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Amanda Zahringer is the Board Chair of UCIT Ireland t/a Community Finance Ireland. She utilises her legal, financial and philanthropic expertise to ensure that Community Finance Ireland can create a world-class community finance system that works towards ensuring that positive social impact is felt – not just dreamt. This is her story…

“I was deliberately and intentionally exploring board roles a few years ago because I’m a huge believer in paying it forward. I received a scholarship at 16 which changed my trajectory and worldview, it gave me an entirely ‘new possible’ and ignited my drive and ambition. To quote a good friend, ‘when you have more than enough, extend the table, don’t build a bigger fence’. I am exceptionally fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant and passionate people who are continually extending and even creating new tables.

So, in search of a role where I could create powerful change at scale, I turned to the leaders around me who encouraged me to take on board roles. I contacted Boardmatch, and the journey began.

I gave them a list of extremely focused requirements. I told them I needed purpose, I wanted to leverage my unique skill set and it was critical that our values were aligned. And then I waited for the right role to come up. Eventually, the perfect match came about.

I truly believe there is a board role for everyone, from the neurodiversity advocate to the art teacher, the finance director, the fashion designer to the corporate lawyer. You just need to find something you’re truly passionate about. Then you do your due diligence, understand the commitment, and lean in knowing you’ll find the right one.

I found what some like to call, my ‘unicorn role’. I started my career as a corporate lawyer, led billion-dollar transactions across the world, had C-Suite roles and global roles, but my work as a board member and Chair has been my biggest challenge and biggest reward.

Sitting on the board of this social enterprise, I’m so fortunate because I am always surrounded by people who are continually extending that table, no matter what the challenges. I feel a great sense of responsibility, ensuring the right people are in place to create solutions to our world problems through our exceptional organisation and people. As a board member, I know I’m working to make sure that magic happens; that true, positive change is progressing.

This role is where I can empower others to be big, bold and brave with their moves. It’s kept me sharp, and it’s kept me humble. I have a huge sense of pride for the projects we work on, ensuring change-makers can continue paving the way. When you empower a community to lead progress and increase that prosperity circle for themselves, I don’t think there can be any greater thing in life.”

This piece resulted from Amanda Zahringer’s interview with We Act on 15th November 2022. Find out more about We Act here and to find out more about Community Finance Ireland visit our website or follow us on Twitter 

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– Community Finance Ireland delivers €1.6million in support for Donegal community organisations.

Ballyshannon-based GAA Club, Aodh Ruadh is celebrating an upgrade to its facilities, helping it maintain county ground status and attract new members, thanks to funding from Community Finance Ireland (CFI). 

Originally founded in 1909, Aodh Ruadh CLG is one of the foremost GAA Clubs in Co. Donegal, with around 400 members.  The Club consists of the main pitch, Father Tierney Park, which holds county ground status and hosts at least one National Football League fixture each year.  It also owns Pairc Aodh Ruadh (Mundy’s field) on an adjoining site, which consists of two sand-based playing fields and training facilities including a Fitness Trail and a Hurling Wall. Aodh Ruadh CLG has enjoyed significant success at County, Provincial & National level and offers both football & hurling to members.

Patsy Kilgannon, committee member at Aodh Rua GAA, said that awareness of Community Finance Ireland’s experience in supporting GAA clubs was a key factor in their decision-making process.  He said: 

There was an awareness of Community Finance Ireland in the club, and we felt it was as convenient to go to Community Finance Ireland instead of traditional sources of finance. A great credit to Anne for making the process a positive experience all the way. The loan from Community Finance Ireland has been utilised to assist with our recent redevelopment costs, helping us to maintain county ground status and improve facilities for our members.”

Patsy Kilgannon, Committee Member, Aodh Ruadh GAA

Since 2016, Community Finance Ireland  has provided €1.6million in social finance loans to 21 projects based in Donegal.  Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and Donegal, Anne Graham, says there’s huge potential for others in Donegal to follow in Aodh Ruadh’s footsteps. 

