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Interview: African Energy Chamber Executive Chairman, NJ Ayuk on Transforming Africa’s Energy Sector

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A leading energy lawyer and a strong advocate for African entrepreneurs, NJ Ayuk is recognized as one of the foremost figures in African business today. Founder and CEO of Centurion Law Group, a pan-African law firm and the current chairman of the African Energy Chamber, NJ strives through his work to ensure that business, and especially oil and gas, impacts African societies in a positive way and drives local content development. In this interview with  Alaba Ayinuola, NJ shed light on the continent’s biggest energy challenges, the impact of the African Energy Chamber(AEC) in the continent’s energy, oil and gas sector. And how is AEC is becoming the entry door to Africa’s oil & gas sector. Excerpt.

 

Tell us about the African Energy Chamber and the gap it’s filling.

The African Energy Chamber is based on a network of public and private executives that have been working towards the development of Africa’s oil and gas industry for several years now, mostly focusing on local content development. Seeing the need for Africa to have a stronger voice on the global energy scene and communicate better, we have opened up the organisation to all interested parties two years ago. Since then both the Chamber’s network and its activities have considerable grown. We have welcomed over a 100 new partners, both institutional and corporate from across Africa and have multiplied initiatives, especially when it comes to institutional capacity building, local content development and facilitating foreign investment and advisory.

 

How long as the chamber being in existence and how does  your organisation measure it’s impact?

We work for the interest of African companies and entrepreneurs. Seeing the number of them reaching out to us for support over the past year has been the strongest indicator of our impact and ability to both represent African interests and unite the right network of partners towards common goals. We have increasingly received requests to assist African SMEs and larger oil services companies to expand across sub-Saharan Africa. This is a very good sign for the future growth of the African content: our companies are hungry and want to expand. We are also bringing lots of support to governments and governmental institutions in capacity building, especially within rapidly growing markets like South Sudan.

 

How’s the chamber being perceived both internationally and within the continent?

Internationally, we are mostly perceived as a source of information and an access door to some of Africa’s fastest-growing or most complex markets. The need for on-the-ground information and data on Africa is growing very rapidly and foreign investors are looking for reliable local partners and information providers, especially when it comes to finding their ways around Africa’s many different jurisdictions and ways of doing business.

From within the continent, we are increasingly seen as being a voice and conscience for the sector. We advocate for the issues at heart for African companies, entrepreneurs and people. Our industry needs a strong voice pushing for local content development and domestic capacity building and we are proud to have positioned ourselves as a key advocate in this regard.

 

What in your view is the biggest energy challenge in Africa?

Africa is plagued by many energy challenges, which are all opportunities, from energy affordability to infrastructure and lack of financing. While we address all of those as an institution, we do insist on the challenge of monetising resources, especially gas ones. By flaring gas like we have for decades, we have concretely burned billions of dollars worth of resources that could power our entire continent, hundreds of factories and create millions of jobs. We believe gas is the future of Africa’s energy industry, and creating monetisation opportunities across the board, from petrochemicals to power, from cement to petrochemicals manufacturing units, should be a priority.

 

What is Africa doing right in terms of it’s energy sector?

African nations have taken positive steps in engaging each other and exploring common opportunities. This manifests itself first on the international stage. Equatorial Guinea and Congo Brazzaville joined OPEC in 2017 and 2018, strengthening the African voice within the industry’s most influential organisation. But many other African countries have also joined the Declaration of Cooperation and frequently attend OPEC meetings like South Sudan, Chad, Uganda etc. International engagement from Africa is something that was missing and has been corrected. As a result of that, African governments and companies have also been increasingly talking to each other. Major projects are moving ahead thanks to this dialogue, be it the Tortue field between Senegal and Mauritania, or the recent gas unitisation agreement between Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

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What surprises you about this sector and it’s future?

The unexploited potential is massive, and quite frankly overwhelming. In terms of oil & gas exploration, we believe that world-class global discoveries are to be made in the near future. The recent ones in Mozambique and Senegal are just the beginning. Beyond mere exploration, the potential for meeting the continent’s growing energy needs, addressing increasing energy consumption, and providing jobs to millions of young men and women is what will define the future of the sector. This represent billions of dollars at play, both for foreign investors willing to take risks and make lucrative deals, but especially for us Africans if we are able to seize the opportunities offered to us by our land.

