Adara Development (formally The ISIS Foundation) is the dynamic development arm of Adara Group, formed to help bring change to some of the world’s poorest regions. Today, Adara Group continues to work in tandem with villagers and local governments to help the disadvantaged across Australia, Nepal and Uganda.
Susan Biggs, Chief Executive Officer of Adara Development, talks to Thread Publishing – about her personal journey that led to Adara, from her mother’s feminist flame to the Human Rights Commission in Wellington, New Zealand.
I worked with gender issues for many years, particularly on aspects to do with women and work. Going right back, I suppose that came from my mother. I had a stay-at-home mum who was very proud of her role with her five kids. She was a proud feminist in the Germaine Greer days; she went to university late and studied feminism; and she instilled in us the idea that women could do anything and needed to be financially independent. I became quite a strong activist for women’s issues from a very early age.
I eventually established Families at Work, which helped companies create workplace childcare centres during the early days in the ’80s. I realised then how hard it was for women to work if they didn’t have somewhere to put their kids – even before I had my own kids in the ’90s.
We are known as one of the world’s earliest examples of a business for purpose. Our incredible teams have built our profile as experts in maternal infant child healthcare, the rescue and reintegration of kids from child traffickers, and remote health and education service delivery. Our research and knowledge sharing reaches and helps others worldwide. Susan Biggs
This issue became something of a passion, and so I wrote a book called Time On, Time Out! Flexible work practices to keep your life in balance. In a way, I was trying to do that myself – work and study and have a family. I was doing a Masters in International Relations while my kids were younger and was on the board of 10 not-for-profits and it was tough – I lived the book.
The move for social justice
After about 20 years of working in the not-for-profit and government sectors, I felt the urge to expand my horizons. I’d been a deputy at the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) for five years and I was still very interested in social justice and human rights.
Then I was offered a position in the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in New Zealand. It was an 18-month contract and my job was to help the HRC interpret new legislation about what it means to be a good employer; and explain this to NZ employers.
After completing the work in 12 months, I was offered the job as National Strategic Policy Manager, where my team determined the HRC’s views on New Zealand government policy and law regarding disability issues, indigenous issues and all sorts of other social justice issues. It really gave me a good understanding of concerns beyond women and family. I also got involved in policy, which was new for me as previously my work had mainly involved service delivery – it broadened my horizons. I loved being in New Zealand while our kids were young teenagers too. Wellington is a wonderful place to bring up children.
But my partner and I had families at home and our parents weren’t getting any younger. The kids were also starting to act out a little. They were reaching a point where they’d have to make some decisions about what to do beyond school. We needed to decide whether to stay in New Zealand.
International development in focus
I soon saw a job advertised by Adara Group (then called The ISIS Foundation). I’d been interested in international development for quite a while and had been on the board of a relevant organisation in Australia for a couple of years. This organisation was called the Australian Foundation for the Peoples of Asia and the South Pacific. My mother and father had originally brought it to the country in the ’60s. I remember going into the office with my mum when I was 12. We would open mail and file it. It was like a serendipitous full circle to be involved years later.
The job ad gave me the opportunity to think once more about my passion for women and children, but in a broader sense – not just in Australia or New Zealand. The things that women have to go through when working in Uganda and Nepal make it look as if we’ve got it made here.
I now run the non-profit organisation, while our founder, Audette Exel, runs the private business. She’s a very inspiring woman and a great mentor, with strong opinions. She’s just full of interesting and innovative ways to move things forward.
But it’s our team on the ground that gets me out of bed each morning. I’ve just come back from Uganda – seeing what we’ve been able to achieve with the women, children and communities there is wonderful. Our team are so committed and so dedicated to making a difference.
It’s been a total privilege.
It’s our team on the ground that gets me out of bed each morning. I’ve just come back from Uganda – seeing what we’ve been able to achieve with the women, children and communities there is wonderful. Susan Biggs
Nearly seventeen years ago, we embarked on a mission to show that it is possible to use the power of business to fuel international development projects and to create meaningful change for communities in the developing world.
Fast forward to 2014, and Adara Group has built a globally recognised profile. We are very proud what it has come to represent. We are known as one of the world’s earliest examples of a business for purpose. Our incredible teams have built our profile as experts in maternal infant child healthcare, the rescue and reintegration of kids from child traffickers, and remote health and education service delivery. Our research and knowledge sharing reaches and helps others worldwide.
Adara Development’s (formerly The ISIS Foundation) objective is to work side by side with communities and children in remote areas in Nepal and Uganda, improving their lives through health, education and other community development projects. Since 1998, they have grown to provide services each year to more than 30,000 people in poverty.
The Adara Group have had a wide range of financial supporters over the years. From inception to the end of December 2013, Adara Development had received about A$22.8 million (US$19.1 million) in donations.
Interview by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2014
All photos owned by Adara Group. All rights reserved.