« Freakonomics Radio

197. Hacking the World Bank

2015-02-19 | 🔗

Jim Yong Kim has an unorthodox background for a World Bank president — and his reign thus far is just as unorthodox.

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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was mining his own business, carrying out his duties as president of Dartmouth College. He was in his third year there on the phone rang and he learned that the President of the United its wanted to hire him away Quite literally on a Monday Dartmouth graduate from nineteen eighty three TIM guidance call me and said Jim. What you can the present the World Bank, and this is the work tat. I d go to my entire life too. You know in development and in fighting poverty, and so called the chair, my boy ran away, and I said you know the presents asking you to consider this island. I have to do it and So there was a Monday I flew down. President Obama on a Wednesday. Did you know him previously? I had met him once before, but my first sit down meeting with him was in oval office to talk about this particular job and then on that front.
We were in the rose garden and he was announcing me as the U S candidate, when a nation goes from poverty to prosperity, it makes the world stronger and more secure for everybody. That's why the World Bank is so important and that's why the leader of the World Bank should have a deep understanding of both the role that development plays in the world and the importance of creating conditions where assistance is no longer needed. I believe that nobody is more qualified to carry out that mission. There. after Jim Jim, I started to campaign ahead to compete for the job, but it all happened in the course of one week, so it was really quite a quite a whirlwind. Now most previous World Bank President's were either
former bankers. Lawyers are government officials. You, meanwhile, are a physician, anthropology ph DOT D college president spend most of your life and academia nonprofits, not not even I say not even an academic economist as though that were a higher credential, which I don't mean to imply. about the World Bank or President Obama, or you or the shape of the world, and especially the shape of development and new ideas in development that a guy, like you, wound up in a place like this one I remain extremely grateful to President Obama element. Let me tell you how that conversation with. He put it right on the table, as he always does. He said, look Jim! What am I and tell the people around me who tell me that this is that I should appoint a mockery economist. What what justification can I give them for nominal you, and so I started off by saying well pressing Obama You read your mother's dissertation. Anything said that
Looked at me and he said well yeah I have- and I said well Remember that your mother argued that the entire world thought that the the artisanal industry in Tunisia would be wiped out. Specially metalworkers will be wiped out by globalization. but what she showed was it in fact that industry, thrived globalization actually give a boost to their industry, and I said that's what I do. I've been doing development on the ground for the last twenty five years, and so well, I'm not a macro economist. I do take a look at things like it, how incentive work in the reality of development on the ground, and so I will always bring that perspective and he looked at me and he said. Ok, I get that later in a more relaxed moment with President Obama, he said you know Jim. I have to say that one of the best ploys I've ever seen. You know reading the president's mothers thesis is a good strategy and we had a good laugh about it yet,
as you are telling the story, I was thinking. I know this is meant to illustrate the strength of economic thinking visa be developed, but really, I think, most people out there when they hear this are gonna. Take it more than Interview Tipp, certainly that when, whenever possible, if the boss, the mother, who wrote some dissertation. You now prepare that's the M prepare, and especially its relevant, which was very much like you kind of lucked. Out on that, you have to admit that in reality it was very relevant, I'm happy
from w and my seeing this is free economics, radio, the package that explores the hidden side of everything, here's your host, Stephen Governor looking so here is the best part it wasn't just the Jimmy on Kim knew the prisoner Obama's mothered written a dissertation that was related to his development work and then went got it in order to prepare for a meeting with the president. That's not the way. Where I was so fascinated by President Obama dating back to two thousand and four I actually bought her, unpublished, thesis, from the University of Michigan archives and faithfully read the whole thing long before Actually, I went into the interview a present of on, but let me say this: the more you
from him. The less surprised you are anything's accomplished. Now he is taking the World Bank in very different direction, which will hear about, but first, let's begin at the beginning. My name is Jim young Kim. I am the president of the bank group and our organization last year lent and providing grants of about sixty five billion others, and our mission is to end extreme poverty in the world and to boost what we call shared prosperity. Witches a notion that focuses on ensuring that the bottom, forty percent of any developing country shares in now. Whatever economic growth there is so world map, is fairly impressive. I understand your childhood dream is an immigrant kid Iowa were your father was a dentistry professor that your dream was to be quarterback, the Minnesota, Vikings or Chicago bears. So I'm sorry that didn't work. How are you ok with where you wound up well, given the way that the Chicago Bear certainly have been
