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I Encourage all Corporates To Identify Avenues for Incorporating CSR into their Business Strategies – Bekeme Masade

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Bekeme Masade

 

Bekeme Masade is a Harvard-trained social entrepreneur and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of CSR-in-Action. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of BAO, she spoke on the state of corporate citizenship in the country; how she has managed her company’s ultimate goal  “CSR advocacy” and the challenges involved among other issues.

 

EXCERPTS:

 

Tell us about CSR-in-Action

CSR-in-Action is a conglomerate of 3 sustainability focused businesses: CSR-In-Action Consulting, the College of Sustainable Citizenship and CSR-In-Action Advocacy. Our vision to be the foremost independent ethical action network and consultancy for collective social responsibility and corporate governance in West Africa was birthed in 2010. Since then, we have evolved into a leading sustainability consultancy with over 20 member organisations from the business and civil societies, partners in both public and private sector, and clients from diverse industries.

From inception, our goal has been to bridge the sustainability gap through the initiation of sustainable development, responsible behavior and good governance; and we have done this by promoting an inclusive approach to development at every turn. I believe that it is our ability to create solutions that marry the experiences in our local terrain with international best practices that has distinguished us from others, and we constantly work to develop increasingly innovative and sustainable strategies for our valued stakeholders in the public and private sectors.

It is in our efforts to redefine the sustainability terrain that we have, over the years, championed several strategic initiatives. Through our consultancy, we have advanced a major tenet of sustainability by supporting organisations like Etisalat Nigeria, Lafarge Africa, Total Nigeria and the Nigerian Stock Exchange to write sustainability reports, in compliance with the world recognised Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework; and assuring reports of organisations like Access Bank. Having introduced the GRI framework to the Nigerian market, today, we are an organisational stakeholder of the GRI and the first indigenous Accountability AA1000 Assurance Partner in Sub-Saharan Africa.

On the advocacy front, we have several flagship programmes including the Sustainability in the Extractive Industries (SITEI) Conference – now in its 6th year – which has brought together key stakeholders in the extractive industries to engage in high level deliberations over opportunities for growth, development and diversification in the sector, with key consideration for good governance, community development, environmental responsibility, and effective stakeholder engagement.

Since 2015, we have partnered with the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) to garner active participation from the public and private sector; and in 2016, the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development, Ford Foundation and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) also came on board as partners. We’ve had other partners over the years span several industries including the Canadian High Commission, BusinessDay, Zenera Consulting, Shell, Chevron, Lafarge Africa, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Zone 4 Energy, and a host of others.

The Collective Social Investment Report is also one of the flagship programmes we are very proud of. This compendium serves as a repository of information on the sustainability strategies and activities of corporates in Nigeria, and goes on to rank them per industry based on global standards in the 3C-Index. We partnered with Accenture in building the framework for the 2014 report, and Ernst and Young served as a reviewer to ensure proper analysis of the information. The 2012, 2013 and 2014 reports – as well as the ranking – can all be found on our website.

Also under advocacy, we have the Good Citizen Initiative, which is a focused campaign to reorient the minds of everyday Nigerian citizens to act responsibly to the end that we build a Nigeria we would all be proud to call home.

Over the years, we have recognised that we cannot only tell people to do, but we must also empower them to do. Our College of Sustainable Citizenship runs an entire gamut of sustainability focused courses that will build the necessary capacity in individuals, corporates and governments to understand the economic, social and environmental responsibilities that accrue to them, and action these effectively and sustainably.

Our holistic approach, therefore, provides a suitable platform for responsible individuals, non-profits, philanthropists, organisations and governments to develop and showcase their ethical and sustainable investment initiatives, and incorporate best practice that will lead to the promotion of sustainable development in every sector of the Nigerian economy.

Is there any difference between philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and corporate citizenship?