Ms. Graham said:

“It’s fantastic to see GAA Clubs like Aodh Ruadh CLG investing in their facilities, which not alone helps them to maintain their county ground status, but no doubt plays a role in attracting and retaining members.  Like Aodh Ruadh CLG, Community Finance Ireland is focused on social improvement – all the repayments made on social finance loans go right back into supporting another community group either here in Donegal or across the country.”

Anne Graham, Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and Donegal, Community Finance Ireland

About Community Finance Ireland

Community Finance Ireland delivers social finance solutions that support local communities and drive social impact through sports, community projects, faith-based groups, Arts & Heritage, Childcare, Environment, Health & Wellbeing, Housing, Tourism and social enterprises.  It is the fastest growing dedicated social finance provider across the island of Ireland and the UK. 

Community Finance Ireland is part of the UCIT Group, established in Belfast in 1995 and now supports a diverse portfolio of clients across the island of Ireland from Bantry to Ballymoney, and from Dublin to Dingle.

Currently, Community Finance Ireland is the only Irish and UK member of FEBEA, the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks. 

For further information, visit our website or follow us on Twitter.  

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– Community Finance Ireland delivers €1 million in support for Tipperary community organisations.

Boher Community Development Group is a shining example of what a community can achieve when they come together. Last year Community Finance Ireland supported Boher Community Development Group in the creation of a sensory garden and recreational amenity at the heart of Boher, Co Tipperary.

Nora Keogh, Client Relationship Manager at Community Finance Ireland recently returned to Boher to see the finished community sensory garden, which is wheelchair accessible and includes a geodome, biodiversity garden and a mud kitchen.

Ms. Keogh said:

“It is such a joy to come back to Boher to see this incredible project brought to life and being enjoyed by children and their families. At Community Finance Ireland we support a huge range of community and volunteer-led projects from sports projects to social enterprises to faith-based groups, but they all start with an idea and a group of people who want to make it work.

“Nicola and the team at Boher Community Development Group came to Community Finance Ireland with an idea and we were delighted to help them make it a reality. This group was established just before our first lockdown in 2020 and it goes to show, when you have a vision for your local community, and the drive to create that change, there’s no limit to what you can do.”

Nicola Welford, Chairperson at Boher Community Development Group, said:

“Nicola and the team at Boher Community Development Group came to Community Finance Ireland “We’re very proud of all we’ve achieved for the local community here in Boher. We’re a population of around 350 people and we felt it was so important that we create a space where everyone would feel welcome. It was important that this space was fully wheelchair accessible and inclusive to all.”

“As a small group, everything we achieve is done through the commitment of our volunteers and the support of our local community – so many people played a part in fundraising and in donating their time to create this. To have the social finance support from Community Finance Ireland to get us over the line was fantastic – Nora and the team understand the challenges which community organisations face and their services are tailored to support volunteer-led groups like ours. We couldn’t have made this a reality without them.”

About Community Finance Ireland

Community Finance Ireland delivers social finance solutions that support local communities and drive social impact through sports, community projects, faith-based groups, and social enterprises.  It is the fastest growing dedicated social finance provider across the island of Ireland and the UK. 

Community Finance Ireland is part of the UCIT Group, established in Belfast in 1995 and now supports a diverse portfolio of clients across the island of Ireland from Bantry to Ballymoney, and from Dublin to Dingle.

Currently, Community Finance Ireland is the only Irish and UK member of FEBEA, the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks. 

For further information, visit www.communityfinanceireland.com or keep in touch on our teams latest news @ComFinanceIrl.  

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An Mheitheal Rothar continue to Recycle bikes for locals and we were delighted to help.

– Community Finance Ireland delivers €0.5million in support for Galway community organisations –

The award-winning An Mheitheal Rothar (AMR), a social-sustainable enterprise based in Galway City, is rolling out an expanded service at their community workshop at NUI Galway and at their retail outlet in Galway Shopping Centre, thanks to funding from Community Finance Ireland (CFI). 

Founded in 2012, An Mheitheal Rothar provides access to cycling and cycling mechanic skills training to people in Galway, regardless of their ability to pay. In 2018, the social enterprise introduced their award winning ‘Recycle Your Cycle’ initiative, which repairs and upcycles second-hand bikes. 

