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Otema Yirenkyi, formerly of Microsoft, IBM & Vodafone, talks “Networking with Intentionality”, and more!



Maxwell: Good evening Otema. I’m looking forward to a pleasant conversation with you. You’ve had all these leadership roles in big corporations, like IBM, Vodafone, being the first-ever female country manager in Microsoft’s Africa operations, what advice would you share with young woman entering such a male dominated profession?

Otema: Thank you for having me Maxwell. I think the first thing I would say to them is that it’s really important to be well skilled, right? You’ve got to know your stuff. And then you’ve got to network and build relationships. And that becomes the way in which you step up the ladder.

Then also, what I found very useful is go for that stretch assignment, something that makes you push yourself a little bit further. For me, my stretch assignment with IBM was coming to South Africa. I had never done that before. I had been based in the US. And so that was a stretch. I learned; I grew; I worked with different sectors within IT. And that’s something that I would highly recommend. So, whether it’s a global assignment or even within your country, a different department, definitely try and stretch yourself.

Maxwell: So, to get out of your comfort zone a little bit, get into some position where you learn new stuff, where you push yourself to bring out, let’s say, whatever you have in store for the world, correct?

Otema: Exactly.

Maxwell: What do you think right now is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

Otema: I think that one of the most significant barriers for some women is that we lack sponsorship. So when you’re sponsored, you get mentored and coached. But also doors get open. And experiences happen. For me, about a decade or so ago, through an emerging leadership program I attended, I met with one of the top executives who was at IBM at the time. We then built up a mentoring and sponsorship relationship. I think that, that opening doors, that network to find out what are the key opportunities, that’s one of the things that impedes women. Because we’re not in the know, of what’s that next assignment, what’s that great opportunity, and I think it’s really really important. You have coaching, mentoring, but sponsorship is people at the most senior levels, helping you to shape and grow your career. And that’s a key disadvantage, I would say. I’ve become a sponsor to a number of young women because I know the importance of it.

Maxwell: That actually ties into your answer to the first question on the importance of networking.

Otema: Yes.

Maxwell: From your standpoint, at this point in your career, what do you think is the biggest challenge for the generation behind you?

Otema: What I see is that there’s still, unfortunately, so many more ceilings to smash through, right? They still have to work very hard, be really prepared. But I think one of the challenges now is that you need a diversity of skill. Gartner refers to this as like being a versatilist.

You can’t just be in one area. So say for example, you’re a doctor, and you’ve got a clinic. It’s great to have business skills as well, right? So that you can effectively manage. So I think these days, what’s the challenge of our time, is being people who are versatilists, multi skilled, and that helps you to scale both the corporate ladder and to grow entrepreneurially.

Maxwell: Such a vast and major problem with the generation, how do you recommend they overcome this challenge? What precise avenue would you recommend to our audience on how to differentiate skills?

One of the things I’m trying to do with this Entrepreneur In You podcast, is to try to give our audience definite answers.

Otema: I think it’s also about understanding Maxwell, that it takes a team. So maybe let’s go back to the example of an entrepreneur who starts a business, it might be a tech business, and you’re highly skilled in coding and developing, but you’re not strong in sales and marketing. Partner up with sales and marketing friend or colleague who can give you guidance on how do I effectively market this product.

That’s one of the concrete things that I’m always coaching because I do coach a number of startups. And I always say, look to where your differentiation is, but then bring along a team, whether it’s an advisory team, or if you have the funds to afford to bring people on who can complement the skills and the capability that you currently have. That’s really important in order to scale any business.

Maxwell: Excellent. Again, tying into the networking, which I think is becoming a theme of the day.

Otema: But it’s not just to like go and have drinks and stuff. It’s really to build upon your skills when you network. It’s about being intentional saying, “I’m a doctor, right? And I may not have really strong skills in marketing my clinic. So I might go to a marketing event, or whatever, and pick up those skills because a lot of the time, they have these little workshops. Also, I want to meet marketeers so that they can support me in my business”. So it’s not just networking, it’s not just moving around, but it’s networking with intentionality; to build skills; to build a broader network for getting customers; to acquire your customers through the network; and also to build your brand and awareness.