 

Do you see the deepen of a private-public partnership drive growth in this sector?

We do not think there has been a serious deepening of private-public partnerships, which remain a major need for the sector. This would require a market-by-market analysis, as in some places the lack of PPPs is a regulatory one, while in others you actually do have successes but in other sectors such as infrastructure. Overall, the need for PPPs in the industry is there, and the power sector offers tremendous opportunities for such projects. However, many regulations need to be revised, public institutions need to adhere to stronger governance standards, and private investors must be made aware of the right opportunities and projects to get involved in.

 

What is your vision and goal for this chamber under your leadership?

The AEC is becoming the entry door to Africa’s oil & gas sector. We are already receiving lots of queries from new investors wishing to enter fast growth markets, and having local representatives on the ground is positioning us as a strong advisor and facilitator for foreign investors, while being able to properly communicate what is happening on the ground to the international energy community. On the second hand, we also want to be building domestic capacity, both by training and skilling Africans so they can take on additional responsibilities across the value chain, but also by bringing in more technology and best practices to our local companies so we contribute to boosting local content.

 

You own Centurion Law Group, tell us about this law firm and how are you managing these two big brands?

Centurion is a pan-African legal and advisory business specialised in oil & gas. We are leaders in frontier jurisdictions like Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan and do not shy away from working in what many wrongly perceive as challenging markets. More importantly, we are a firm who believes in African talent and have dedicated ourselves to train the next generation of African lawyers. It is very upsetting to see the amount of legal work on Africa that goes to London or New York when we have high-quality and highly-trained legal talent present on the continent. As such we are more than offering legal services; we are a law firm with a mission.

 

About NJ Ayuk:

A leading energy lawyer and a strong advocate for African entrepreneurs, NJ Ayuk is recognized as one of the foremost figures in African business today. A Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum, one of Forbes’ Top 10 Most Influential Men in Africa in 2015, and a well-known dealmaker in the petroleum and power sectors, NJ is dedicating his career to helping entrepreneurs find success and to building the careers of young African lawyers. As founder and CEO of Centurion Law Group, a pan-African law firm, NJ strives through his work to ensure that business, and especially oil and gas, impacts African societies in a positive way and drives local content development. He is the current chairman of the African Energy Chamber and author of ‘Big Barrels: African Oil and Gas and the Quest for Prosperity’. His second book, ‘Billions at Play: the Future of African energy’ is due for release at the end of the year.

 

A propos de NJ Ayuk:

NJ est un avocat de premier plan dans le domaine de l’énergie et un ardent défenseur des entrepreneurs africains, reconnu comme l’une des figures les plus en vue des entreprises africaines aujourd’hui. Il est un « Global Shaper » avec le Forum économique mondial, l’un des 10 hommes les plus influents de Forbes en Afrique en 2015, et un négociateur renommé dans les secteurs du pétrole et de l’énergie. Il est fondateur et PDG du Centurion Law Group et président actuel de la Chambre africaine de l’énergie et auteur du best-seller « Big Barrels : pétrole et gaz africains et la quête de la prospérité. » Son second ouvrage, « Des milliards en jeu : le future de l’énergie africaine » sera publie à la fin de l’année.

 

CEO Corner

Ayodeji Balogun: The Genius Unlocking The Potentials of Africa’s Commodity Value Chains

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Ayodeji Balogun is the CEO of AFEX where he is leading a team of experts leveraging technology, innovative finance, and inclusive agriculture to connect agriSMEs and smallholder farmers to commodity and financial markets. He holds an MBA from Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University; Global CEO – Africa from IESE Business School and a certificate in Creative Leadership from the THNK School of Creative Leadership. Ayodeji has almost 20 years’ experience trading across West Africa as well as in building and scaling businesses across Sub-Saharan Africa. He serves on several capital market boards and works with several institutions on food security and financing agriculture. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Ayodeji shares the AFEX Story, Impact, future and more.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about AFEX, the gap it’s filling, and the strategic role you play?