Certainly, there is. Philanthropy has a narrower, more limited scope than both corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate citizenship – which can be used interchangeably. Philanthropy refers primarily to donations made to charitable or non-profit groups either by the corporation, its employees, or both. CSR – which is also sometimes called corporate citizenship – deals with the economic, social, and environmental consciousness and responsiveness of an organisation, which can involve philanthropy.

We know popular philanthropists like, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, and John Rockefeller, to name a few. These individuals, through their foundations, have given billions of dollars in aid to vulnerable communities all over the world, and we find many companies who do same. While donations to communities, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, clinics, or schools is commendable, the paradigm has shifted, and demands that we go the extra mile to address an organisation’s need to treat their stakeholders ethically and with respect; this is where CSR and corporate citizenship take the reins.

With CSR and corporate citizenship, a company has to show its commitment to ethical behavior, balance stakeholders’ needs, and protect the environment, whilst creating economic value. The link between its efforts at CSR and its core values must, therefore, be strong to make notable impact.

Leading a social enterprise in Nigeria, what has your experience been in CSR consulting, advocacy, and sustainable citizenship?

CSR-in-Action began with advocacy; and our experiences in the space drew our attention to the disconnect between the efforts of corporate and public sector organisations, and the needs of the communities within which they operate. Thus, we have honed our skills to provide better positioning and alignment of goals, strategies and programmes.

It has also been our experience that concepts with more long term benefits than immediate pay offs, take more time to catch on, but eventually do so given the right environment, commitment, and support. Just a few years ago, the general reaction to the subject of ‘sustainability’ or ‘CSR’ was rather disappointing. Companies were neither willing to accept responsibility, nor make the requisite changes and adopt new innovations to create shared value for all. Fortunately, the wind of change blowing across the globe has changed that perspective in Nigeria. Organisations now see more clearly the need for responsible and sustainable behaviour if they will compete, survive and even excel on the local and global scale.

For instance, many of the multinational oil & gas companies have been compelled to pay more attention to their exploration activities and its environmental impact in their host communities. The increasingly strict regulations in this regard, and the brand equity they lose by failing to comply has inspired a previously scarce sense of commitment to doing business responsibly. And we have seen this deliberate attention come into play in the increased participation from both public and private sector in the SITEI conference over the years.

The marked growth we have seen has certainly been encouraging. Through our transition to training and consulting, we have helped many companies set the standard for sustainability in their respective industries by not only raising awareness on international best practice, but by building capacity and supporting these organisations to take steps in the right direction.

What are the major challenges facing social entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

It often feels as though these challenges are innumerable, but for starter, there is the lack of funding. Because social entrepreneurs are more focused on social, cultural and environmental issues that do not immediately boast economic viability, funds are often not readily accessible. This typically leads to organisations that lack efficiency in their operations.

There is also a clear lack of mentorship support. The younger social entrepreneurs are usually full of passion but have little experience when they venture into this sector are thus in need of capacity to set up professional establishments. Unfortunately, the right type of guidance is often not available. Looking at CSR-in-Action for instance, at the beginning, no other organisation was driving CSR like we were, as such, there was no local example to learn from or emulate. We were, therefore, forced to look beyond the shores of Nigeria to acquire the necessary training and guidance that would make us stand out.

Another major challenge is genuine partnerships from reputable bodies. The ability to make tremendous impact would be tremendously enhanced through collaborations, yet, many social entrepreneurs lack access to such partnerships – international and local. Where social entrepreneurs have fantastic ideas with clear plans for implementation, and valuable benefits, they often need the support of reputable, bigger and more viable organisations to implement successfully. Unfortunately, many of these organisations do not buy into the vision, and such programmes die naturally, or are implemented poorly.

Poor infrastructure has equally hampered progress for all types of organisations, and social entrepreneurs are no different. Erratic power supply, bad road network, poor transport system, and many other socio-economic issues have significantly raised the cost of living in Nigeria, over the years. Nigeria has been judged one of the fastest growing economies in Africa after South Africa, and with population of over 150 million people. Yet, we lack the basic infrastructure to meet the needs of majority of the population; how can we then hope to stimulate activities that will make the required impact on the society?

