Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page

  •  Nuggets of Wisdom from Successful Social Entrepreneurs

    Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011


    The Tech Awards Nexus Conference brought together a diverse, passionate group from the social enterprise (SE) community. The annual conference is always uplifting, and this year’s theme of successful social entrepreneurship made it even more so.  But, that doesn’t mean that we got a sugar-coated view of easy it is to build an organization that positively impacts the lives of thousands or millions of people.  The rock stars of the SE world we heard from spoke from the heart and the brain, and they told us how messy it can be.

    My current focus is on enabling CSTS to help more entrepreneurs help more people, so I was listening for insight on mentoring and capacity building that we can provide to help SEs scale their impact.

    My main takeaway from the day was a reaffirmation that the social entrepreneurship movement is reaching a certain level of maturity and credibility, and that we have enough collective experience to learn from each other.  Most of us in this space learn the most from practical examples and guidelines, which was the hallmark of the day.  The quotes that resonated the most with me were:

    • If your users are not your customers, then your users are part of your products and you are selling them to your customers. -- Joel Selanikio, DataDyne
    • Our disruptive technology is communication—listening first, giving voice to others, letting people take action. We come in to each country with a beginner’s mind and give people the chance to take action.  -- Ronni Goldfarb, EqualAccess
    • Don’t underestimate the power of unleashing youth to work on real-life problems – Lisa Jobson, iEARN
    • People make incredibly important decisions based on guesses if they don’t have access to information. – Kristine Pearson, Lifeline Energy
    • Corporations aren’t yet organized to work with the social enterprise space, so you end up going around with the corporate social responsibility division to the emerging markets to the foundation to who knows where else. – Al Hammond, Ashoka

    And, as in any good conversation about social entrepreneurship these days, the speakers proudly discussed their failures as an indispensable element of their success. Joel told this story: 

    We started charging our users for Episurveyor out of financial necessity, but once we did, it aligned us with our customers’ needs, which made us stronger.  The failure is that it took us seven years to figure that out.

    Radha Basu from Anudip summed up the discussion on failure with her usual exuberance by stating simply that “bruises and scars build character. You pick yourself up and go forward.” 

    To do this requires mental flexibility, accompanied by the willingness and ability to adapt.  On this point, Joel Selanikio popped open his laptop and quoted Marie Curie:  “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

    Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tech Awards Nexus conference without this year’s laureates sharing their innovations to benefit humanity.  At every break, the laureates positioned themselves at their showcase booths and passionately described and demoed their work.  We see the tremendous potential in each of these 15 innovators and hope that the Tech Awards can be as pivotal for their organizations as it was for Kristine, who told us that, “without The Tech Awards, we would have gone under.  Instead, we brought in Vodaphone and other new donors, and we went on to distribute 215,000 radios and touch the lives of 12 million people.”

    The problems we are working to solve are daunting, and we have a long way to go.  But, in the words of John Kohler, “everyone in the room has their heart in the right place. That will let us go more quickly.” 

    After spending the day with such a thoughtful, committed, and sincere group of people, I am more committed than ever to going the distance. Are you?


  •  First Ever GSBI Network Conference at SCU

    Friday, Oct. 21, 2011


    On October 19-21 the GSBI Network Partners convened at Santa Clara University for the very first GSBI Network Conference. Eight representatives from six Jesuit institutions were represented; Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, the Center for Research and Peace Advocacy in the Ivory Coast, ESADE Business School in Spain, Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, Pontifica Universidad Javieriana, Cali in Columbia, and XLRI Jamshedpur in India were all engaged in discussions based around leveraging the network of Jesuit Universities to promote social entrepreneurship as a means for addressing the world's most pressing problems. Included in the discussion was Fr. Michael Garanzini, the Secretary of Higher Education for the Society of Jesus, who traveled from his presidential duties at Loyola University, Chicago to participate.