Ayodeji: AFEX unlocks the potential of Africa’s commodity value chains through the development of innovative products and services around storage, logistics and trade with access to finance and a ready market serving as supporting pillars. Our processes are technology enabled, allowing for transparency across operations that support risk management structures and the flow of capital from diverse sources. This play is backed by huge investments in infrastructure which promotes a sustained growth in the commodities ecosystem with an attendant increase in the country’s productivity.

A key aspect of the work of commodities exchanges, and our work at AFEX, is to unlock financing. The pervasive view of agriculture as a high-risk endeavour dissuades the flow of capital into the sector, and to unlock finance, the first fundamental is to ensure that the risk profile is low and manageable. With systems for price discovery and transparency that are provided by a commodities exchange, it becomes easier to monitor the flow of money in and out of the sector, and by extension measure and manage risk, increasing the amount of finance that is made available to value chain efforts over time. 

Alaba: Where did the journey begin?

Ayodeji: The journey started in 2014. At the core of our operations was the need to lift African smallholder farmers out of poverty by providing scalable solutions in areas of finance, storage, and access to the market. Farmers live in a vicious poverty cycle primarily because they are financially excluded. They remain cut off from the formal economy, and almost all their assets exist in cash or near cash. This prevents wealth creation, especially, in an inflationary economy, and results in the continued reality of smallholder farmers, who produce over 90% of food in Africa, remaining the poorest and most underserved group in Africa’s economy. The commodity exchange model provides the infrastructure for fairer and more transparent trade by offering up its platform as a shared resource for key groups of people to participate in.

AFEX Team (Image: AFEX)

We believe in having firsthand contact with farmers we work with while bringing technology right to their doorstep by providing services such as access to warehouse receipt systems, financial inclusion, and access to credit and micro-insurance. On top of this, AFEX has built a platform that facilitates effective trading and settlement commodity transactions, helping to structure and formalize the commodities markets. The Exchange facilitates the aggregation and trading of grains through its expansive network of warehouses across the country, allowing farmers to access markets.

Alaba: Why are commodities exchanges important in the agriculture value chain?

Ayodeji: The essence of a commodities exchange is to set up a transparent and fair market system that determines the fair value of agricultural commodities and promotes a fair exchange of prices among key players in the value chain. Essentially, the commodities exchange unlocks price transparency and investment opportunities that drive wealth and prosperity to everyone involved.

Our five-year legacy in this industry is underpinned by a robust infrastructure to support trade, post-harvest processing, and manage risk in the sector. By engaging with the Exchange, farmers will be able to gain access to finance in form of inputs like fertilizers, seeds, and crop protection products while also being enabled to access support in terms of extension services that impart knowledge on good agronomic services. At the end of the season, the farmers can also access larger markets through the Exchange as their products can be aggregated with that of other smallholder farmers and furnish the orders of Exchange clients on the processor side.

This process is a transparent one where farmers can get information on prices and determine for themselves when to sell considering that our storage infrastructure also allows the farmer to store their produce in AFEX warehouses which have certain quality parameters that ensure that the grains retain their value.

Alaba: As one of the biggest victims of the pandemic. What actions have you implemented to remain in business and stay competitive?

Ayodeji: Yes, there were shocks to both the demand and supply side of the agriculture value chain that happened as a result of the pandemic. I think that it became evident to everyone, however, that it was important to figure out how to keep the country’s food systems resilient, and as a business we definitely stepped up to the plate to get this done. Our technology infrastructure was probably the biggest help in staying competitive.

Ayodeji Balogun (Image: AFEX)

We leveraged our value chain management platform, WorkBench, to continue running seamless operations, where our field officers could easily execute transactions and sync up with the head office in a way that ensured timely settlement of trade, precise logistics and relevant data gathering. This helped us have one of the best years so far in the business during the pandemic.

Alaba: Do you think the industry is still very attractive despite the pandemic?