 

Of course, it would be impossible to answer this question without identifying corruption as one of the biggest problems a social entrepreneur faces. More disheartening is the fact that social entrepreneurs are just as easily perpetrators, as they are victims, of corruption. Where some projects have stalled because the organisation refused to give kick-backs to those who have deemed themselves ‘benefactors’, others have used their organisations as fronts to make quick cash at the expense of corporates with good intentions. It is, therefore, difficult to build trust, making progress practically impossible.

 

What sustainable strategies have helped you navigate the challenging business environment?

Challenges are not new, and in fact, we embraced this vision knowing the possibility of not just encountering them, but much more, overcoming them. Consequently, we made clear cut choices that would enable us to not only compete, but stand out in our market. Also, we clearly defined our strategy and business model, adopted a sustainable lifestyle as an organisation, and positioned ourselves to collaborate profitably with likeminded, future thinking organisations, both home and abroad such as the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC).

Specifically, we have navigated the business terrain sustainably first by diversifying our portfolio to meet increasing demands in newer yet related spheres. We discovered that the world around us is changing constantly and quickly. As such, to avoid being left behind, we had to decipher other useful avenues to deliver relevant business solutions and by so doing, bring value to our clients in the most sustainable way. This has positioned us as a dynamic organisation with global aspirations.

Secondly, we have maintained our consistency of quality. We understand what makes us unique and what drives our market, and we have painstakingly maintained that level of quality service delivery to our esteemed clients. This, in addition to the integrity that we have become known for, keeps us ahead of the pack and has earned us the deserved respect. We strictly abide by moral values that prevent us from either giving or taking bribes, shortchanging our clients in any way, or manipulating figures for any personal gain.

I believe one of our major strengths also lies in collaboration. Like I earlier said, we have actively collaborated over the years with international and local organsiations. These collaborations have allowed us to leverage other – and sometimes bigger – platforms to sail through uncharted waters over the years.

Finally, we are keen on ensuring that we genuinely seek the good of our clients, developing new and sustainable ways of meeting their needs in a most transparent manner. We are dedicated to keeping our word as stated in any contract we sign, and where we are unavoidably unable to deliver on any of our responsibilities as agreed, we are forthright with all clients.

What recommendations do you have for corporates with no CSR plan operating in Nigeria and Africa?

Any CSR initiative must be deliberate to take advantage of the tremendous benefits that accrue.  With the increasing attention being paid to the positive or negative impacts of the activities of organisations, corporates are paying more attention to CSR, although traction is still somewhat slow. The key thing to remember is that CSR is not just a department, but must be an integral part of the system or framework that drives an organisation. That way, nothing is left to chance.

Today, global trends point to the fact that stakeholders are as equally concerned with social and environmental impacts of corporates’ activities, just as much as the economic impacts. Considering that no business can prosper in a declining locality. Thus, the problems of education, health, crime, unemployment, drugs, socio-political unrest, global warming, pollution, and a host of others, dramatically affect business. While businesses have previously considered these to be the exclusive domain of government, more and more business leaders across the world are accepting part of the responsibility to improve the communities in which they do business, thus setting good examples and standards for others.

I, therefore, would encourage all corporates to identify avenues for incorporating CSR into their business strategies due to the attendant benefits that comes with it. For instance, incorporating CSR can help companies engage with their customers in new ways, garner them the social license to operate, increase brand loyalty, and inspire innovative and cost-saving approaches to doing business. In the end, the reasons all come down to long-term competitive advantage.

 

Bekeme Masade

Bekeme Masade is a Harvard-trained social entrepreneur and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of CSR-in-Action; an organisation dedicated to promoting the advancement and awareness of Corporate Social Responsibility, women and youth empowerment, good governance and sustainable development in Nigeria.