An Mheitheal Comhashaol Cooperative, trading as An Mheitheal Rothar, accessed a bridging loan from Community Finance Ireland, an all-island social finance provider, which supports community projects that drive social impact through sports, the arts, faith-based groups and social enterprises.

Cathy Coote, Fundraising and Communications Officer at An Mheitheal Rothar,said the funding has been critical to expand and upscale their offering to the local community in Galway. She said: 

“Our loan from Community Finance Ireland is enabling us to invest in new bike stock for our bike shop. Customers can avail of the Bike to Work scheme for these new bikes. The funds we generate support our work, such as providing free second-hand bikes for students studying under the University of Sanctuary programme as well as repairs, training and upcycled bikes for sale. All this helps to grow the numbers of people cycling for health, transport and sustainability.”

Since 2016, CFI has provided €0.5million in social finance loans to projects based in Galway.  Client Relationship Manager for Connacht and Donegal, Anne Graham, says there’s huge potential for others in Galway to follow in AMR’s footsteps. 

Ms. Graham said: “It’s fantastic to see AMR growing to meet the demand in their local community and for that growth to be sustainable. Like AMR, Community Finance Ireland is a social enterprise – all the repayments made on social finance loans go right back into supporting another community group either here in Galway or across the country. 

“In that sense, our social finance loans aren’t dissimilar to the circular economy which AMR support. We’re delighted to be helping people in Galway get on their bikes, which will in turn help us support a local GAA club in Donegal or a Family Recourse Centre in Mayo.”

  • Anne Graham, Community Finance Ireland is working across Connaught and Donegal
  • For more information on An Mheitheal Rothar, visit: https://bikeworkshops.ie/ 

About Community Finance Ireland

Community Finance Ireland delivers social finance solutions that support local communities and drive social impact through sports, community projects, faith-based groups, and social enterprises.  It is the fastest growing dedicated social finance provider across the island of Ireland and the UK. 

Community Finance Ireland is part of the UCIT Group, established in Belfast in 1995 and now supports a diverse portfolio of clients across the island of Ireland from Bantry to Ballymoney, and from Dublin to Dingle.

Currently, Community Finance Ireland is the only Irish and UK member of FEBEA, the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks. 

For further information, visit www.communityfinanceireland.com or keep in touch on our teams latest news @ComFinanceIrl.  

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Social finance is a unique form of funding. It helps communities and social enterprises make progress and build sustainable services whilst creating that elusive “social impact” footprint.

It can help projects move to the next exciting stage and many of our clients have done so by accessing both flexible term and bridging loans.

Here at Community Finance Ireland, our team have 21 years experience working with sports clubs (Kilcoo GAC, Co. Down), health/social care services (Foyle Women’s Aid. Co Derry), community halls (Billy’s Tea Rooms Co. Kilkenny) and digital hubs (Sneem Co. Kerry); all of whom have found that social finance enabled them to achieve social impact in their local communities.

A social enterprise, charity or community-led organisation may find themselves looking at their finance needs when assessing a project. While grants can play a role in supporting their objectives, there are those in the sector who also understand that a loan can be part of the solution and help build that new sports facility, re-roof the church, support additional employment or build office facilities in a remote village.

If your organisation is considering a new project, restructuring its finances or has an idea that will drive social impact then here are the Top 5 Tips that will make it easy for you to apply for a social finance loan:

Top 5 Tips for Success:

  • Tell us about yourself

Share what issues you are seeking to address, the facilities you wish to develop or the opportunity you see in your local communities.

  • Confirm Eligible Legal Status

Ensure appropriate governing documents are in place and the applicant organisation has the appropriate power to borrow. Outline the details of those responsible including the list of Directors and/or Trustee

  • Management Team

Highlight the positive attributes of the people behind the project, including: Commitment to improving their community, Track Record, Professional Experience and Skills. Also, evidence clear communications and insights along with sound financial management skills.