doing I'm very happy with it worked out, but you know that was in the middle of Iowa boy. The greatest thing you could ever become is a professional athletes from this, even so, I was fully part of our culture and I actually played quarterback from a high school football team, and although that some people are impressed with that I then also have to admit that our high school football team at the longest missing streak in the nation when I was quarterback case that still a record of some sort of your tadeusz irregular is Jim was also the chair of the department, global Health and social Medicine at Harvard Medical School he's earned a Macarthur genius, fellowship and for the last three years he has served as the President of Dartmouth College. I should also mention that, after emigrating to this country from create age, five Jim went on to become the present in this high school class, the quarterback at a football team. The point guarded the basketball team I just found out. He is a five handicap and golf, I'm alone
pull about that last night, but he does it all becoming an m d and then an anthropologist was not Kim's original plan. Well, let me tell you the story. Even you know, I'm my mother is a philosophy: where she still alive. Still king on her writing in very involved in in her work on east asian philosophy, and my father was a dentist you know? Dentists are extremely practical people, and so I had these two influences in my life and and one day I came home from school, and this was a boy One of my first Mr Brown and my father pick me up from the airport, It is about thirty miles from our hometown and I were any sense Germany, one study- and I say what I think, I'd like to study politics in philosophy and I think I'd like to become a politician, and so he slowly pull the car over to this. The road looked back at me and he said, look Jim when you finish your turn ship and residency. You can do anything you want. So I have had this very practical.
Father who said? Look you know you're an asian in this country. No one's gonna give you anything and if you think, you're going to make it as a pilot, Can you better think again? You can do that, but, first and foremost to get a skill. Were you actually can help people, let's go back when you were in nonprofits or Ngos or whatever form they were, and are you trying to bring health care and bring? You know, deliver all different kinds of necessary and often very primary health care to especially poor place, around the world. You were not a fan of the World Bank. You were active. I've read in the fifty years is enough movement that campaign to to the bank, as well as the I M F contending did more harm than good. That's the report, at least that I've read. I tell me if that report is true how true it is and why, led to you, were evolution in thinking about an institution like the World Bank. Well, it's it's true and there's actually good evidence that it
True, I was the one of the editors on a book entitled dying for growth, a global inequality and the health of the poor, and it basically was a critique. of the approach that many of the international financial institutions had taken to health and at the time, but we are arguing was that an overly narrow focus on growth of GDP. He was really not the approach that we thought would lead to the kind of result. That everyone seem to want to have. In other words, there were arguments that you should restrict social spending, including on health and education. and so what we were arguing is that we should focus on more than just GDP growth, and we should really try to take a much more nuanced view of what are the factors that are important in lifting people out of poverty. And that's clearly the direction that the World Bank has gone in a major way in the last twenty years, and so I am very glad we lost the fifty years, is
argument because the institution is very different now than it was before, and I think that's what made it possible for me to to lead the institution, the ideas, change and partly- and this is what you guys have done so beautifully in both for economics and supervise economics, as you ve actually made hypotheses, but then you ve looked at data so the Dayton our overwhelming in that invest. Hence in health and education, for example, are critical aspects of a growth strategy. You know, Larry Summers published a paper a year ago showing that in low and middle income countries fully twenty five percent of the economic growth experience. in two thousand and two thousand Levin was due to better health outcomes. So we don't at this institution, and we have not for a long time thought about health in it. question is simple expenditures. We now think of is fundamentally investments in human capital that will lead to growth and so the institute
in itself- and this is what s great about the World Bank group- the institution itself has really looked at the data really looked at the evidence carefully and we ve shifted. A great deal so the World Bank recently released a world Development report, titled mind society and behaviour which, after it does not sound right off the bat like a World bank report from the past for sure and it argues for really a new view. enter new mindset for attacking poverty. So if you could begin doktor can just some of the background were you behind this? Who was behind it and what was the impetus, well. It was, it came out of a of pretty straightforward caution that did Kasza pursue our chief economist himself region from India Butter, a celebrated professor of economics, development economics at Coronel from in years and
