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EP7: Ralph Kelly on Starting With Kindness

Kindness is the underlying value to counteracting negative behaviours such as bullying, violence and anti-social activities. On the podcast I chat to Ralph Kelly, founder of the Stay Kind Foundation (formerly the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation), on the power of being kind and the life or death outcomes it can have on so many. Ralph is an amazing man leading an amazing organisation working hard at every level of society to embed kinder behaviours and instigate real cultural change. 

TRANSCRIPT

Intro : You’re listening to Project Good Boss, the podcast, with your host Anna Sheppard.

Anna Sheppard : Project Good Boss is a podcast dedicated to understanding the business benefits of kindness in leadership. We cover topics including and not limited to: leadership, equality, psychology, social impact, decent work and economic growth, all delivered with a little splash of good vibes. In this episode, we’ll be spending time with Ralph Kelly. Ralph and Kathy Kelly lost both their sons to violence in July at the same time at the age of 18 and four years apart. The Stay Kind Foundation was formed following the tragic death of Thomas Kelly, 18 years old, in 2012, from an unprovoked violent attack in Sydney. Stewart Kelly, Thomas’ younger brother, sadly ended his life, also aged 18, following a series of incidents and alleged bullying. Up until February 2019, the foundation was known as the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, and relaunched as Stay Kind in June 2019. The foundation’s Take Kare Safe Space initiative operates every Friday and Saturday in the Sydney CBD, with ambassadors out on the streets ensuring people are safe and well. It’s led to over 72,000 interventions between December 2014 and February 2020. The City of Westminster London have now replicated the initiative ( in 2018). Behind the scenes, the foundation works with businesses, schools, universities and other organisations to install kindness at every level, embedding it in every part of our culture. The foundation also undertook extensive reviews of global research that looked at the characteristics of individuals who may engage in various forms of bullying, cyber bullying, violence and other anti social behaviours. This is a great comfort to everyone that we’ve got an amazing organisation out there, that are working really, really hard at every level of society, trying to change some of the most challenging situations that we have at hand. So we are really, really lucky to welcome Ralph Kelly and his amazing amazing story and foundation to Project Good Boss. Hello, Ralph. Welcome to Project Good Boss. How are you today?

Ralph Kelly : I’m good. Thanks, Anna. And thank you for having me. It’s really nice to meet you.

Anna Sheppard : It’s really lovely to meet you. I’ve heard some amazing things about the work that you’re doing. And we always like to kick off with a little bit of fun and games at Bambuddha Group, just to lighten the mood. And you know, I’ve got a quite an important question for you. If you could have any superpower in the world, what would you choose?

Ralph Kelly : That’s really difficult. I don’t know. I’m now 61 and I kind of think if I could go back in age and have attained my fitness, you know. I’ve got friends who you know, serve and do some fantastic things. But I kind of let myself go a bit. I try to diet every now and again, which isn’t difficult. It’s not really a diet: it’s just eating the right foods, drinking water and exercising, and I can lose weight. But I just don’t seem to be able to keep it off. I go back to my old ways. So, if I had a superpower it would be, in terms of loving myself, would be to get back on track, you know, so that I’m, I’m feeling a little bit better every day when I get out of bed.

Anna Sheppard : Well, you know, and I probably can feel your vibes there and I’m pretty much half your age so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I think beauty shines bright from every direction, Ralph. So you run an organisation called Stay Kind and you’re doing some amazing stuff. Would you like to tell our listeners today, what what Stay Kind does?