Maxwell: That’s great. Otema, you have done a lot, you have a lot more to give, and you have a lot of knowledge to impact. You’ve already mentioned you are mentoring a few people.

What is your “Why”? And by that I mean, why you do what you do? What’s your life’s mission? What drives and motivates you internally? What is your “why”? I think for now that’s the best way that I can put the question.

Otema: Sure. So my “Why” is change. I see myself as a catalyst for change. In the era and time that I grew up, when we lived in the US, many times we were the only black family. I was the only black child and I saw the importance of making a change. Over time, as a young student, I realized that around me, there aren’t a lot of people like me with my narrative; my story was not known. That’s where my writing came in, to share different stories, but it’s also about sharing that there are successful black accomplishments globally within Africa and the Caribbean, the US, etc. That also has an impact on you as a businessperson, right?

Let’s say you’re trying to do business in Europe, selling your products and goods. When people’s perception of who you are improves or when they have reliability in that particular environment, positive change happens.

If you think about Japan, in the earlier part of the time, Japanese products were not considered to be at the same level as those from Europe, etc. But as Japan started to build their reputation, build their brand, Toyota is a premier brand now, and people want it now. So the importance of what I’m saying is that if we change the narrative around Africa, it then changes our business opportunities. It changes how people interact with us. Then there will be many many positive outcomes. So that’s why. That’s my “Why”. It’s to be that catalyst for change.

Maxwell: I can see how that drives most of your activities with respect to the volunteer work, the mentoring and all of that, right?

Otema: Yes, it does. It really really does and I have a focus on, particularly people of Afro descent, you know, because I see that there’s a need for them to have that confidence. So I coach and mentor them, they see my leadership, and they’re able to say, “oh wow, she’s done it, maybe I can do it!” It’s representation, it’s important. You’ve got to represent but you also directly support by coaching and mentoring, and giving guidance and also, lastly, opening up your network to the next generation.
…to be concluded next week!

Listen to the full conversation on the Entrepreneur In You podcast by visiting
Find inspiring stories from Otema Yirenkyi on her podcast, Catching a Glimpse, on the Anchor app.

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Maxwell Ampong is an Agro-Commodities Trader and the CEO of Maxwell Investments Group. He is also the Official Business Advisor to Ghana’s General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) of TUC Ghana, the largest agricultural trade union in Ghana. He writes about trending and relevant economic topics, and general perspective pieces.

LinkedIn:/in/thisisthemax Instagram:@thisisthemax Twitter:@thisisthemax Facebook:@thisisthemax Website: Email: Podcast: Entrepreneur In You Mobile: 0249993319


Otema Yirenkyi is the Vice President for Global Engagement at Project Management Institute. She has formerly taken up leadership positions at IBM, Vodafone, NexInnova and was the first-ever female country manager in Microsoft’s Africa operations. She’s a prolific writer, storyteller, and her podcast, “Catching a Glimpse” shares much-needed messages of hope for many around the world.

LinkedIn: /in/otema-yirenkyi Instagram: @otemayirenkyi Twitter: @OtemaYirenkyi Facebook: @Otema.Yirenkyi Website: Podcast: Catching a Glimpse


Finding The Fortune In Failure



Learn How to Embrace Failure and Make Your Startup Thrive

In the start-up world we often hear phrases like ‘fail fast,’ ‘celebrate failure’ and that failing can be the best thing that ever happened. But let’s be honest: failure sucks.

At the very moment “the failure” hits you, often the last thing you’re thinking about are the positive takeaways, let alone documenting the failure – your heart is pumping faster, your face and ears getting hotter, your legs going so weak you momentarily question if they can even support your weight.

Failure can be a wrenching feeling. Thoughts and memories of everything you have risked on this venture, and all the promises you have made on the hope of its success come flooding through your mind, bringing with them intense feelings of pain, hurt, loss, anger, vengefulness, embarrassment…anything but logic or rationality.

However, time does heal, and reflection will heighten your perspective. That’s not to say the pain ever fully goes away, but that the value of the lessons learned because of that pain increasingly outweighs that initial emotion over time. This value becomes apparent in the new found clarity and focus – plus a touch of the confidence that experience brings – with which you take on another approach or venture in the future.