I would just sitting down one day and we started talking about behavioral economics, and we started talking about some of the work that I had become fascinated with when I was a Dartmouth about her. things, like willpower and grit, in how they had an impact. success in life and development and so INA. He he suggested one day that we that we just take this on, and so that's how that's how it came to pass. It was a recognition that we really needed, a rethink of where we were going with the development strategy. And we also wanted to bring in discourse of other World Bank group, these thinkers then so influential in academia, but
been much less influential inside the world Bank- interesting you as I read the report it struck me- is basically a kind of a best practice is white paper that distills really much of the field, if not the entire field of behavioral economics, and highlights the sort of cognitive, biases and illusions and the antidote to those problems that a lot of people have been thinking in talking writing about for for many years, as you said, and primarily within academia, but not exclusively, and one per The report makes is that a lot of these insights are, in retrospect, pretty obvious things like framing and anchoring in social norms, which other people call peer pressure, and it struck me that you know Adam Smith, we commonly think of his father. Classical economics was probably a lot more in tune with
that human side of the human being than most economist of the mid and late 20th century. Some curious how you think that economics again granted not your field, but you certainly know plenty about it. How do you think you can onyx got so far away? considering a human being, what to be, what human being really is and what why it has taken so long and so much effort to get back to this new old view Well, it's a great question. You know I am as an anthropologist. Actually in grad school we did. We doubted Smith and most of us very surprised, to hear I am writing about moral sentiments and the profound moral voice. That really is everywhere in his in his work and his writing. You know there is a field of economic Poverty has been around for a long time in Ireland.
in one of my first stir early seminars in Antipater Graduate School, we took on the phenomenon of the potlatch, not an in north in the North West Coast, North West Coast, Indians would try to outdo each other in seeing how much of their most valuable possessions they could burn. That was the potlatch and, of course, from a rational perspective. Why on earth? Would you burn your most valuable things? And you know France, both as one of the early patriarchs at the field of anthropology, went deeper and deeper into it and showed in fact their social status was so important to the northwest costume, said they were willing to do this and that the benefits from it? doing this were greater often, then, what would burn. So we have been trying to make sense seemingly irrational behaviour in anthropology for a very long time, and I think that
The assumptions that economists make about rationality have actually led to the rapid development and growth of the field mean economists have generally speaking compared to other social scientists, but much more focused on qualification and sophisticated modelling, and I think you have a set of assumptions in order to make a feel that's trying to do that grow, and so they started with that. You know we have to remember Daniel Economy, one his Nobel Prize on looking at different ways of think and questioning the assumptions that economists were making into that, two and so his work predates that by quite a bit- and so we really took his ocean that there's this two kinds of thinking fast thinking, slow thinking and try to apply it to development work and The fundamental messages are that one people think automatically that they think quickly and they don't. Think, on the basis of of russian and reason- and you know it looks the evidence that people think on that?
socially, in other words, the other people who have the same thoughts, influence and quite a bit and they work on the basis of mental models that are often unconscious, and so we looked at those three kinds of thinking, and try to understand if firm. There had been examples of people utilizing that insight to actually get better outcomes, and we found quite a few Coming up economics, radio, we go through some of the most interesting inspiring case studies in the World Bank's new report. But if you specifically said it's very important for you to interact The children in this way the mothers did it, and it had this incredible impact. Twenty two years later We talk about why it has taken public sector entities so long to get on the behavioral bandwagon public sector entities
can stay in business for a very long time, no matter how porter performances and we put doctor through a lightning round of our frequently asked questions, and I just desperately regret Having done more of that, when I was younger Thanks to Pennsylvania, lottery, scratch, offs, pennsylvanians or scratching their way to fund, and we New games every month, big top rises and said enchants drawings, excitements always in order so try Pennsylvania Lottery Scratch offer your ticket to fund and get yours today, keep on scratching must be eighteen or older. Please play responsibly benefits older pennsylvanians every day economics radio- is supported by zipper creator. Businesses have had to be flexible this year from working remote. We too pivoting their business models for long term survival. If you