Ralph Kelly : Sure. So maybe if I just go back two steps. We had a foundation called the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, after my eldest son who was killed in Kings Cross in July 2012. And I think what you do when you lose people close to you start to forensically look at what’s happening in the world or what’s happening in your neck of the woods. So Stuart, our youngest son, was 14 when he lost his older brother. And obviously that had an awful effect on Stuart, but also our daughter Madeline, who’s now 25. Stewart took his life in July 2016. And so we looked – it was a tipping point for me, I should say. So, should we keep going, you know, running a charity or should we close it down. But we had significant resources that were deployed on the streets of Sydney at nighttime over the weekends. With a lot of people depending on that service – State Government, City of Sydney, and the community that enjoys Sydney’s nightlife over the weekends. So we decided to continue the charity but we wanted to change the name. More so for our daughter Madeline, because if there was any violence in the city, the foundation would quite often get mentioned and it was unfair to her. Because as she had gone through university, they’d talk about Toms case, and it was upsetting her. So it gave us an opportunity to rethink about the direction of the foundation. So we did some desktop research about what makes people become violent. What makes people bully in schools. Why do we have narcissism in our organisation, hazing at universities and why is suicide, you know, at the same level if not increasing at the moment. So we decided to rebrand the foundation to Stay Kind, because if we had kindness, both of the boys would still be alive today. ‘Stay Kind’ for two reasons. One, it was after Stuart’s initials, Stuart Kelly. But the more important reason outside of the family was that staying kind every day is very important. So, when you get out of bed, you have to say to yourself, I’m going to stay kind, I’m going to do an act of kindness today. And that means observing people around you. Actually doing something when you see see someone in need, someone who needs help. And it can be simple acts of kindness, to much bigger things. And so staying kind is everyday – you can do an act of kindness. So, at the front end of the foundation, we only rebranded last year in July 2019. David Hurley is the patron of our foundation. He’s the Governor General of Australia. And he said, “look, let’s rebrand at Admiralty House. It was his first function there as the Governor General of Australia. And the Prime Minister turned up that night as well, which was fantastic. So the two of them and we invited the top 100 organisations in Australia to attend. The room was full, and both the Prime Minister and the Governor General, basically said in a message, the people in this room have the option to change the culture and what we do in everyday lives. And people look up to you, and you should use that influence to start to change the culture and values of Australians. And it was very powerful, not for me, but to actually just listen to them. And to understand that, our two leaders – and to have them in the same room is very rare – to have the Governor General and the Prime Minister in the same room is very rare. To support the foundation and the mission and vision of the foundation. So it was very powerful night. So that’s why we have Stay Kind. And at the front of the end of the foundation, what we do is, we invite people to stay kind. So both boys lost their life in July. So we called it Kind July. So it’s a month of kindness just to promote acts of kindness. But obviously, we hope that people would stay kind every day. And so what we did, we had a lot of media around. If we hold an act of kindness in July, that will be 775 million acts of kindness in July alone, given we have 25 million Australians, and if we did one act of kindness every day, that’s 9.1 billion act of kindness. And you kind of think, wow. If you can imagine what a great country Australia would become, if we could all start thinking about other people and not ourselves.

Anna Sheppard : Wow, that is some seriously game changing stuff you’ve just told me about there, Ralph. And I think just getting you know, the Prime M inister to actually address a room full of people and say, “look this is how you can use your influences to be kind”. And it’s so multi layered and so compassionate, the rebrand and the name and so thoughtful of your daughter as well. And, we’re all about the kindness and you know, we’re really passionate about proving that kindness is really the way forward, right? Yes, on levels of society and business. But what was it that you were finding out in that research? Why was it that you chose kindness? You know, when you were looking at why people became bullies or narcissists in organisations and all these different levels of of toxicity across society? What was it that you were finding out in that research?

Ralph Kelly : So what we wanted to find out, obviously, is why people are like that. Why they have those traits. And we try to teach people in organisations about respect and empathy. And we try to do that in education at schools as well. But it’s very hard to teach people or to educate people around respect, if they don’t have kindness. So kindness is absolutely the underlying value before that. So if you don’t have kindness very difficult for someone to then be respectful to other people. So it’s kind of the bleeding obvious, as most most things in life are. And so we thought that was the best way to go. It was very difficult for our board to understand why we wanted to change the name. We were quite well known, after, you know, having run the foundation for six years, and then to suddenly change the name. But it was very important that we changed direction. Because, as I said before, if we had kindness, both the boys would be alive. Having had three children at school, you see, and many friends who’ve got kids, you see the bullying in schools. And you kind of start to look at – how do we start to re-educate or educate children around kindness. Because if we want to change culture, which takes 10 to 15 years, it’s a long haul. It is possible to do because we’ve seen it in Australia with smoking, with the quit smoking campaigns – with seatbelts. You know, when I was a young lad, I just got in the car like many other kids and you’d be rolling around rats without seatbelts on. Now if you’re a parent and your kids get in and you start the engine, no doubt your children will say like mine did, ‘Dad, I haven’t got my seatbelt on’. So you can change the values of people. And I think, you know, more than ever we need to be refocusing on on how can we be kind. Many of us get out of bed, we’re grumpy in the morning. And we’re complaining about everyday life. But really, if – I think from losing two children, you start to re evaluate everything and you go, ‘you know, I’ve got a lot to be grateful for’. And, you know, I don’t want to get out of bed grumpy. I want to make 100% of every day that I get out of bed and make it a good day and be positive, you’ve got to be positive, you’ve got to stay strong. So just quibbling about small things, and, you know, going online and being, you know, kind of rude to people is not the way to live your life.