  • Financial Performance

Financial stability is a key way to show your organisation will be able to repay a  loan. Alongside financial stability, factor in the social and environmental impact too.  Your ability to repay is assessed by looking at past, present and future finances. These typically include:

  1. Access to previous projects results.
  2. A review of past audited accounts.
  3. Assess relative trends and fundraising capacity.
  4. Recent management accounts, loans held, bank statements and debtors/creditors listings.
  5. Future financial projections.
  • Demonstrate Social Impact

Typically our successful clients are driven by local job creation, local facility development, delivery of health & social care support plus the promotion of diversity and inclusion.

Our Clients Choose Us, as We Offer:

At Community Finance Ireland, We Speak Finance. But We Hear People.

In summary, social finance continues to grow in popularity as a route to helping change-makers deliver the change they want to see and be part of. Whatever you see and whatever it is that you dream of we are waiting to hear from you.

Get in touch here: https://communityfinanceireland.com/contact/

Ends.

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As an all-island brand, with a growing team, our colleagues live and work in Down, Antrim, Meath, Donegal, Waterford, Limerick, Cavan, and Louth. Whilst they also have the option to work at our dedicated office spaces located in Ardee, Co. Louth or in Belfast City Centre.

In light of both the NI and RoI governments’ decision to relax Covid restrictions our team are now working “the new norm”.  

With Northern Ireland’s growing confidence in an office versus home working environment and the Republic of Ireland creating a Bill to pass legislation protecting employees working from home (The Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2021) the traditional five days a week, office based working model is now clearly in transition.

Our team at CFI, have technically spent the best part of the last two years working from home (often at the kitchen table or in some cases a bedroom) and as we settle into our new norm, we asked our people what were the pros and cons they learnt from their experience and how will this experience support them in their day-to-day delivery of social finance solutions to grassroots community clients and projects.

Here’s what they had to say:

“With my home base at Strangford Lough, a hybrid working model allows me to maximise my use of time effectively as I can block out days for new client meetings and when at home, focus on administrative aspects.”

Phelim Sharvin, Head of Community Finance N.I

“Hybrid working is great and allows all colleagues to work where most comfortable. For me, being in the office is important for setting my own boundaries between work and home-life.”

Peter Smyth , Client Relationship Manager N.I

“Working from home has really helped me flourish in my career. I thrive on quiet time where I can focus on strategic papers or analytics and have found zoom meetings suit my working style.”

Nicky McElhatton, Marketing and Social Media Executive

“I joined CFI during the pandemic. My role is Front of House and I really enjoy the office environment. With a newly designed office space in Belfast, I can continue to work safely alongside others.”

Nick Heath, Front Office Administrator

“Having a blend of working-from-home and the office breaks up the week. With a flexible working schedule, this has really helped give me an improved work-life balance.”

Stephanie Nicholl, Compliance Officer

“Working-from-home is something I have gotten used to. Although, I do miss the aspect of being in the company of my colleagues as work relationships are not always the same behind a screen.”

Sandra Cowan, Finance Officer

“My week is usually now 70% office based with 30% working-from-home. I have adapted well to this new rhythm and have also found that as a Manager of a team, the trust with my people has improved greatly.”

Barry Connolly, Group Chief Financial Officer

“The ability to work remotely has given me the chance to spend more time at home. With less distractions, my time spent working is more productive and I have my cats for company, all day.”

Emma Thompson, Finance Executive

“A blended approach allowed me to meet colleagues whom I would not of come into contact with as much whilst working remotely. I am able to create relationships were I can reach out to colleagues from different departments which is hugely beneficial as I start my career.“

Jack Lennon, Marketing Intern

“Hybrid working works excellently for me with a team based all over the country. It offers me the ability to work wherever I might be needed, for both my team and my clients. As long as my phone and laptop charger are optimized, I find the flexibility of different working locations can ensure I can be where I am needed at all times.”

Emmett O’Hara, Head of Community Finance RoI

“My role finds me on the road quite a bit, meeting clients. This regular travelling is balanced by my ability to work from my home on days where I am liasing with other team members and assisting clients from a remote location.”