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No you as forensic scientists, Casey Heinz on Anti I ass. So we were both actors for what most well, don't know. Is that we're both really curious in passionate about stem if we have a more diverse outlook in how we look at science and engineering and technology and map, then what this is possible. I get giddy. When I get to speak to these people, get a chance tat back into my curiosity excitement. You know that I have about all these topics so come on this journey. With as we learn from some of the poorest smartest people in their fields? If then, is out now just search, if slash than to find the show that, if slash then knows exit, listen in stature, apple, the serious ex em up or wherever you get your PA casts. From W and Y see. This is for economics, radio, here's your host Stephen Governor
we are talking today with Jim young Kim president of the World Bank. He and cause she pursued banks chief economist, The report that is meant to translate the best behavioral research and academia into real world solutions to address poverty. The most persuasive to me, part of this World Bank report, is a table listing examples of highly cost effective, behavioral interventions. So I'd like you to talk about a few of these with me, your favorites, I guess whether its addressing adherence to medical, regional
immunization rates, traffic accidents, aspirations and investment? They really run the whole scope of humankind so underpinning the success of all of these to some degree. Through your view, as a World bank president is poverty and the alleviation of poverty would help all these things, which most people might not connect necessarily with poverty, so again discuss back to the brilliance of economists and how they have been focused on measuring and how they ve been focused and trying to get real evidence, a real data, so that one of my favorites is that in Jamaica they had intervention with stunted children. In other words, these are children who had low weight and height for age and certain point, stunting means that brain literally has not been developing as it should, and it's really hard to get that back. It's hard to maybe so yeah that's hard to catch up, and so there was a very
intervention where they had young students go and meet with mothers of stunted children, and they tried all kinds of different interventions. You no income supplements, but one of the interventions was too just have young people come and stress the importance of having mothers in very poor settings who had other stunted children how important it was for them to interact with their. this was done once a week for two years and then twenty two years later they looked at these kids and so and they looked at all the different inputs and the one input had the biggest difference? Was that intervention where they went and told mothers to interact with their kids more and that particular group of stunted children had income so were equal to the non standard, children and those who did not have it. Intervention had incomes that are twenty five to thirty percent lower than that in their own stunted children. So it's just it's incredible. How these kinds of of interventions can have that kind of an impact? Let me just make sure I understand
the mechanism here, it's basically stimulating vocabulary and language in thinking that the idea of what's what's going on that move things forward right. In other words, these mothers who were it deliberately neglecting their children, but the over years they develop different practices. You wrap up the kids and put them on your back or whatever. You don't have that much interaction. But if you specifically said it's very important for you to interact with your children this way the mothers did it and it had this incredible impact twenty two years later, and so this is a great lesson: We have two in every now. Culture be sure that were actually giving that kind of advice if their stunting. That, first of all, you of course try to improve international status, but this issue of interacting with children is also really critter and by changing these mothers mental model it had this impact. There was measurable economically twenty two years later, and there are others as well. another one that I love is one that had an impact on that affected people.
understanding socially of the importance of using less water This was in Colombia in the late nineties and they simply published in Newspaper, how much water, all the different people and companies in India groups reusing and there was a overall, decrease in water consumption that persist it so its knowing that your neighbors are trying to save or knowing that you're, not saving and they're gonna seat in the newspaper had a huge impact on people's use of utter. Similarly, there were in trying to reduce the number of accidents on the roads in Kenya, they put messages on buses that
dead, if you see someone driving recklessly, look out the window scream and yell at them and tell them to stop doing it and everywhere you are screaming yell at people who are driving recklessly. It reduced insurance claims by fifty percent in just to have the social pressure build in that particular way. So we're gonna uses in the World Bank group we're gonna capture all of these great examples and with totally reorganize the bank to do just that. We now have what we call global practices and their charge its look all over the world and find out how specific countries have had success? Utilizing these insights that come from psychology, and so in doing that, we hope that they will then take these examples and then adapt them for the local context. What unites anthropologists. Of course, you can imagine. I am going to insist that we respect local context, but we feel that we can make tremendous progress if we capture these ideas and bring them to poor countries, but also we're looking internally