She holds a Merit in International Human Resource Management & Employment Relations (MSc) from the prestigious University of London, Queen Mary College. As a renowned policy maker and private sector leader Bekeme was nominated to represent Nigeria, alongside other African nationals to understudy the German green economy – Energiewiende – and sustainability with a view to localizing the principles for economic diversification in Nigeria.

Under her leadership, CSR-in-Action has also enjoyed regional recognition as a sustainability expert from both the public and private sector. She initiated the Sustainability in the Extractive Industries (SITEI) conference and has nurtured it into its fourth year with strong government participation. She also implemented the first ever Collective Social Investment Report in 2012 to showcase business activities in the light of Corporate Sustainability and recently partnered with Accenture and Ernst & Young.

She has also embarked on a sustainability reporting, assurance, as well as strategy development under the consulting arm of her firm, CSR-in-Action.

Bekeme is a certified trainer of the world globally renowned GRI G4 sustainability reporting and a certified trainer having undergone the “Train the Trainer” programme. Bekeme is Chairman of the Board of Passion House, and is on the Board of Waste Recycling Community of Nigeria.

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Corporate Executive

Chantel Cooper: The Epitome of Empathy and Care

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Chantel Cooper, CEO of The Children’s Hospital Trust (Image: Supplied)

Chantel joined the Children’s Hospital Trust in 2013 as the Head of Fundraising and Communication and was appointed as CEO in 2019. For her, 2020 was a year that reinforced the importance of the core purpose of the Trust and the difference the organisation wants to make in the lives of children. “Our cause is driven by the need to make a difference in the lives of sick and injured children. We are people who work together to save the lives of the children who matter. We all have a purpose!” she says.

Sharing excerpts from her journey, Chantel says:

“My purpose in life is to serve those who are most vulnerable: women and children. My career was driven by my passion to make a real difference in the lives of women and children. When I was 18 years old, I volunteered for an organisation that provided support for women who had been raped. While volunteering, I started working with women in rural areas in the Eastern Cape where we found opportunities to grow their businesses.

“My passion for women led me to Cape Town where I became Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town when I was 27 years old. After the birth of my two children, I moved to an organisation called St Joseph’s Home for chronically Ill Children. St Joseph’s is a step-down facility for tertiary hospitals like the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. It was a profound move for me as I was able to work with children who inspired me.

“One of the most valuable lessons I learnt is the power of love. You can offer a child the best healthcare in the world, but what a child wants most is their parents to love them and be by their side. This is the value I most appreciate about the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and my past experiences. This hospital believes in child-centered care and knows that a child heals when their parent or caregiver is by their side – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. All other hospitals had restricted access to patients, but the presence of a parent is imperative to their sick or injured child’s healing.”

Overcoming Adversities

“The COVID-19 pandemic taught our team that life can change in a blink of an eye and that we need to be prepared for all possibilities. The pandemic hit the world with such speed and velocity that we had no choice but to find a way to not only sail through the storm but also find ways to get out of the situation stronger than before.”

Chantel also states that 2020 provided the Children’s Hospital Trust with the opportunity to learn extraordinary lessons that they would not have normally had the opportunity to learn and some of these include:

  • The value of deep listening and the importance of demonstrating kindness.
  • Working in collaboration created the opportunity for meaningful impact for our beneficiaries.
  • Opportunities do exist during challenging times; positivity exposed the opportunities.
  • Adapting to change during uncertain times helped to build a resilient team.

“Our Trust team demonstrated ingenuity, compassion, resilience, commitment, and fortitude during a very difficult time. As a result, we surpassed our goals, and this enabled our organisation to reach more children and families. We are grateful for the contribution from every individual,” adds Chantel.

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“Walking through the corridors of a children’s hospital during a crisis gave perspective on the real value of care, kindness, and collaboration. While children were not the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Work Department experienced first-hand the profound impact the pandemic had on children’s health and well-being.