Anna Sheppard : And with regards to – you’re looking at what the journey is for some of those people that end up undertaking these, you know, unpleasant acts and things like that. What is – is it trauma? What is it that causes the majority of people to end up in these situations where they aren’t being very kind? And what was it that you found out within that research, Ralph?

Ralph Kelly : That’s a very good question. And there’s many, many answers to it. It’s almost like suicide. You know, it’s multiple phased. How people are brought up. How they grow up. Have they suffered loss. So they understand emotion and grief. Really, I’d say most things go back to childhood. As a psychologist would tell you, it’s how you’re brought up by your parents. And the love and respect that your parents emulated to other people so that you could, you know – they’re role models, they’re our most important role models. And so it’s important that in many ways – to change culture and to change bullying within schools, that we go back to looking at education. And how do we – if children don’t get it at home, then how do we provide it in the educational circles?

Anna Sheppard : Absolutely. I think that’s a great point. We’ve even got people in our network that run preschool groups and are already trying to embed that kindness agenda into children before the age of seven or eight years ol. When they say you made by that age, and you know, the neuroplasticity of it all. And we can gradually change you and eventually change our habits, but it takes a lot longer to unpack and create new neuro pathways than you know, the ones that were founded. And I think there’s a lot of barriers. This time Covid’s hit and people kind of really need kindness right now, don’t they? And they need that compassion and understanding. The situation and the change – we’re not very good at change as human beings, are we? That is, is really bringing out (sometimes) not the best sides of people. And really, they’re having to face their demons at the moment, Whether that they’ve been suddenly locked in at home and they have to stay at home and you know, they’re struggling, they’re not getting the connection that would usually have. But do you think there are any major barriers at the moment to kindness in society? What do you think those barriers are?

Ralph Kelly : Well, look, I think there definitely are. Well, only look at myself. So I was brought up in quite a wealthy family in London. And my parents never introduced me to community work at all, which I really regret looking back over my childhood days. And I think it’s really important for parents today to teach their children about compassion and giving back to local communities and people less fortunate than themselves. So I think that – I quite often say I was a snob. Obviously I’d heard about charities, but I’d never got involved. And it wasn’t until Thomas died, and I started to research the reasons why he’d been killed at such a young age, and then started the foundation, that I found purpose in my life. Prior to that – and I hate saying this, but I just want to be honest – my focus was on, you know, buying better cars, getting a better house…material things. But since Tom died eight years ago, that’s kind of left me completely. I’m really not interested in material things. So when you find purpose and passion, you find life. And I think that’s really important. So when I meet people who have started charities, I asked them, ‘why why have you started this?’. And their stories are quite amazing. You know, they’ve found the passion to do something and they’ve got the purpose to start driving change, and they fill a void. Most of these charities fill voids which aren’t covered by governments or local councils. So they’re incredibly important and most of the community don’t understand. Because, whilst we have quite a few charities in Australia, it’s small, really. Quite a small number. But these are people who, you know, whether they’re raising awareness around cancer or other ideas. They are really the backbone of this country and we should salute and we should feature these people more and more across media. Rather than bad things, we should show the good things.

Anna Sheppard : Absolutely. So what’s your ultimate goal with Stay Kind?

Ralph Kelly : That’s a good question. There’s a guy called Greg Page – you probably haven’t heard of him because, Anna, you haven’t been in Australia long enough. But Greg Page was one of the members of The Wiggles.