because our strong assumption is automatic thinking you socially influenced thinking and mental models. the way we assess projects that we actually get. A stir of our own staff and we skin, we dream in the yes, the scale. And the minimum wage and ask them to use the same set of data. Of course we adapted to talk about the skin cream and we had them assess what skin cream. Araby is better for skin rashes and then using exactly the same data, but in a different context,
we asked them to assess whether the minimum wage increase or decrease poverty rates, and they did much better and getting the right answer, because it was based on the data that was clearly right answer for both of these questions. They did much better with a skin cream than they did with the minimum wage because, of course, are our staff came in with preconceived notions and mental models about the importance of minimum wages. So what we're gonna do specifically inside the bank is trying to figure out ways we can get them to do what Daniel Carmen called slow thinking you're. Can we get them to be more deliberative to be more focused on the mechanics of a particular project, or particular invention, to really consider data first before they jump to a conclusion? Can we keep leaders like me to keep their mouths shut, for example, to not influence socially? Where
group ends up landing on a particular decision. The report notes that the private sector has already adopted a lot of these behavioral approaches because- and I quote, when failure affects the profit, making bottom line product designers begin to pay close attention to how humans actually think in decides who doktor him? Why has it taken nonprofits, including the development sector, certainly so long to buy, and you think that it's simply the absence of the markets and the needs that exist within the market is the downplaying of our. Why within the nonprofit sector? Is it a philosophical point where I think market forces are critical here and sometimes people say well, you know the private sector. Does everything better, and I dont know that's really the case. So much is that the private sector entities that did it poorly no longer exist right because there they go out of business and the public
Two entities can stay in business for a very long time, no matter how Porter Performances- and so this is part of what I been obsessed with firm about the past twenty years. I think I've been trying to understand in the absence of market forces. How can you improve execution? How can you raised temperature so that people really focus on improving this accession? Because in the public sector, you know not only do we tolerate for execution, but often, unfortunately, we celebrate pour execution. Uniform execution sometimes for people is a symbol of the fact that your public and not private sector. Now you know, I do not at all think that the private sector does it all correctly, but the folks who do it right and if you were to go to Ogilvy or any of the big publications companies in and give them there's something. I think they would laugh at us in the sense that they have been utilizing these insights very aggressively for a very long time and in the public sector. There are some really great example of having used this before one example
comes from an institution that is to be part of our school public health? They very consciously try to get them. She's a designated driver into sitcoms in Hollywood and once they got it into sitcoms, it became part of the overall. Mental model that everyone use and is now ubiquitous, and it was the The truly the genius of a group of just brilliant public health professionals who read why's that they had to shift the mental model driving while drunk cigarette smoking is another one, and so we have done it in bits and pieces what we trying to do now is to do it in a much larger scale. I'm curious as a trained m d, whether you see this kind of search is slower to be taken up in the areas words. We needed in development in this case or faster than in medicine. You know And when you look at innovations in medicine, it's not as if you have a new discovery and mediately. Everyone in the United States is implementing it. In fact, the lack time firm
having a really new discovery of something. That's on the market that stupid right now to point when the vast majority. If doctors are using them is set. ten years so I've with. Colleagues in here now throw back. We talk a lot about the science of delivery, in other words, let's not just focus on the basic research that tells us about the molecular mechanisms- or you know, for example, in a car I'm, except might be in a fundamental theoretical Modeling based on mathematical models, and, let's not focus just on the things- we can prove in scientific studies, actually work. Let's not focus on how you are you deliver those insights us focus and be as rigorous as we can be about how you take things to scale you know, one of my good friends and global health used to say to me, Jim I'm so sick of pilot project ology. When can begin on, field of scale. Apology right, that's gotta, be our main focus, because if we to end extreme poverty by twenty thirty.
Every model we have of growth suggests to us that, with the pessimistic with sir, the midway or the optimistic model of growth of economic growth, we're not gonna get to less than three percent of extreme poverty by twenty thirty. So if our job is to fundamentally change the poverty less to city of growth, we have cause to be effective and we ve got to take effective solutions. And scale than the scale the more quickly than we ever have the World Bank has its fans its detractors, I have to say hard to imagine that Jim young Kim could have too many detractors. He seems to bring so many talents.