Anne Graham, Client Relationship Manager Donegal and Connacht

“My role has always been remote and as such, the hybrid working model has little impact on that working style. But what has been welcome, is that many of my colleagues now also have the same working pattern.”

Barry Symes, Client Relationship Manager South East Leinster and Waterford

“I joined Community Finance Ireland just over six months ago and have found zoom meetings invaluable in helping me connect with my new work colleagues.”

Nora Keogh, Client Relationship Manager Munster

“Working from the office is a key benefit to me that helps with my part-time hours and the logistics of family life. Office based work continues to be my personal choice but it’s great to have the ability to work from my kitchen on occasion.”

Terri Martin, Office Manager and Micro-Finance Lead RoI

“Working remotely has never been a barrier to my ability to deliver great work or to engage my colleagues or agency partners on key projects. I have found that meeting in person is always welcome but that with excellent IT support working from home offers a flexibility that really suits my way of working. This new norm has shifted me from a ‘work – life balance’ view to a ‘life –work balance’ view and I love it.

Lita Notte, Head of Marketing and Communications

“A hybrid structure has worked well for me. With the flexible option of remote work or going to the office I have a genuine sense of work-life balance. Time not spent commuting has been redirected to time spent in my local community.”

Pauline Carolan, Office Administrator

“A hybrid working system has been great for everyone here at CFI. With a small team, it allows us to grow resources in all regions of the island and connect with all communities. We swiftly introduced technology and IT supports to help our people and give them the tools they needed to continue to liaise with clients and each other. For me personally, it is great to have a balance with a new Belfast office acting as a hub in more recent months.”

Donal Traynor, CEO Community Finance Ireland

In summary, much like the uniqueness of our people, hybrid working offers different things for everyone. But in essence flexible working practices (either office or home) is successful and our team are very much “fans” of the new norm.

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Today CFI’s impact was in evidence as Nora Keogh Client Relationship Manager for the Munster region, provided support to social enterprise Recruit Refugees Ireland based in Cork.

Nora had this to say:

“We are delighted to help support Recruit Refugees Ireland and its ambitions to break down barriers to meaningful employment for refugees – the work they do really is delivering impact in the Cork region”

Nora Keogh, Client Relationship Manager (Community Finance Ireland)

CEO Roos Demol outlined to Nora how her team are committed to an inclusive and diverse Ireland and in supporting career aspirations for those who are now living in Ireland.

Community Finance Ireland delivers social finance solutions that support local communities and drive social impact through sports, community projects, faith-based groups, and social enterprises. 

Community Finance Ireland was established in 1995, and now supports a diverse portfolio of clients across the island of Ireland from Bantry to Belfast, and from Dublin to Dingle.

Currently, Community Finance Ireland is the only Irish and UK member of FEBEA, the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks.

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Our all island team are very aware that every small step can help the enormous challenges that climate change and sustainable choices can make to our everyday lives and the planet at large.

We moved “house” in 2021 and had almost 15 years of paperwork stored in boxes that needed to find a home too. Step up Shred Bank, who shredded those old files, helped recycle it and helped us save five trees.

Our client Western Forestry Co- Operative, based in Sligo town have often told us that “trees are the lungs of the earth” and their passionate CEO Marina Conway is a key change-maker herself in the preservation and love of trees.

Marina featured in one of our first Change-maker podcasts and you can hear her views on sustainable forestry here:

Social Impact is in all our hands.

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This time last year we all had hopes that the Pandemic would be done and dusted. We are all aware this didn’t happen and, as we close off another year we will continue to live with its effects for a while yet.

Whilst we acknowledge Covid continued to affect us during the past 12 months, we can confidently say that we supported both our clients and key stakeholders to achieve progress and ensured that, whilst we were often asked to stay apart, we came together in ways that helped our clients deliver health, happiness and hope.