    We kicked off the GSBI Network Conference with Wednesday's Nexus Conference, where our guests were able to see what CSTS does through their collaboration with The Tech Awards. Thursday began with a welcome by Fr. Engh, President of Santa Clara University, and was followed by presentations by the visiting GSBI Network Partners on their institution's social entrepreneur program, their key challenges, and what they want to get out of the GSBI Network. Fr. Engh hosted the group for lunch in the President's Dining Room in Adobe Lodge with a very special guest, Ann Bowers of the RNN 1999 Foundation and The Tech Museum's Board of Directors. Thursday night's agenda included attendance at The Tech Awards - presence at the gala was made possible by a generous table donation by Judy Swanson of the Swanson Foundation. Friday's agenda included presentations by GSBI staff and faculty on CSTS and the various components of GSBI (processes, operations, mentoring, and sector strategy). 

    We wrapped up the dialogue by discussing how the GSBI Network will collaborate in the coming months leading up to the next GSBI Network Conference, which will precede the July 2012 IAJBS Conference in Spain, and establishing specific action items. Included in the deliverables are translations of selected GSBI curriculum into Spanish and French, distribution of useful GSBI content and videos to Network members, and survey GSBI alumni and GSBI Network alumni, both as a means for data collection as well as establishing a framework for eventual case study creation.


  •  America's Special Sauce: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

    Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

    In a recent article in the New York Times, Tom Friedman said, “If we want more jobs, we need to create more Steve Jobs.” What an amazing guy. Steve Jobs: an innovator, a risk taker, an entrepreneur, a problem solver, a design thinker. Steve Jobs took his knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as the rock stars of science call it, and created a phenomenon that has impacted lives in ways we can’t even quantify.

    Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg – they have done the same thing. They have taken STEM, combined it with innovation and entrepreneurship, and created disruptive breakthroughs. And they were all in their 20s when they began their journey.

    America is rooted in innovation and entrepreneurship. This is America’s special sauce. That’s how we got to the moon, and that’s how companies like Apple, Facebook and Google were formed.

    If we are to really reinforce America’s economic stability by growing new jobs, new companies and new ideas, then we must inspire young minds and give them the ability and the resources to combine innovation, education and entrepreneurship.

    The Spirit of Innovation Challenge is rooted in these principals. Our year-round, online, incentivized program empowers teams of high school students to create products using STEM to solve real world problems: from aerospace and clean energy to health and nutrition. This program is focused on student-centered education. Our teams work together with their teachers and our community of mentors and experts with the goal of creating innovative solutions to global challenges.

    This year, our winning teams will travel to the Rio+20 conference, where they will serve as ambassadors of science and youth. This is where education can become diplomacy.

    In just a few years, our young innovators have accomplished so much. Daniel and Isaac have two patents, have been interviewed by the BBC, were featured in Popular Science Magazine, and were archived into the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Mikayla and Shannon have been interviewed by Elle Magazine, MTV, CNN, and Fox, and have been honored at the White House. Recently, their product was flown aboard STS-134. Madison has had his business plan published in a Chinese University textbook as an example of how to write a business plan. You might say we’ve turned geeks into rock stars.

    While our education system may be broken, our students are not.

    When given opportunities, they are amazing. Our students think outside the globe. They are innovative and brilliant. Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple. Mark Zuckerberg was 20 when he started Facebook. Bill Gates was 20 when Microsoft was born. Sergey Brin and Larry Page were really old … they were 25.

    Most of the guys who worked in mission control when my late husband Pete walked on the moon were 26. Well if 60 is the new 40, then I say 13 is the new 20. This is the next generation of these amazing icons. They will be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

    We all know it’s important to leave a great country for our children, but it’s even more important to leave great children for our country.


    Nancy Conrad is a highly accomplished teacher, author, publisher, entrepreneur, and public speaker, Nancy Conrad is perhaps best known globally for her tireless leadership and ardent advocacy for transformative education.

    Nancy attributes her steadfast commitment to education advancement to her life experiences ranging from a high school teaching position in Denver, Colorado, to developing educational products based on the legacy of America’s space explorers. In 2008, Nancy created The Conrad Foundation to energize and engage students in science and technology through unique entrepreneurial opportunities. The organization’s signature program, the Spirit of Innovation Awards, is a national competition that challenges high school students to combine education, innovation and entrepreneurship to create products that address the real-world challenges of the 21st century. By enabling young minds to connect education, innovation and entrepreneurship, the Conrad Foundation helps provide a bold platform for enriching the innovative workforce.