The job he's smart, plainly experienced compassionate, is good executive. Don't forget, he's an mds well so, and what you're thinking that's disturbing is there anything is bad at well. I am happy to report that he is not a very good singer it's the truth. Oh, we had already that is from a student talent show at Dartmouth. When Kim was president there, but honest even the singing wasn't that bad, he also danced and wrapped in our Wasn't that bad any those either? So what does the talent show really teachers?
teaches us that Jim Young Kim as something that very few others in official Washington have the ability to not take yourself too seriously, and so even though he is resident of the World Bank, we asked him to go through a blue version of our frequently asked questions he agreed. Of course, Doktor came if you would tell us in sixty seconds or less what you actually do in a given day. I spend a lot of time going through my briefing books, which look like real books and I get one every day, I'm in meetings all the time with all kinds of people, and I try to one my mouth shut. When me saying something could influence a decision we make, and then make a decision when no one else can make a decision. What's the best investment you ve ever made financial emotional, education, without any kind of investment in getting to where you are today. I think one of them
it sets rather simplistic, but too late. In my life, when I was twenty four I started learning language I only really spoke English. I was twenty four. When I was twenty four, I learn to speak Korean because I went back to create Meda, dissertation risk. urgent. So now I speak Korean, which has been great especially in all my work with the Secretary General Ban, Ki Moon of the United Nations. It's been great to be able to. Our relations in the middle of chaos. Then later I learn to speak Spanish, so it really was worthwhile for me to do that. Nights just desperately regret. Not having done more of that, when I was younger, who's been the biggest influence on your life. Then work and why well it out funds. ITALY has been my mother, who is a new confucian philosopher, but does she's been so influential because at a very agent and I was reading the speeches, and the writings of Martin Luther King, when I was nine years old, so much
but the king has certainly been a huge influence, and so people like Martin Luther King people, who have taken an idea, fundamentally rooted in moral convictions and then, change the world are. The people who inspire me tell us one thing you ve habitually spent too much on, but do not regret. Oh gosh, its food- Let him eating at restaurants, all over the World Bank, in fact, to have a rule when I travel to developing countries, for every meal. I want native food as opposed to. you. Don't thinking that I need french food that in or in a western food, so I've spent lot of money at a lot of different restaurant, Sir also with my children, we love to eat you cook as well, not very I used to a lot more, but not much. These days tell me
One thing you own that you should probably throw out, but never will I have a collection of potter's Gulf Potter's that I just can't seem to throw away you. It's part of a golf, their golf as for a lot of magical thinking, and so I remember the magical puts I made with some of these Patterson Psych. I've kept him and kept them and kept them despite so, everyone around me to throw them out. The next question was but do you collect and why does asked and answered answered without being asked. What's the one story that your family may, maybe your kids, maybe your parents always tells about you well brother legs to tell the story. My brother is a m is gastronomic just in LOS Angeles, and he also says that if he and I to come to a wall with three doors, he would quickly India in automatically go through the door. There was open, but that I would put my head
the wall you just in case. That was a better way to approach getting to the other side, so they of course stories that I've always chosen the most difficult path, but does it serve me very wealth, interesting work that either leads perfectly into or totally obviates. My final question which is. I want you to tell me about something that you once quit and why and how it worked out, but if you're willing to but you had through, while you may never quit anything at all, did you I did. I actually quit my infectious disease fellowship now. This was in about the thirtieth consecutive year of being in. Alden education. You know from the age of five so wasn't as if I gave up prematurely, but I just decided that the credentials I would get us to be able to treat people Infectious diseases in hospitals in the United States and action realize I'd never do that and have continued to work on to break it,
since an HIV now Ebola, but that I did quit that doctor can thanks so much it was a pure as Europe to speak with you and I have learned a lot and I am sure everyone listening will as well. Thank you so much making time. Thank you. having me- and I thank you for doing this- you ve got some good night a package of measures on the next episode of economics. Radio hell for profit firms have brought behavioral economics into the workplace. Did you want the world's best to understand the value of behavioral science, one of the first things you gotta get across, which sounds trivial, but it is
equally important, is the understanding that small changes can have very large effect, but be warned, I think, I would be honest about this. You can use this knowledge for evil how a global advertising this finding even more ways to manipulate us. That's next time for economics, radio, economics radio was produced by W and why C and D Abner productions our staff includes Gregory. Caroline English Susie elect him Burke and Chris Bannon, withheld from Christopher Worth Anna Hyatt Rick Kwan David Herman and Merit Jacob. If you want more frequent comics radio, you can subscribe to our pod cast on Itunes or go to freak anomalies, dot com
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-11.