“Unemployment, food insecurity, child safety and schooling were common concerns for many patients and their parents who entered the doors of the Hospital. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital values patient and family-centred care which includes care for the whole family from a holistic perspective.

“In response to the needs of the families, the Trust secured funding to enable the social workers to provide additional counselling services and material support such as the provision of food, hygiene, and home-schooling supplies to vulnerable families when children were discharged from the Hospital.” Read more on the Family Care Project here.

Redefining Excellence

The core to achieving our vision is upholding our values of Integrity, Accountability, Kindness, Dynamism, and Collaboration in every aspect of our work. The Trust has a sound financial record in administration and good governance. For the past 28 years, we have raised funds to address many pressing needs, but much has yet to be done. With the help of many donors, we continue to give hope and healing to our little ones who need it most.

The Trust raises funds for the upgrade and expansion of the Hospital’s buildings, the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment, and new medical treatment projects and funds the training of medical professionals across Africa – ensuring that the Hospital not only retains its world-class stature but is able to continue providing life-changing and life-saving care for children.

The Trust relies on donations to fund these needs. When you donate to the Trust, 100% of your donation goes towards funding projects that change children’s lives (and the lives of the people who love them). The operational costs of the Trust are funded from an endowment, so your generous contributions are never used to cover administration costs.

Donate to the Children’s Hospital Trust today! www.childrenshospitaltrust.org.za

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Neya Kalu, the new Chairman of The Sun Nigeria

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Neya Kalu (Image supplied: Her Network)

Neya Kalu is the Chairman and Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, founded and published in  Nigeria. A reputable company that publishes relevant news in Nigeria and around the  world in over ten categories. She is also the founder and CEO of Basecoat Nigeria. 

Educated at the University of Buckingham with a degree in Law and Finance, Neya leads the Board on strategic matters, establishes high governance, and oversees the  company’s business. 

Before becoming Chairman/Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, Neya, an entrepreneur, built and runs several successful businesses, the most recent being Base Coat, a nail salon  chain in Lagos. She is also the Vice-Chairman of Sun Heavens Hotels and Resorts.  

With a strong interest in social issues and a desire to empower women, Neya works with  the OUK Foundation to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs one through six.

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IoDSA CEO Parmi Natesan on Building Great Directors in South Africa

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IoDSA CEO, Parmi Natesan

Established in 1960 as a branch of the Institute of Directors in London, the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA) is a non-profit company (NPC) with members and is the only professional body for directors that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) (ID422). IoDSA mission is to influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Parmi Natesan talks about the IoDSA she leads, its contribution to the south african economy, challenges, gender inclusion and diversity and much more. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Το begin, brίefly tell us about the loD South Africa and your strategic role?

Parmi: The Institute of Directors in South Africa is a non-profit company and a SAQA-recognised professional body for directors in South Africa. It is also a promoter of corporate governance, acting as convener and secretariat of the King Committee and having ownership of the King Reports on Governance for South Africa.

Its vision is  – Better Directors. Better Boards. Better Business.

Its mission is – To influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. 

We drive corporate governance awareness and improvement through thought leadership, hosting learning events, performing governance advisory services and board performance evaluations. We contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of directorship through training and certifications.

Alaba: What would you say are the major contributions of the institυte to the South African economy?

Parmi: The enhancement of corporate governance and directorship has a knock-on positive effect to the South African economy.

Major recent contributions include:

  • We submitted a letter written to the Chair of the Zondo Commission containing good governance recommendations for director competencies and appointment processes.
  • We issue numerous media releases and broadcast interviews to raise awareness of governance learnings
  • We offer discounts on our services to NPOs and SMEs, in an effort to assist them with improving their governance and thus growing and thriving as a business.

Alaba: Since your appointment as the institute CEO, what are your biggest challenges and role in corporate governance?