While the initial high of success and winning may be euphoric, there is little long-term learning that comes from it. The emotional reaction to a loss, however, with perspective and hindsight, are far more instructive. You want to understand why you failed, and successful entrepreneurs will doggedly delve as deeply as it takes to understand “why” to ensure their next steps add way beyond the value of a win.

“If, one day, you look in the mirror and see only success, know that you have in fact learned nothing, any humility has evaporated, and greater failure is on the way.”

Simon R Turner, Managing Director, Founder Institute Ghana (FI Ghana)

The Topic of Failure

A lot has been written on the topic of failure, and several studies (e.g., CBI Insights) have pinpointed the top three root causes of startup failure being product-market-fit, running out of cash and disharmony in the team.

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Extract from CB Insights 

When we look at ‘failure’ from a distance, it is easy to romanticise and sugarcoat it with inspiring quotes about the struggles entrepreneurs and scientists, such as Walt Disney or Thomas Edison, who had to go through several failures before reaching success. But what does failure actually feel like for entrepreneurs, especially in an African context? How did they manage it, and how did they bounce back?

To look at this with an African lens, FI Ghana held a virtual event with seasoned and serial entrepreneurs who have experienced successes and failures firsthand, with ventures spanning Ghana, Kenya, USA, UK, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire We dived deep into failure as a potential fast track for finding purpose and success while providing some practical advice on how to manage failure, especially when it comes to losing people’s trust and money. 

Accept failure as part of the entrepreneurial journey

FI Ghana Mentors and panelists invited us to challenge the way in which we think about failure. It is not something we can control, but is part of the process of becoming a successful entrepreneur, not a deviation from what you’re supposed to be doing.

“By default, you’re meant to fail to get where you need to be and, by default, it allows you to reprogram your mindset and get ready for it. Don’t shy away or avoid it but get through that as quickly as possible.” 

Samuel Baddoo, Founder, Fleri

To build resilience in the face of failure, an important learning and mindset shift required is the decoupling of your own personal success from the success of your startup. That means the failure of a startup or project does not equate to personal failure, but might, in fact, be propelling you to your next personal growth phase. The “Founder First” principle, ie “Great companies start with great people, not great ideas,” is what makes a great entrepreneur, not just your successes but also your expertise built over years of trial, error, success and many failures.

This is the reason why Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are increasingly talking about ‘celebrating failure’, because it is inherently linked with expertise. This is true in business as much as in any other discipline. Like physicist Niels Bohr once said, while studying the structure of atoms: “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.”

Failure is part of any journey, and is arguably what makes it worthwhile, exciting and interesting, just like a Titanic movie without an iceberg would be as boring as watching a cruise ship cross the Atlantic (Sam). A mindset shift around failure is an essential starting point, but how can we prepare ourselves for the time when we hit that iceberg and the cruise ship starts to sink?

Marco Rovagnati, Innovation Consultant and Founder of Poa Poa Soaps talked about the importance of setting up guardrails and intentionally designing functions in your organisation that allow you to experiment with failure, shifting the narrative from failure to prototyping. “After launching several businesses and at least half a dozen pivots,” he said, “I think about failure in two buckets: “avoid it at all cost” and “actively embrace it”.”

The bucket of things to “avoid at all cost” are those that have been tried and tested, and that you can teach yourself online (which can be immensely time-consuming) or with fast-track, sprint programmes like Founder Institute. admin, operations, customer support, digital marketing – those are “basic hygiene” factors in business that are (relatively) easy to get right because they deal with the tangible management of the present. How to go about this is down to you, your team, and company culture.

In the second bucket are all the future-focused activities, such as new product development, prototyping and testing new features, finding your next expansion opportunity or underserved niche, launching Minimal Viable Products (MVPs) and finding product market fit. This is, by nature, a process of trial and error and it is essential that the ‘error’ or ‘failure’ part of the process is not interpreted as ‘defeat’. Make sure you have the right language and frameworks in your organisation to track and manage those processes and make sure you extract all the lessons from each test that you run. See what I did here? I’m shifting the narrative from ‘failing’ to ‘testing’. Words matter.