Anna Sheppard : Oh, yeah. I know The Wiggles.

Ralph Kelly : So Greg was the original yellow Wiggle. He reached out to me a couple of months ago and and we’re sending each other messages via LinkedIn and he said let’s catch up. You know for coffee. So I said look, where are you? He said, look I’ll come into you. So he came into my office in Pyrmont and you know, we spent an hour and a half together. The most remarkable human being. you know, we had tears together. And we were talking about how do we change values? And he said, ‘look, I really want to go away and start writing songs to educate children about kindness’. And I kind of think, if you know, because that’s really where you got to start, you’ve got to start at the grassroots. If you want to change anything, you’ve really got to start there. But in terms of, what’s the endgame? What does 101 look like for us? I go back to this forensic side. When Stuart died, when he took his life, he wasn’t suffering externally from mental illness. You couldn’t see anything that visibly showed that he was he was suffering. But obviously he was because he lost his other brother and had been subject to bullying around alcohol. And we started to sit down and really identify what’s not being done in this country or globally. Around how we can make a difference and change. And so we identified five areas. We have four University partnerships in Sydney. So we have you NSW, Western Sydney University, UTS, Charles Sturt University and we’re about to sign a fifth University partnership in the coming months. The Universities all provide, you know, different facets and expertise to our foundation. But for me, these projects that we’ve identified, or these key five areas that we’ve identified, as far as we’re aware, haven’t been done anywhere in the world. And we know that they will make global social impact. So at the front of the foundation, we talk about kindness and how people can be kind and we’re driving as a stay kind movement around kindness. But the back end of the foundation, to me is the important side of it. Where we can make a difference, that our foundation can make a difference globally on a scale not done before. So that’s really where our focus is. And I’ve kind of been doing this now for eight years and I always said I’d go for 10 years and stop. Because I’ve seen people running foundations, I’ve met so many people in not for profits, and you know, 25 years takes a toll for them. You can see all over them. But you know, these are the most amazing people who keep on going and going and going – they’re so driven by their passion. But for me, the end of my days working in a charity will be when these five projects come to fruition and are completed and are rolled out. And so that’s really for me, that’s where I need to get to.

Anna Sheppard : Yeah, and it’s so beautiful and authentic of you to share you know, okay, well you know that the trajectory of a founder is this. And people can stick around for probably a bit too long and what have you. But this really is your life’s work for a little while, to get this done. At Bambuddha Group, we’ve got the Leadership Lab and we’ll be watching you and observing the work that you’re doing for the foreseeable future because we’ll have a massive amount of learnings from what you’re doing as well. It’s so important – not just Australia but on a global playing field at the moment – understanding how we can be better human beings not just for ourselves but for each other. But it does come with a lot of pressure and it just comes with a lot of challenges this kind of leadership. And some people might not understand it and they might not be able to relate to it properly. But, how do you look after yourself? You know, you’re now going to have to have quite the wellbeing plan in place, I imagine. So you can keep getting up each morning and and making this impact and this change. So what’s your secret sauce to wellbeing, Ralph?