  •  SoCap, Clean Energy, and Mike Tyson

    Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2011

    I didn’t expect that my favorite quote at last week’s SoCap conference would be from Mike Tyson, but that is what makes SoCap so great… a gathering of people who are not afraid to bring in new ways of thinking from any sector, even professional boxing.  Tyson was not there in person, but Josh Suskewicz of Innosight quoted the infamous heavyweight to emphasize his point that ~90% of successful entrepreneurs have changed their strategy 4 times before settling on one that lets their venture succeed:  “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

    My second favorite quote came from Lisa Kleissner of KL Felicitas Foundation, who was in attendance and spoke on an uplifting and thoughtful panel entitled, From Crisis to Building Something New Together. When asked about the best way to have impact, she said that “the best way to have impact is to fail…. Because if you fail it means you took action.”

    I’ve had my fair share of figurative punches in the face, real failures, and sudden strategy shifts in my careers as a social entrepreneur and a supporter of social entrepreneurs.  I believe I have made a small or not-so-small difference in the lives of quite a few people, but it has never been easy, and it has seldom gone according to plan.  SoCap is refreshing because most of the attendees are also practitioners, and we talk openly about the gritty, messy reality of the space we work in.  Three days were not enough to have a thoughtful conversation with all 1500+ attendees (even though everybody tried their best), but it was enough time to invigorate me to keep moving forward with our Center’s plans to expand the Global Social Benefit Incubator program offerings to be able to help more social entrepreneurs become investor-ready.

    So, how does clean energy fit in to all this?  While there was no official clean energy track at SoCap, there was a large grouping of both clean energy entrepreneurs and other organizations working to tackle the problems of 1.5 billion people without reliable access to an energy grid and the 3 billion people cooking on dirty, inefficient stoves.  It is more evident than ever that these are problems that can be solved through market-based approaches because the new technologies and innovative business models being deployed give cleaner energy to BoP consumers for lower prices than what they are paying now for inferior solutions like kerosene lamps and disposable batteries.

    Last month, at our GSBI clean energy forum, we worked with 11 clean energy entrepreneurs and a variety of experts to discuss what it will take to accelerate the growth of the social enterprises serving this sector.  Our two-day session led us to envision an ecosystem accelerator that efficiently finds and deploys human and financial capital to enable new and existing social enterprises to be built for scale and to be brave enough to experiment with innovations in pricing, distribution, and legal structures to find successful models. 

    This is an ideal sector for the SoCap community to get excited about because it provides the impact investing community with real opportunities for making a difference while making a profit.  Impact investors are often criticized for being too risk averse or for favoring profits over social impact.  Successful ventures such as Toughstuff are showing that in the BoP energy market, there are investment opportunities with lower risk and profits that correlate directly to positive social and environmental impact. 

    Lesley Silverthorn of Angaza Design was one of at least 10 GSBI alumni I saw at SoCap looking to connect with funders and other entrepreneurs.  Her company’s solar LED room light is far brighter than other comparably-priced lights on the market and was designed to illuminate an entire room for multiple members in a family to use effectively at the same time.  At $60, it is not an entry-level product for East Africans, but something that they aspire to own once they see the pros and cons of the lower-cost products. She commented, "I actually got so much more out of SoCap by meeting fellow energy entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and investors than I got from just attending the organized panels and speakers. Now there is a large group of energy companies forming a 'SoCap Energy Alliance' to further our collaboration to achieve our goals of a world with access to clean, bright light and the ability to power small electronics."  (Contact Lesley at for more information on the Energy Alliance.)