Josiah Kwesi Eyison, CEO and Co-Founder of the iSpace Foundation encapsulated this concept well when he said:

“Failure is not static, it’s an opportunity to learn, build and map out the way forward. It’s a set of data that you collect as you go on.”

African culture can often be less experimental and unforgiving, but that shouldn’t make you operate from a place of fear.

Nana Prempeh from GrowForMe reminded us that yes, mindset matters, but failing in Africa often hits you even harder. Resources (cash, support, trusted partners) are scarce, and Ghanaian culture, for example, tends to be majorly conservative and less open to taking risks. That is one of the reasons why you’d usually find multiple chain stores selling the same products, barely a few feet away from each other. “If it worked for Kofi, it would work for me,” goes the logic behind this approach. Startups, however, require innovation, dogged determination, brutally honest feedback, risk-taking and enough faith to put it all on the line, as well as a systemic shift from being a trader (lower risk traditional business models) to being an entrepreneur (new frontier businesses). FI ‘keeps it real, all the time” Nana went on to say.

It’s no secret that entrepreneurship is not for everyone, and that opportunities are not distributed equally across the world, but it is imperative that we don’t allow ourselves to operate from a place of fear, especially when looking at the extremal obstacles linked to our operating environment. For example, African startups are less served by outsourcing infrastructure, and tend to have a culture less open and tolerant of failure, especially when capital from friends and family is involved.

Fear of failing kills more businesses than failure itself.

Abandon fear and embrace knowledge, read the theory and case studies around your industry, reach out to experts and mentors and critically assess how everything you learn applies to your specific circumstance. Critical thinking is probably one of the most underrated skills of an entrepreneur. This is the ability to read an article, attend an event or have a conversation, yet remain aware that what you hear or read is the experience of an individual at a specific point in time – which may or may not apply to your circumstance – and being selective about what you take on and apply. 

The reality on the continent is different. You should read the mainstream narrative (e.g. Techcrunch, Entrepreneur, Forbes, etc.) but take it with a pinch of salt. You have to analyse it in context. This is not a quick fix but if you’re driven by passion, you will have (or find) the time. Read a lot and study the environment. Don’t go in with fear but don’t go in blind as well. This is learned from experience, which is again a reminder and a great way to sum things up, that “If your failure is not a lesson, it’s indeed a failure.” (Ogwo David Emenike, The Fortune in Failing: Decoding the Message of Failure). 

The global pandemic has clearly shown that pain happens when you’re not expecting it, whether you deserve it or not, whether you’re a kind or unfriendly person. We can overcome things, we can learn, we can be resilient, and ultimately we can live to fight another day.

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Apple Launches Entrepreneur Camp for Black Founders and Developers



As part of Apple’s ongoing commitment to empower the Black community and dismantle barriers to opportunity, today the company is welcoming leaders and their teams from 13 app companies as the inaugural cohort of Entrepreneur Camp for Black Founders and Developers.

In 2019, Apple held its first-ever Entrepreneur Camp, an immersive tech lab for app-driven companies founded and led by developers from underrepresented backgrounds, with a class of women founders and developers. Program participants have gone on to secure major funding rounds, garner numerous awards and accolades, and significantly expand both their teams and app users worldwide.

The program is designed to give developers the opportunity to take their existing app experience to the next level by mastering new technical skills, applying a critical lens to the user experience, and more through hands-on technology labs, one-on-one code-level guidance from Apple experts and engineers, and mentorship, inspiration, and insights from top Apple leaders.

“These incredible app creators and business leaders embody the entrepreneurial spirit that runs so deep in the Black community.”

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives

In addition, Apple is partnering with Harlem Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm based in New York that invests in diverse founders, to offer guidance and mentorship to the participants. This new partnership is part of Apple’s $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI), which builds on the company’s work to advance racial equity in education, the economy, and the criminal justice system. These commitments aim to expand opportunities for communities of colour across the country and to help build the next generation of diverse leaders.