Ralph Kelly : Oh, God, Anna. I don’t have one. When Stu took his life – so Tony Robbins, you know, the American chap that lives in Australia. One of his team members heard about our family losing our second child. And he reached out to me and said, ‘look, you know, we would like to try to help you. We’re not psychologists, we kind of give people advice in business’. And he said, ‘but maybe this can help’. And I kind’ve said, ‘look, thank you, but no, thank you’. And he said, ‘look, here’s my phone number. You can call me anytime. I live in Los Angeles, and I’m working with Tony all the time, every day’. And then it wasn’t till about six or eight months later that I was telling a friend and he said, ‘why wouldn’t you reach out, what have you got to lose?’ And I kind of thought about it and I went, ‘you’re right, I should reach out’. So I did. So we started to have fortnightly calls to LA to talk about – in the beginning he did all the talking. I listened to and just wrote down copious amounts of notes. But I guess and again, it’s the obvious, you know, and he said, ‘you’ve got to get up every day and turn the dials, to always be positive’. 95% of us don’t want to change our lives. We want for better lives, but we’re not prepared to take the risk because we don’t want to fail. But you have to fail to succeed. And you may fail many times before you get up and actually succeed in what your life’s purpose is. And so I’ve tried to maintain that. When I get out of bed in the morning, I always think, you know, I’ve got to, I’ve got to remain positive throughout the day and get through the day and make an impact. And so that’s what I do. I go back to his learnings, or his teaching, I should say, over the phone. It was remarkable period for about a year we I had these phone calls every other week. And in the end he’d go, ‘look what you want to talk about?’ And we talked about things. It could be anything but I always walked off an hour later off those phone calls going, ‘wow, that was really impactful for my life’.To not think so much about myself, but to think about other people. And you know, there are dark moments. Losing two children is not an easy thing. There are dark moments quite often I can be sitting there, if I’m not busy. And these clouds just come straight over you. And you think, ‘what am I doing? You know, my life shouldn’t be like this, I shouldn’t have lost two children’. But then I quickly try to move that back to the positive side so that I’m not getting upset or depressed about it. But it’s – anyone who’s lost a child. It’s, you know, I’ve lost both my parents. And as we were discussing before losing our moms and your mom and my mom. You know, I couldn’t stick through days when my mother died. But then I kind of got over that by saying, ‘my parents lived good lives, and they fulfilled their lives’. But neither of the boys did. They both died at 18. So but then I turned that around saying I had 18 years with both of them. I am blessed that I had that 18 years, but we’re both of my boys. And so it’s finding the good things in life. You know, where there’s a negative, there’s a positive and so it’s finding your positivity in everything and making sure that you get out of bed and leave your house smiling every day.

Anna Sheppard : And you really are a remarkable person, Ralph, because it takes a lot massive amount of patience with yourself and practice to be able to consistently maintain a positive state of mind and to look at those positives. And to utilise the energy that you’ve got to put that into such a positive direction as well. It’s just such a beautiful thing. And so I’m just so humbled to be here with you today, Ralph. For you to be sharing this space with me. Would you like to do a quick fire round? We’ll hotseat you, throw a few questions. You interact with all sorts of inspirational people on a daily basis and I think there’s probably a few juicy juicy bits of advice in that head of yours. Are you up for it? I’m gonna throw a few questions at you. So question one. What is the one thing you would change in this world if you could?

Ralph Kelly : I think we need to learn to love ourselves. But more importantly is to love and respect other people, other human beings for who they are.

Anna Sheppard : Beautiful. What’s your favourite quote?

Ralph Kelly : It’s one by Ralph Waldo Emerson, actually. Do you want me to read it to you?

Anna Sheppard : Yes.

Ralph Kelly : Okay. So “To laugh, often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give oneself to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and song with exhortation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. That is to have succeeded. So what lies behind us and what lies in front of us are tiny matters when compared to what lies within us.”

Anna Sheppard : Oh, wow, that was some serious soul food right there. Thank you so much for sharing that, Ralph. That was absolutely beautiful.

Ralph Kelly : I think if we all – you know if we can live our lives… long, fruitful lives. It’s not about how much wealth you go to the grave with. It’s about the impact that you’ve made on other people.

Anna Sheppard : Yeah, it’s so gorgeous. I think that needs to be the headline of this podcast episode was literally that quote was phenomenal. And so you know, businesses are all kind of trying to work out how they’re going to get through this next year. And there’s so many uncertainties out there. But what do you think the one thing business leaders should focus on right now?

Ralph Kelly : Vulnerability. I think leaders need to show that they’re vulnerable as much as everybody else. We all try to hide vulnerability. We don’t share vulnerability at all. But good leaders do share vulnerable so they actually show that they’re the same as everybody else. And I think that’s the most important thing. Rather than other people feeling intimidated. If leaders show their vulnerability and what they’ve endured in their lives and they opened up about their lives or they shared their vision of the future, which could be vulnerable as well, especially in these times, is very important so that we all know that we’re all on the same train, we’re heading in the same direction. That they’re not gods, that they are people as well.

Anna Sheppard : And that they’re not alone, that we’re actually all in this together in the end. And, you know, if you can show your vulnerability you’re showing the fact that you’re human. And that you’re just like everybody else.