Ayodeji: The agricultural industry is still very much attractive considering the number of challenges that still need to be solved for agriculture on the continent. The sector remained resilient despite COVID-19 induced shocks. In Nigeria, the sector grew by 2.14 in 2021, outperforming all sectors of the economy except for Telecommunications which grew by 12.9 percent. The economy is currently grappling for growth and the need to diversify the economy has never been more important. The agriculture sector holds the key to diversifying the country’s revenue base. By 2050, Nigeria’s population is forecasted to increase by 2.6%, reaching 400 million. This means more and more people to feed. Irrespective of what shock hits an economy, households must feed which makes agriculture play a vital role. Nevertheless, AFTCTA presents more opportunities for commodities and Nigeria has more comparative advantage.

Alaba: Could you highlight some of AFEX’s achievements and impact in the West African market?

Ayodeji: We now have the largest supply chain infrastructure/ network in Nigeria with over 70 warehouses across 19 states in Nigeria, which serve as hubs for smallholder farmers and traders to transact. AFEX also accounts for over 100,000MT of total national storage capacity, helping to prevent post-harvest losses. Over the past five years, we have reached over 160,000 farmers and traded over 200,00MT of commodities with a total turnover of USD68. 3 million (NGN 28 billion); matching orders from smallholder farmers and brokers with buyers on our trading platform at fair prices, continuously bringing value to farmers and ensuring quality in the ecosystem.

To date, AFEX has a record of many firsts, including being the first commodities operator to create and list the first-ever commodities index in Nigeria, and working with capital market players to structure debt securities to finance over 160,000 smallholder farmers. AFEX also launched the first Asset-Backed Commercial Paper in Africa to bridge the financing gap for processors.

Ayodeji Balogun (Image: AFEX)

We also have the largest database of credible farmer data complete with bank verification numbers and land coordinates. Still, on a platform level, we introduced the first digital trading platform for commodities in Nigeria, ComX, with an increasing array of innovative commodity-backed securities, and a learning module that further facilitates the education and information needs of the commodities market on the continent.

Alaba: In your view, what needs to be done to scale the commodities trade in West Africa where you operate?

Ayodeji: The first step is an investment in Knowledge. We must fill in the information gap about commodities trading. This can be achieved by deploying several education initiatives to foster financial literacy in the market. Already at AFEX, we have over 300 publications of our price data reports and quarterly reports on key commodities that can be traded on our exchange. Once data and information are available, we can scale at an exponential rate. When people have access to the right information on commodities trading then they can make informed decisions around it.

Secondly, we need to continue to solve the problems around productivity. Basically, ensuring that we are actually producing the volumes required at the other end of the chain. Part of this is ensuring that producers have access to credit and inputs that they require to improve their productivity. The third part is then ensuring the efficiency of our market systems. So there’s transparency and liquidity that incentivizes players to continually participate in the market.

Alaba: What benefits does the commodity market offer smallholder farmers?

Ayodeji: What the commodity market offers to farmers is an enabling environment for transparent and efficient trade. Farmers can access market information that allows them to make advantageous decisions in selling their produce.

Farmers enjoy key benefits in;

  1. Productivity: helping farmers produce at the right quantity and quality through access to credit (input financing program) and extension services.
  2. Storage: Warehouse infrastructure enables farmers to store produce and determine when to sell. Also, outreach networks at that level drives farmer registration and inclusion.
  3. Aggregation: Individual farmer produce can form part of a larger order for AFEX clients giving the farmers access to larger markets.

Ayodeji Balogun (Image: AFEX)

We already have a process in place via our outreach structure, which allows us to profile farmers and include them in our systems after which we disburse loans in form of inputs and actively provide support for them through the production cycle up to harvest when we trigger our repayment structures, but also enable the farmers to get access to a market for their leftover commodities.

Alaba: Early this year, AFEX secured $50 million for finance Agri-SMEs in Nigeria. What is the update and when do we start seeing its impact?

Ayodeji: The program is under implementation as we speak with many of the benefits playing out effectively. Essentially, the unique structure of the program is having a dual impact of helping food processors ensure constant volume all through the year and also mitigating the impact of price volatility. Despite the huge volatilities we have seen so far this year, the participants have been able to save millions of naira as they have been able to aggregate the required grains at key market-moving periods of the year.