Parmi: We have a duty to hold our members to account in the public interest. This has meant introduction of a new member code of conduct and disciplinary regulations to govern this. What has been a challenge is that membership of the IoDSA is currently voluntary.  An individual does not need to be a member in order to serve as a director. So there is unfortunately no common benchmark or standard for directorship. 

Sometimes the IoDSA brand gets tainted by “bad” directors who are found to have acted unethically, as the public does not realise that these directors are not necessarily our members, and thus we have limited mandate to act against them. Another challenge is the way in which corporate governance gets applied in corporations, often in a tick-box compliance fashion. This is form over substance and not conducive to achieving the desired outcomes of good corporate governance. Changing mindsets and behaviour around this is critical and there is no one size fits all solution.

Each organisation needs to consider what makes sense for their business. Instead of wanting to follow a compliance driven approach of ticking boxes, organisations should follow a mindful application approach of putting practices in place that in their judgment ultimately achieve the necessary outcomes of ethical leadership, effective control, good performance and legitimacy. The judgment of the governing body is critical in this approach.

Alaba: What is your view on how leadership is changing, amid broader efforts in society to see greater inclusivίty in terms of race, gender, and socio-economic background, and a move towards making a more positive and sustainable contribution to society?

Parmi: We are advocate for diversity on boards, not only in terms of race, gender and socio-economic background, but also in terms of skills and experience. Diverse groups are able to tackle problems from various angles and this leads to better decision making. We have a specific focus on advocating for more women on boards. With women controlling consumer spending and forming half of the educated workforce, it does not make sense that they are still largely underrepresented in South African boardrooms.

The role of directors is definitely changing as we move towards a more stakeholder focused way of running business.  In the past, the primary focus of directors was financial return for their companies. That has changed considerably over the years, where business is now seen as a corporate citizen of the country in which it operates. And it thus needs to be conscious of the impact that it has on society and the environment in which it operates. This is why integrated reporting (as opposed to just financial reporting) is so critical.

In today’s fast-paced world, achieving the right skills as a director is not a target but a journey: business models, socio-economic models, political models – sometimes it seems everything – are changing and old certainties seem to be in the process of continual redefinition. Directors, who play such a critical role in organisations and, indirectly, the fabric of public life, are least able to feel they have achieved the right skills mix.

In general, professionals have a certain credibility and respect in the market, which they need to protect through ongoing learning, adapting and competence.

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Alaba: Let’s talk about entrepreneurshίp. What is your view on how female entrepreneurship can be fostered?

Parmi: Entrepreneurship is a critical contributor towards our economy and should thus be fostered.

Alaba: Το what extent can digital connectivity catalyse South Africa’s economic recovery, for example helping foster both flexible working and the levelling-up of rural areas?

Parmi: Digital can open many doors and opportunities for people to participate in economic activity.

Alaba:  Before the year ends, what would you ultimately like to achieve?

Parmi: Greater awareness of the power and impact of good corporate governance can make, not only on companies, but also on a country. South Africa as a country desperately needs ethical and effective leaders to steer our country in the right direction to prosper. We have been lobbying for enhancements in director appointment processes in both the private and public sector in South Africa. It would be great to see some traction on this from the policy makers.

Alaba: Lastly, what has been the most significant-ever moment for you professionally – and what advice would you give your younger self?

Parmi: I have received many accolades including:

  • Rising Star Award from the Nelson Mandela University.
  • Finalist for Businesswoman of the Year at the Top Women Awards.
  • Global Woman Achiever at the World Women Leadership Congress.
  • Ethical Leadership Award at the SAICA Difference Makers Awards.

However, I think my most significant moment professionally has to be having the privilege and honour to lead the IoDSA. In fact I was the youngest person to be CEO of the IoD SA, and the first ever person of colour. This platform gives me an even louder voice to influence and advocate for ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.

In terms of advice to my younger self, a few things I actually often tell my daughter

  1. Girls can do anything boys can do – never let our gender hold you back.
  2. Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Watch IoDSA HERE

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