    An ongoing concern for everyone involved in the sector is how to make even the lowest cost products affordable for people living on a few dollars a day, who have limited savings and little access to credit.  A recurring notion has been posited that BoP products need to pay for themselves within a year to be able to gain widespread adoption.  Many of the clean energy products we see meet this requirement, especially if other benefits like increased productivity are factored in.  The most obvious solution to getting these products out is microloans, but that has been challenging because it puts all the risk on the consumer.  Even if the lamp breaks, is stolen, or otherwise fails to meet their needs, borrowers are still liable for the costs of the product plus interest. In response, entrepreneurs are coming up with a plethora of new models to overcome this obstacle.  Typically these models are based on a rent-to-own or other pay-as-you go scheme.  This greatly reduces the risk for the consumers, and with the right mixture of technological and social mechanisms in place, entrepreneurs can mitigate their own risks.  Husk Power Systems is succeeding with such a model by operating community power plants in remote regions of India.  It is still too early to point out a company that has made this work at scale for household products, although Sunlabob is having good success in Laos with its solar lantern rental system.  These and other learnings about affordability have been documented on the Energy Map, which we will continue to expand to incorporate best practices from new companies.

    I was pleased to see several noteworthy organizations especially engaged in clean energy at SoCap.  The UN Foundation deserves accolades for its proactive role, moderating three clean energy sessions which helped the entrepreneurs connect with each other and the broader ecosystem. Other big names that were notably present at the clean energy sessions include the World Bank Development Marketplace, National Geographic, and E+Co. 

    Where does this leave us? As I reflect on the GSBI Clean Energy forum and my take-aways from SoCap, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction, but we have a long road ahead and we should expect as many punches in the face as inspiring stories of success in enabling millions more people to benefit from clean energy.


  •  Students work with GSBI Alums to Solve their Engineering Challenges

    Tuesday, Sep. 13, 2011

    During this year’s GSBI, students from Radha Basu’s Engineering for the Developing World course engaged with the clean energy sector cohort social entrepreneurs to help solve their engineering challenges.

    Students combined their knowledge of design principles for the developing world with the parameters set out by the entrepreneurs during a working group session, and solved problems ranging from designing system architecture and technical implementation of water telemetry tools for e-Health point water points in rural India, to determining the best solar heating system for a chicken hatchery in Haiti.

    Whether the student teams addressed a problem set out by a GSBI entrepreneur, or created new products and distribution models for emerging markets, each team produced professional quality reports that displayed mastery of the factors germane to effective engineering in developing world contexts.

    Team Hatchery designed a solar-powered heating system for a new chicken hatchery for Guirlaine Celius of Haiti Community Development. The new system will allow for simplified operation, minimal maintenance, high efficiency, and precise temperature control, which are all vital features to scaling Haiti Community Development’s impact on Haiti’s agricultural economy.

    Team BGET created an analysis tool for water purification technologies designed for Salinee Tavaranan of Border Green Energy Team (BGET), to allow them to evaluate technologies based on cost, maintenance, simplicity, level of purification, etc. and choose the appropriate solution for the breadth of unique environments in which they works.

    Team Soochak tackled the challenge posed by Al Hammond to provide water telemetry tools to e-Health Points' Water Points in rural India. They created concrete project parameters, conducted technology feasibility research for each functionality, provided three engineering solutions for automating water distribution, and proposed a phased implementation strategy to allow for upgrading as the facilities scale.

    Team Vidya Vikas expanded from Al Hammond's guest lecture about e-Health Points, to create an education model to be co-located with e-Health Point facilities. Their solution utilized affordable mobile technology and existing educational content to provide low cost technical training for the most prevalent jobs in a given region.

    Team Soladapt designed a portfolio of lighting products for off grid communities based on the recommendations and knowledge of Kamworks (GSBI’11) and Angaza Design (GSBI’11). They created product modules focused around a solar adaptor that allows customers to expand their lighting portfolios based on specific needs and income level.

    Team Anna Sanchay created an innovative design for grain silos in rural Indian villages that reduce wasted grain, and thereby increase farmer income throughout the year, and provide greater food reliability for the community. Their design used local materials typically put in landfills, and created options for both small and large village needs.

    Team Garbage to Harvest created a closed loop distribution solution for the bi-products of organic waste disposal. Their solution utilized the vermicompost and bio gas that are produced from organic waste decomposition, through a strategic distribution location they simultaneously improve farmers' crop yield, and encourage households to use bio-gas instead of hazardous kerosene.