Alaba: What are the future and next milestones for AFEX?

Ayodeji: Over the next 5 years, AFEX aims to scale 10 times on all our key numbers and metrics. We are looking to expand our trade infrastructure to include a 1 million MT storage capacity that will support a robust supply chain network. The goal is also to enhance the livelihoods of 1 million smallholder farmers, aggregate 1 million MT in trade volumes, and facilitate funding of 500 million dollars for a viable commodity value chain through which farmers and commodity merchants can access commodity and financial markets.

Alaba: A piece of advice to a young and budding investor, entrepreneur, or CEO out there?

Ayodeji: I believe that the tools needed for success in life are beyond building complex financial models and creating insightful decks. They require understanding people (millennials and tech-natives particularly) and how to keep them continuously motivated; understanding the world’s wicked problems (poverty, financial inclusion, climate change and adaptation) and how to create solutions that are commercially viable; and even harder, raising capital to solve these problems and creating social and economic value.

 

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CEO Corner

African Bank Appoints Kennedy Bungane, CEO

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African Bank New CEO, Kennedy Bungane (Press Release & Image: African Bank)

African Bank (“Board”) announces the appointment of Mr. Kennedy Bungane as the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) and as an executive director of the Bank and its holding company, African Bank Holdings Limited (“ABH”) effective 14 April 2021. The Bank confirms that the appointment of Kennedy was done in accordance with African Bank’s policy on the selection and nomination of executive directors, and in order to fill a vacancy as well as add to the skillset on the Board.

Kennedy brings over 20 years of banking experience with him, having started his career at Standard Bank in 1991, holding a number of senior positions, including Head of Global Markets Sales, Head of Institutional and Corporate Banking, CEO Corporate and Investment Banking for Standard Bank South Africa, and a member of the Standard Bank Group Executive Committee. After joining Barclays Africa in 2012 as Chief Executive of Barclays Africa Limited and Head of Absa Group strategy, Kennedy led the sale of Barclays Africa Limited to the ABSA Group. More recently, Kennedy headed up the Phembani Group as its CEO. He also brings investment and strategic experience gained as the founder and chairman of Nokeng Telecoms and chairman of Idwala Capital.

Kennedy holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, a Master of Business Administration, and completed the advanced management program at the Harvard Business School (USA).

Commenting on Kennedy’s appointment, the Chairman of the Board, Thabo Dloti, stated, “We welcome the appointment of Kennedy as the new permanent CEO. Kennedy has a keen sense for managing complex stakeholder issues. He has a proven track record in identifying and nurturing leadership, which promotes strong teams to deliver successful results. His passion for the role that banking can play in transforming society resonated strongly with the Board.

As an experienced banker, he also critically has a good grasp of the strategic challenges facing the Bank, within a muted South African economy and competitive landscape, as well as the required regulatory and governance framework.

 

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African Visionary Fund (AVFund) Appoints New co-CEO, Atti Worku

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African Visionary Fund (AVFund) New co-CEO, Atti Worku (Source: African Visionary Fund Website)

About a year ago, African Visionary Fund launched with a bold mission to tackle the inequities and power imbalances in global philanthropy by driving unrestricted resources to African visionaries. At the heart of all they do their values of equity and solidarity, which compel them to center African voices at every level of the organization. They are thrilled to announce the Fund’s new Africa-based co-CEO, Atti Worku!

Atti brings a wealth of experience in the nonprofit world, is a strong advocate for local founders, and is dedicated to righting the historic funding inequity that can hold them back. Prior to joining the Fund, Atti founded and led Seeds of Africa for over 10 years. Seeds is an Ethiopian grassroots organization dedicated to developing the educational foundation for the next generation of African leaders. Under her leadership, Seeds grew from an after-school program serving 15 kids to becoming a full-time multi-dimensional school educating 250 students from pre-K to middle school, and working with over 150 of their mothers providing small business entrepreneurship micro-loans and resources. In just over a decade Seeds has impacted the lives of over 2,000 people, transforming the trajectories of students, teachers, mothers, and their families and creating a future brimming with possibilities beyond a poverty trap.