Ralph Kelly : And that’s so important at the moment. We look at our politicians, and, again, they don’t like to show their vulnerability. But, you know, right at this time, we need to be supporting them because they’re making lots of decisions at the moment. Some of those won’t be right. But you know, we have to support leadership. And they are vulnerable. They’re very vulnerable. You know, it’s difficult to teach children – it’s difficult not to be vulnerable all the time. I’m vulnerable to people being critical of our foundation or critical of myself, personally. But it’s another thing to actually show that vulnerability. It’s very important.

Anna Sheppard : Yeah. And it’s something you’re so passionate about. And it’s an extension of you and your brand and you’re the founder. We could probably unpack that topic in its entirety another day. But I think that was a beautiful, beautiful last bit of advice from you, Ralph, there. And, you know, I suppose my next key question is, how can people support what you’re doing? How can they get involved?

Ralph Kelly : Well, they can come to our website, staykind.org. And we have a pledge on there for kindness, that people can be kind. On Facebook, our Facebook page is called Stay Kind Movement. But more importantly, is showing kindness. Staying kind everyday. At home, it’s very easy to get… [inaudible]….with your partner or your children or your pets. And so to treat the people, not only in your family, in your community, but to show them kindness every day. To treat them as you’d want them to treat you, or how you treat your best friend. Would you say awful things to your best friend, you probably wouldn’t. So again, we need to remain positive during this time with COVID. We need to get up every day, we need to lend a helping hand to people, strangers. We need to really focus on this because it’s going to go on for a long time. And it’s imperative that we all come through this together. And it’s not just about our foundation or our family. It’s about everybody. You know, kindness can only only come to the front if we’re all practising it and staying kind. It’s so important. You know, if you give an act of kindness, it makes your wellbeing better, so you feel better for giving an act of kindness. But the person that you’re sharing, you know, the recipient of the kindness gesture that you’ve afforded them, will pay that on two to three times.

Anna Sheppard : It is the gift that keeps giving isn’t it? Kindness.

Ralph Kelly : It’s fantastic. And if we all do one act of kindness every day, that’s 9 billion a year. I mean, my god who wouldn’t want to have a kind Australia?

Anna Sheppard : Oh, exactly who wouldn’t want to have a kind world?

Ralph Kelly : That’s right.

Anna Sheppard : Yeah. And I just feel so privileged and I’m so proud to have had this time with you today, Ralph. And I’m going to be watching with eager anticipation and I hope we’re going to be friends for a very long time. We’re a similar creed you and I and we’re on a similar quest.

Ralph Kelly : You’ve done really well and it’d be great to head off to Yorkshire one day with you, you can take me around the local.

Anna Sheppard : I’ll show you the best fish and chips in town. But you know, you and me, we won’t be losing any of the Covid podge, if I take you to Yorkshire and get you into that food, you’ll never come back. So lovely to meet you and thank you for your time today, thank you for the great advice. If anybody is wanting to know more about Ralph and the foundation, please get in touch. There’s so many ways to be involved and this could be the perfect start to the new you as a leader and the new you as an organisation. So, thank you so much. You take care of yourself, remember to be kind to yourself too.

Ralph Kelly : If I can say, you know, you’re an amazing person. Before we started recording this interview, you told me about your life history and your background. And really to achieve to what your organisation achieved is, is truly remarkable and all credit to yourself as CEO and Founder. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of bravery. So well done.

Anna Sheppard : Thank you, Ralph. It means the world from you, that does. Take care and I’ll speak to everybody again soon.

Ralph Kelly : Okay, bye, Anna.

Anna Sheppard : Thank you for listening to this episode of Project Good Boss. Bambuddha Group is a social enterprise, providing leadership coaching for corporate leaders, business owners and operators. We believe in a future where every leader is committed to creating a sustainable world of equality and opportunity for everyone. If you are a game changing leader, and you have an amazing story of how your business is making the world a kinder and a better place, we would love to hear from you. Visit bambuddhagroup.com or slide into our DM’s. And finally, you should know, for every paid member we have in our network, we provide scholarships to reduce inequalities in leadership and business. Thank you to Sonic Union for editing this episode, Lo Roberts for writing and performing Project Good Boss and design by Flare Creative. Thank you for being kind today. Thank you for tuning in. And we’ll see you again next time.

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