  •  Reflections on the 9th Annual GSBI Business Plan Presentations

    Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2011

    The in-residence component of our signature Global Social Benefit Incubator concluded last week, with 18 field-based social entrepreneurs returning to their 9 countries to implement the business plans they developed while at Santa Clara University. The culmination of their two weeks on campus is always the business plan presentations, attracting a diverse and high-level audience of over 350.

    Each of the social entrepreneurs has 15 minutes to present their business plan to a panel of Silicon Valley leaders, after which they receive feedback and have only a moment to respond. The Center videotapes the presentations so that the social entrepreneurs can continue learning from the experience. Our goal is to help more social entrepreneurs help more of the global poor, with a “big hairy audacious goal” of positively impacting the lives of 1B by 2020 – 25% of the current global poor. The UN projects an additional 2 B people on the planet by 2050, with all but 50 M in the developing world. Successful and sustainable social enterprises act as nuclei for economic growth in the communities they serve. By doing so, they essentially create emerging markets.

    The GSBI exemplifies what I call “practical social justice.” The 18 social entrepreneurs we heard from last Thursday did not offer theories about how to change the world: they showed us how it’s done.                       

    Imagine a world where the 1.5 B people 'off the grid' – in Africa, Latin America, Asia, India – have light for children to read and parents to work after night falls; where people can charge their mobile phones without traveling all day; where sustainably generated power can be sustainably stored; where smallholder dairy farmers can keep their cows’ milk cold long enough to sell it; where the very poor in Haiti can cook using 40% less fuel, reducing deforestation at the same time. Imagine a world without energy poverty.                               

    Imagine a world where Filipino women living near garbage dumps; or Roma, also known as Gypsies, in Slovakia; or African slum youth; can all earn a living wage and be proud of their work.

    Imagine a world where West Africans earn a living growing biofuels for their own communities; where solar lanterns light up East African villages through an Avon-style model, employing local women.  

    Imagine a world where the voiceless, poorest of the poor in India can tell their stories to the world, and effect change in their own communities.                     

    Imagine a world where even, or especially, the unbanked can use their mobile phones for secure financial transactions with any merchant; where Filipino microenterprise owners can scale their businesses to a living income while providing essential goods and services.

    Imagine a world where rural Haitians can sustainably grow their own protein-rich food; where poor Mexican children have enough micronutrients for their brains to develop. Imagine a world of healthy people.

    If you can imagine all of the above, thank you for joining us; if you cannot, you missed a unique opportunity to see how these dreams are becoming reality through the vision and very hard work of the 2011 cohort of GSBI social entrepreneurs.

    I was honored, and humbled, to be in their company. Each of them is an amazing human. Collectively, they are the promise of a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

    Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the GSBI. Mark your calendars for the August 23, 2012 business plan presentations, a window into how to change the world for the better. 

    List of this year's GSBI social entrepreneurs

  •  GSBI in the News

    Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011

    The 2011 Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) cohort features 18 social enterprises from 14 countries around the world, includes 8 women entrepreneurs, and 8 enterprises from Africa, our highest representation in both categories. In addition, 2011 marks the second year of our focus on renewable energy for the underserved; more than half of the 2011 cohort comes from this sector.

    The press has been as impressed with our entrepreneurs as we are.  Check out these great stories featuring 3 social entrepreneurs from this year's GSBI class.

    The GSBI empowers socially-minded entrepreneurs to build sustainable, scalable organizations that solve problems for people living in poverty around the world. Since its inception in 2003, the GSBI has mentored nearly 140 entrepreneurs from more than 20 countries. More than 90% of these ventures are still extant, more than 50% are scaling, and collectively they’ve positively impacted the lives of over 70 million people in base-of-pyramid communities.

    Social entrepreneurs who apply and win GSBI scholarships participate in an experiential capacity development program that combines online and in-residence exercises with training and mentoring from academic leaders and Silicon Valley visionaries over an intensive 8 month period. Our mentors help social entrepreneurs sustain and scale their ventures, sell their products and services, and solve problems.