“These incredible app creators and business leaders embody the entrepreneurial spirit that runs so deep in the Black community,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, who leads REJI. “Their work already demonstrates the power of coding to build a better world, and we’re honoured to support them as they blaze a trail we know so many more will follow.”


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Raising Capital Means More Responsibility – Don’t Celebrate Too Soon



You are the boss. YOU make your world go round. Your proverbial sun rises and sets where you command. The moment you allow outside money into your camp, all that changes whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, whether you accept it or not.

Celebrating the mere raising of capital is a mistake. The keyword there is “mere”, which means ‘being nothing more than’. Capital is good. It is however a total disconnect from reality celebrating the mere raising of capital. It’s the good that the money does that’s a win.

“Kofi & Ama Enterprises gets funding from ABC Capital and doubles its revenue”.

Now THAT is the kind of headline I am talking about. The hype around just raising capital is a disconnect from reality and reality is that a lot of new challenges are going to manifest with the raising of capital. It is prudent to celebrate the conquering of those challenges rather than its commencement of them.


Most people, especially entrepreneurs, forget that when it comes to money, it’s in very few instances that people care about anything else other than the subject matter: THE MONEY. Has anyone owed you money before? When it was due, how did you feel? What did you think?

It’s already difficult raising capital, especially during a pandemic. Limited access to capital is one of the main reasons why entrepreneurs and SME’s fail. Yet, when the money comes, many do not have what it takes to stand the added pressure, or understand why the added pressure.

Raising capital adds to your responsibilities. You’re merely trading one headache for another and that’s a fact. When you’re not ready for the responsibility and it comes, that’s when it turns out to be discomforting.

Even when you think you’re ready, the path of growth is generally hard, also for successful people you look up to. The journey has always been hard for entrepreneurs. It still is. So, yes, discomfort will come. It is the recognition of that discomfort… the management of that discomfort… the mental labelling of that discomfort… the rationalisation of that discomfort that’ll make you a great entrepreneur, or not-so-great entrepreneur.


We are almost done with our company’s 5-year strategic plan. Over the next couple years, we want to be more predictable. We want to be more focussed. And most importantly, we want to be calculated. During a pandemic, predictability is credibility.

When people do not know what will happen next, they move towards constants, something they can depend on, like their faith, or a company that’s open and predictable. Research on how many more people have bought Apple shares during the pandemic. Apple feels safe, and predictable. People are scared. Everyone is having some irrational “what if” at the back of their heads.

So what do you do when everyone is scared, even the big, massive companies? We figure that breeding predictability starts with reporting and communication. We need to communicate our intentions, our plans. We need to communicate our operations when they’re happening, and retrospectively when they’re over.

You also have to be genuine, to others and to yourself. Remind yourself of who you are and who you aspire to gradually be. Life is evolution. Many people will invest in the vision but the vision bearer is always part of the package. It’s just as bad lying to yourself as it is lying to someone else. Arguably, it’s even worse.

Lastly when all is well, capital raising isn’t easy. Imagine uttering the words “trust me” during these times. That won’t work. So we need to also be honest about our strengths and be transparent about our dealings. Don’t expect much of blind trust these times.


As I just stated, do not expect much of blind trust these times. It’s the harsh truth. I’ve been telling this guy Nii about how he uses the words “trust me” too many times when speaking with me. He’s very guarded. In response, he tells me the commonest story ever told among entrepreneurs, of how many people pass behind his back and cut him out of deals so he’s admittedly scared of sharing vital information.

The harsh reality is that at a certain age, time flies, I wake up at 4am, blink, then it’s 6pm. If I started seeing opportunities as a factor of time, I wouldn’t have babysat some ideas for too long, especially when the downside costs me nothing.

Nii’s million dollars might be the next person he talks to. But he seldom reveals anything and that makes me antsy. Because even though I know he’s a bright young man with lots of lucrative opportunities for him and I to collaborate on, his privacy can cost me a lot, literally.

That’s when Alan came to mind because one of his favourite words is “report”. I suddenly started seeing things from his side of the telescope. Without reports, even if all is fine through my side of the telescope, all he sees through his end is RISK.