“My mission is to advocate for African visionaries to be recognized by funders as experts, equal partners and critical drivers of systems change. I’m excited to learn from incredible African leaders with big dreams and even bigger global potential.” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO

Why Co-leadership

The African Visionary Fund is built on the firm belief that proximity matters. Seeded by a group of foundations and philanthropists who wanted to not only take action on equity but also be intentional about shifting the power over resources to African visionaries, shared leadership has been part of the Fund’s DNA from the beginning.

“Co-leadership is mission critical. We cannot build new models for equity-centered philanthropy without living those values within our own institution.” -Katie Bunten-Wamaru, AVFund co-CEO

The AVFund’s organizational journey started with collective and shared leadership in mind as our Founding Working Group worked with our leadership to inform and design all aspects of our organization and funding model. This majority-African, majority-doer group considered a number of different leadership structures for the Fund but gravitated towards co-leadership because it prioritizes proximity and equity, centers the experience of African visionaries, and ultimately helps us shift power.

Our Founding Working Group proved that we can co-create new models of philanthropy centered on collective leadership that shift power and center equity – our co-leadership model is the natural, values-aligned extension of that founding idea.

The Fund

Atti’s lived experience as an African founder has given her firsthand experience of the realities and complexities that local innovators face, making her a great partner in executing the Fund’s mission.

“This role is very personal to me. I see myself in the ambitious and innovative entrepreneurs we engage with at the AVFund. I hope to learn from them, and partner with them to redesign funding systems that give African visionaries an equitable chance of success.” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO

The barriers for African visionaries have been well documented with data showing that less than 5.2% of US foundation giving specific to Africa goes to African-led organizations. And in Atti’s experience, sometimes philanthropy’s oversight of African founders translates into a heavy emotional toll, an internal struggle she also had to deal with in her experience fundraising for her organization. She is committed to helping other African visionaries by being “the voice that reassures and validates them in the face of injustices.”

“Raising philanthropic dollars can be a long trauma for African social entrepreneurs and other leaders of color. On one hand, you’re doing innovative, high-impact work, but on the other, you are constantly being asked to prove yourself on a level far beyond your peers, doing so, and somehow still falling short. Aggregate data on racial inequity in philanthropy already speaks volumes, but systemic injustice is deeply personal. It took me years to realize that I wasn’t the problem,” Atti shared.

On Co-leadership

At the core, the AVFund seeks to create a bridge between global philanthropy and innovative African social changemakers and to do that, it’s critical to have proximity to both our visionary partners and our funding partners. Shared leadership makes this possible.

“There is an inherent tension in the work of the AVFund – we call it the ‘play the game, change the game’ balance. We want to support African social changemakers to play the game to access more sustainable funding now, while also challenging the status quo in ways that build a more equitable philanthropic ecosystem in the long run,” Katie explained. “There will always be a need to balance this tension – having a co-leadership model helps us balance both sides of our work and not lose sight of either goal.”

Having been on both sides of the table, Atti believes a further added benefit of co-leadership lies in the fact that representation matters. “I have been a micro-funder through Seeds and have seen the value of someone like you believing in your vision and empowering it,” she shared.

“At AVFund, we celebrate and choose co-leadership because we recognize the importance of diversity for strong, grounded and authentic leadership.” -Melizsa Mugyenyi, Advisory Board Member.

The Future

Atti joins the Fund at a crucial season of our organizational journey as we look to deepen our impact across the continent – we are more than a third of the way towards reaching our goal to raise US$10 million which will enable us to provide 35 nonprofits across Africa with unrestricted, multiyear grants by 2023.

In the near-term, the Fund is also on track to commit atleast another $US1 million later this year and partner with more African social innovators. Atti is particularly excited to work with those at the forefront of leading-edge innovations whose potential for impact is inhibited by lack of resources and buy-in from funders.

“African visionaries aren’t often given the resources they need to validate the new concepts they have which really makes innovation very difficult. A lack of unrestricted funding for the disruptive ideas coming out of Africa limits potential and slows development. I’m ready to help change that in every way we can!” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO

Source AVFund

 

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