    We collaborate with a diverse group of partners including successful Silicon Valley executives, foundations, government agencies, corporations, and a global network of Jesuit universities.

  •  From the Archives: C.K. Prahalad speaks at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society (2003)

    Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011

    In 2003 we were pleased to host CK Prahalad, from the University of Michigan's School of Business. A year before his groundbreaking book, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Eradicating Poverty through Profits was published, Dr. Prahalad shared his thoughts to a packed house at our IT and Globalization Conference in 2003.

    We hope you enjoy this 20 minute video.

    C.K. Prahalad speaks at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society (2003) from CSTS-SCU on Vimeo.

  •  Africa ignores the sun: Local context drives biofuel companies in Africa

    Tuesday, Jul. 26, 2011

    Each year at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, we review hundreds of applications from social entrepreneurs who wish to participate in our fully subsidized capacity development program, the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI™).The GSBI is designed for entrepreneurs in the field - including many from Africa, India, South America, and the Philippines – to access an actionable business model curriculum in just eight months. 

    During this year’s discovery process, we found the large number of biofuels ventures out of Africa striking. There isn’t enough arable land to feed the growing population there, distribution and other challenges aside. So why are so many field-based social entrepreneurs growing fuel in Africa instead of using the sun?

    Could economics be the reason? It is well known that corn-based ethanol production in the United States has resulted in increased food costs for the developing world. In fact, the IMF reported that in 2007, almost half of the increase in production of major food crops was related to biofuels. And, European energy companies may pay for source materials, as evidenced by the Agroils model, a social enterprise that produces sustainable biofuels from non-edible forestry species.

    But we do not believe that economic reasons alone are driving African biofuel social enterprises. Our experience with more than 40 ventures in the sector reveals that a large majority of social entrepreneurs are delivering power directly to the communities they serve, not supplying power to the developed world.

    An advantage of our practice orientation is that we can ask the social entrepreneurs naïve questions, and they give us great latitude, as well as deep insights. Why grow biofuels in an environment that is much better suited to technologies such as solar power generation? The answer is in the context: many African governments impose enormous tariffs on the importation of solar panels. Solar thus becomes an untenable technology solution for local energy production.

    In an informal discussion, one of our professors at Santa Clara, Alexander J. Field, Ph.D., the Michael and Mary Orradre professor of economics and author of the book A Great Leap Forward, proposed two alternative drivers for the governmental tariffs: 

    1.       Corruption: a known factor in African politics. Just this week,Omidyar Network announced $5 million to fund organizations that foster government accountability and transparency in Africa. But is corruption the entire rationale behind the development of biofuels?

    2.        Innovation stimulation: could the local governments be driving innovation by making solar panels cost prohibitive? Again, this contextual factor may contribute to the implementation of tariffs in Africa, and may work well for some needs of the underserved (such as agriculture) but have unintended negative consequences for technology diffusion in cases of extreme economies of scale, e.g., solar panel manufacturing.

    The answers are not black and white. In a recent New York Times article, Anand Giridharadas poses a hypothesis that ‘Real Change Requires Politics.’ We’ve experienced this first hand at the GSBI. The bottom line is that in order to effectively help social entrepreneurs solve issues for those living at the base of the pyramid, we need to better understand the contextual factors, including politics, which influence the successful adoption of optimal technology solutions and business models.


  •  Kicking the Tires of Frugal's mHealth Lab

    Monday, Jul. 25, 2011
    Photo: UN Foundation

    On Thursday, over 20 representatives from academic institutions and international NGOs tuned into a NetHope sponsored webinar that presented a new mobile health tool developed by our very own Frugal Innovation Mobile Health (mHealth) Lab. The featured tool: a cell phone application that can collect, store, and upload customizable forms for use by rural health workers all over the world.

    Webinar participants were encouraged to test the software themselves as a way of advancing the troubleshooting process and prepare the application for use in the field. This webinar was the first in series intended to showcase and test the products developed for CHP as they roll off the virtual assembly line. 

    Stay tuned to the Frugal Innovation Initiative’s Mobile Health Lab to see what they come up with next.


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