In her role as founder and Chair of the Adara Group, Audette Exel has been to many extraordinary places and spoken to many extraordinary people. She is connected to the wider world, and here she shares that sense of connection – along with her belief on why it’s worth it for you to connect, too.
One thing I think you should never lecture anybody about is values. Everybody is living in the world doing their own bit as best they can. I try to communicate what a joyous experience it’s been to be part of a global community, and what an amazing sense of meaning is gained when you are connected to that global community, and with so little we can do so much.
I’m not a person of wealth, and we are a small to mid-size organisation. And yet, because we’ve got a certain set of skills, and because people have stood beside us, we’ve touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people now, or maybe even more than that. There’s an incredible sense of achievement.
Our community is everywhere, and it is fiercely close despite the geographical vastness between us all. Sometimes I’ll be in Uganda and I’ll be sitting under a tree with a whole bunch of midwives and we’re all having a good laugh, because we’ve known each other for twenty years, and I think, wow, these people are my friends and they’re incredible.
Or sometimes I’ll be out in Nepal and sitting with a Tibetan elder, or I’ll be having a conversation with someone who’s an educator and a specialist, or with someone who works with kids on the street. If you don’t connect to the wider world, you’re missing out, because the wider world is wonderful.
My advice to others who might be figuring out what to do with their lives is that you can’t be afraid to think outside the box. Audette Exel
The hidden humour
The global community that surrounds Adara is also full of humour. To bring this down to a very simple anecdote, we brought our Ugandan program manager, Dan, here for our three-year strategic planning session. We took some time out and went on a walk, on the Manly walk, because Dan comes from a landlocked country and he’s very rarely seen the sea. He and our Nepali managers were just amazed by this beautiful Sydney day on the seaside.
Then I noticed that Dan had stopped and he was taking photographs of the rubbish bags that the council leave out for people with dogs. I wandered over to Dan and asked him what he was doing.
He laughed his head off and told me, ‘Nobody in Uganda will believe me that there is a country in the world where people are able to take rubbish bags for dog poop for free. So I had to take a photograph of it.’
We walk past that every day and we take it for granted. In a country like Uganda where rubbish collection is a miracle and there’s significantly less support to keep the place clean, it’s amazing to people from that culture that we have bags for this stuff!
United by one mission
Our days at Adara are full of diversity, and on a more serious note, they are filled with heroes. I get that on a day-to-day basis. That’s the angle I bring to it when I talk to people about the work. That’s what I try to communicate. I want to talk about these people who have had amazing lives, all being united by one mission – to deliver services and support to people in need.
I’ve said before that people who knew me when I was seventeen, if they saw me now, they wouldn’t be surprised at the social justice side of my life. But they’d be surprised at the business side. My advice to others who might be figuring out what to do with their lives is that you can’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Be prepared to fail, be humble, make mistakes and keep on learning.
Audette Exel was the youngest woman worldwide to sit as the Managing Director and head of the Bermuda Commercial Bank. She was thirty at the time. In 1998, she founded the ISIS Group, now called the Adara Group, a unique model of business/non-profit partnership. These days, she personally heads the corporate finance arm of the organisation, which funds its development arm and provides support for communities living in poverty across the world.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2015
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