So understand this: when you raise capital, accept that your corporate privacy is dead. When you want to raise capital, accept that a sizeable number of good, prospective investors will need to hear every secret you have under your sleeve to make a decision, that is if you don’t want to be rationally questioned. You can nail the pitch better than anyone but without adequate information, investors will pass. It’s just the truth.

In that same line, after you raise capital, you no longer hold the only key to company information and processes. Members of the funding party, through regular reporting should get to know your supply routes, your most dependable suppliers and customers, how much money you make, how much money you spend, and many more.

I feel like reading thing can maybe flick a switch in someone’s mind before they miss out on opportunities for sensational growth.

When you’re guarded, it makes sense. It’s a rational reaction. Some information are crucial to your business’s existence and could destroy everything you’ve built if a competitor were to get their hands on it. That could be due to a number of factors. One of such factors might be that the feasibility of your business or idea has a really high dependency on one or two entities, be it staff or suppliers and should that be tempered with, everything will come tumbling down.

Nonetheless, you cannot become Jeff Bezos alone. So accept that bringing people in is necessary and work towards bringing in the right people. Because to succeed after raising capital, everything needs to be in the open and I literally just wondered while typing this sentence if that is why a lot of managers in Ghana fail. The kuluulu is too much! But that’s for another article.

Let’s move on.


I’m in constant discussions with the consultant working our 5-year strategic plan. He’s good. Mr Amankwah is very good at what he does. I know he gets cross with me sometimes because he is passionate about me as I am about the business and I tend to investigate alternative ideas a bit too much for comfort, if any of my mentors will tell you.

I perpetually engage because I know that if everything works out, that document is a commitment, one that I will have to pledge to my staff, my Board and other stakeholders that I will fulfil the commitments within. If there’s any discomfort during the next few years after he’s done with his part, he’ll only do what his title says: to consult. But it will all be on me to feel the heat.

That’s exactly how raising capital is. It’s a commitment to carry a whole lot of responsibilities. It’s no time to jubilate, not yet. Different monies come with different rules and expectations. When the primary objective is just “raising money”, then that could cause a problem because after that’s done improperly, harsh realities have to be lived. Eventually the landlord will come check on his rent regardless of how cheap or expensive it is.

Think of it this way. Generally, you wouldn’t feel like your rented apartment is yours to do with as you please. Neither do you stop working on accommodation when you pay your first instalment and move in. Yes you’d smile but you’d also constantly be thinking of rent and what happens when that rent is due.

It’s natural to keep plotting to move out, rent a new apartment or build/buy a house for yourself one day. Yet not within a single one of those thoughts do you not cater for paying what you owe your current landlord first.

After you raise capital, you literally owe, both money and many more tangible and intangible stuff.


Catch your breath if you must, but don’t stop having that start-up mentality. When you raise money, it means there’s more to do. It means your business or idea just took off and flying takes work. That work will be more feasible with the money but don’t underestimate how hard it could be. Until you literally start delivering, nothing has happened yet as far as meaningful  Get the money, then move on your plans. Only celebrate when you get the results.

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Video: Two Projects That Will Change The Music & Entertainment Landscape In Ghana, 3MUSIC HQ & TIGON STUDIOS.



On Thursday afternoon, I spent time touring two new infrastructural projects, 3MUSIC HQ & TIGON STUDIOS thats is set to impact the Ghanaian music and entertainment landscape. 

The 3MUSIC HQ office will house the new 24hours 3Music TV channel, a state of the art television and a radio studio as well as offices for 3Music’s new music digital distributions unit. A new Astro-turf space is also being developed on the space to host the media & entertainment brand’s internal and other external events. 

TIGON Studios, Lynx Entertainment’s  new subsidiary is a multi-purpose audio-visual content productions studio intended to provide a solution to the absence of large multi-purpose audio visual productions studios to enhance the video productions space. 

The two projects comes at a time the Ghanaian entertainment space is in need of such investments to enable the space. 

The two projects are led by two young passionate Ghanaian entertainment executives. Sadiq Abdulai Abu leads the 3MUSIC HQ project and expansion works whilst Richie Mensah, founder and CEO of Lynx Entertainment leads TIGON Studios development. 

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