  • We took the opportunity to grow our local footprint and welcomed new team members Emmett, Anne, Pauline, Nora, Nick, Stephanie and Jack.
  • In Belfast our new head office was finally able to open its doors and support our new norm that is a hybrid working model.
  • We helped deploy £7.1m to 354 charities on behalf of Department for Communities via the Covid- 19 Charities Grant Fund.
  • We collaborated with Conor McGale at Rural Community Network and Larry O’Neill CEO Dublin South Co Partnership on the launch of our All Island Recovery Loan
  • We collaborated with Joanne O ‘Riordan of The Irish Times, Brendan Boyce Olympian Athlete and Patsy McGonigle of Finn Valley AC on the launch of our All Island Sports Fund
  • We continued to work with key stakeholders such as Invest NI, Enterprise NI and Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, as well as Social Finance Foundation, Rethink Ireland and DCU in the Republic.
  • We listened to and worked with 91 enquiries.
  • We welcomed an additional 62% increase in followers across our social media channels

All of the above are indications that despite hurdles the sector continues to seek support, insights and social finance.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive, said the following:

“Whilst the Pandemic continues to challenge all communities we have seen greater solidarity across the whole island of Ireland. Clients are responding with innovative fundraising initiatives as-well as migrating to an online service (an investment we ourselves undertook in 2020) to help make the provision of services easier and sustainable.

The sector itself is not immune to trends. We expect to see hybrid events and campaigns plus sustainable, remote working facilities, as well as questions around how we play our part in supporting climate change targets.

All of the above offer the opportunity for us to continue to work with clients who want to ensure social impact is felt not just dreamt – we are here listening all the time and committed to finding solutions that support that ethos”.

Donal Traynor, Group Chief Executive

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At Community Finance Ireland 37% of our loan portfolio is made up of organisations from the sporting sector. So our team spend a lot of time talking to and walking with those in their local communities who see sport as a means to offer opportunities, address rural decline and also help personal and community fitness.

Each has a very hands-on approach when it comes to working with our clients. We put people first. When our clients call with a query, they hear a familiar voice at the end of the phone. They know the face who is at the other end of an email. Our change-makers are on the ground, supporting communities, meeting clients and making an impact in their regions.

We speak finance but we hear people – So, we thought you might like to hear their own thoughts on what a sporting change-maker might look like and also their own sporting stories.


Emmett O'Hara Sports

Our next Change-Maker is Emmett O’Hara, Head of Community Finance RoI, from Bettystown. Working with clients like Father Manning Gaels, Hercules Club and Athlone Town AFC in Longford, Dublin and Westmeath, Emmett is passionate about all sports.


What has been your own involvement in sports?

I played rugby and hurling in my younger years.  I now coach my son Matthew’s under 9 soccer team (Donacarney Celtic). My daughter Lily also plays GAA for St. Colmcille’s in Bettystown, where my wife Miriam is also involved on the coaching side.

What client or local sporting clubs do you admire and why?

I admire our client the Hercules Club which is based in the North Inner City Dublin. The club has been in operation since 1935 and despite a number of moves has built a strong legacy with generations of weightlifters and boxers involved.

We also have a number of GAA clubs who make such an impact in their local area at every level – sporting, social and also community. Ones that come to mind include Kiltegan GAA, Lough Lene Gaels and Mount Nugent GAA.

Who is your sporting hero and is there a particular reason?

Kenny Dalglish would be a long term hero of mine, not only because he was such a great player and manager but also because of the efforts that he made in the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy by attending every funeral to help those families who had lost loved ones, with their grief.

How has sport helped you/ your family/ community personally?

Sport is a huge part of the local community in Bettystown. There is a very diverse range of sports available to play including GAA, soccer, athletics and given the sea side location – swimming, paddle boarding, kite surfing and also recently beach volleyball.

Sport brings people together and I think this has been illustrated over the span of the pandemic when we have needed those networks more than ever, and volunteers have stepped up with new and innovative ways to develop clubs and build communities.

Finally on a scale of 1 (average) to 5 (excellent) how do you rate your own fitness?

The kids are a lot fitter than I am, I’m happy enough to cheer from the sidelines.


If you and your team, have a dream that could make a difference in your community, we’re here to listen. Whether you want to change something by solving a problem or creating an opportunity, we want to hear what you have to say. Get in touch with us today.

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