Audette Exel is a former Managing Director of the Bermuda Commercial Bank, and a former chair of the Bermuda Stock Exchange. For seventeen years, and more to come, she has worked as the founder and Chair of the Adara Group, working to advantage the disadvantaged. Thread Publishing speaks to Audette about the power of business for purpose – and her personal purpose.
I believe my personal purpose is to be a bridge between different worlds. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to walk in different worlds with comfort. Very few people get the chance to cross between the richest people of the planet and the poorest, and manage to have connections and friendships on both sides.
I’ve crossed cultures and socio-economic groups and disciplines. I’ve worked with corporate finance, with management and advice, with health and education service delivery, with mums and kids. We think we have so much dividing us, but if we don’t figure out how to bridge the divides between us, we’re doomed as a planet. I feel like I’m incredibly lucky to be a bridge.
I try, in my own small way, to do the best that I can possibly do for the time that I’m on the planet and for others coming after me. There are others in my organisation who will come after me who are doing it bigger, better, smarter, taking learnings from both our mistakes and our successes.
Leading with humility and honesty
These people are going to do amazing things with the world. But for as long as I’m here, I’m just trying. Do the best that you can do. Get up every day and be grateful.
At Adara we try to lead with humility. We love to wrestle with ideas at Adara. We just had all the senior team here and we had this full-on debate about words, about why we say we lead with humility, why we always say it and why we have to say it. We shouldn’t have to say it, some people said, and others said that we should staple it to our foreheads, while others said it’s an oxymoron.
I believe we need to talk about humility. In seventeen years of doing this work I have made so many mistakes. If there’s only one thing I’ve learned, I hope it’s humility. If you do not approach the world of intervening in the lives of vulnerable client groups or service delivery with humility, you are doomed from the outset. That is the single biggest thing I’ve learned. You have to be humble in this world.
It’s so easy to believe, in the West, that we have the answers to the problems of people in need. The truth is, people in need have their own problems and their own solutions. They just need support. They need resources. They need the technology transfer. They need capital. They understand, far better than you or I ever can, the complexity of life as a woman living twenty days from a road; what they need and what that means.
But we should never forget the people we seek to help know better than us. Audette Exel
Having the answers
Of course, humility is not one of the top virtues of the investment banking world. But personally, I think that humility matters in everything you do in life. And it particularly matters if you’re trying to intervene in the lives of vulnerable client groups.
When you have the typical Type A business person personality, the ‘problem solver person’, it’s very easy to come into that kind of situation believing you have the answer. But it’s a scary thing when someone comes to you and says ‘I am here to help you’, rather than, ‘How can I help you?’ It’s very easy to tip into the ‘I am here to help you’ bucket.
We need to keep that at the forefront of our minds. At Adara, we have become specialists in that area of service delivery and support, for example. When you’re a specialist it’s easy to think that you know better. You’ve seen it, you’ve done it, you know how to fix it or change it or solve it. But we should never forget the people we seek to help know better than us.
This is why I believe that we need to remember that our mantra is to lead with humility. We do not know better than anybody else. We are always learning. If you approach this work with that perspective, then you have a chance of creating partnerships that do amazing things in global communities.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2015
Photo credit: Tom Butler (stocksnap); Audette with Sr. Christine in Nakaseke, Uganda