and/or encourage a woman you know to come out and help us make this happen.

London needs a City Council that is representative of its community. It will take hard work and effort to make this happen and we at Women & Politics are committed to taking on the task. Will you join us?

The Launch of Women & Politics London

i Dec 9th No Comments by

I am happy to announce the launch of our new blog and to share with you the story of how Women and Politics, a citizen-led initiative that looks to engage and increase the participation of women in the political landscape, came to be.

In October we hosted a very successful Pints and Politics discussion on women and the barriers they face in participating in politics. A double-work day, lack of role models, negative environment, overt focus on women’s appearances and an absence of women’s perspectives were just a few of the reasons identified as to why women may be reluctant to participate or engage with politics.

It is recognized that although many women are active in their communities, many are reluctant to acknowledge how this participation connects to politics. Because of this it was decided that a space was needed for women to have meaningful conversations about politics and community. A space where we could actively work to increase the participation of women as both citizens and candidates at all levels of government and look at policy issues from a gendered lens.

With a 2014 municipal election on the horizon we felt the time was particularly ripe for us to come together and create change.

We held our first official meeting in November and about 20 women of varying ages, backgrounds and perspectives came out to help shape the direction of the group. Many different activities were proposed including this blog, a citizen tool kit, ‘field trips’ to city council meetings, educational workshops on citizen tools (letter writing, making a delegation to council etc..), telling the stories of women politicians, reaching out to marginalized communities, get-out-to-vote campaigns and more.

Our next meeting is January 20, 2014 where we will continue the planning process and also host a local politician who will share her story about her path to politics. Stay tuned for registration information.

We will be sharing events, ideas and issue related to women and politics through this blog as well as our twitter and facebook pages.

As our group is non-partisan, we hope to represent a variety of political viewpoints here. We will have several different authors writing for the blog and will welcome additional guest posts that fit our mandate.

We look forward to engaging in meaningful conversations and making new connections.