Audette Exel has lived through some difficult times. In her role as Chair of the Adara Group, she and her global team have been confronted by the realities of child trafficking and living with HIV in remote communities where there are few opportunities for consistent healthcare. She shares with Thread Publishing how founding the Adara Group has changed the lives of everyone involved – and how there is so much more for us all to do.
We are seeing massive cuts to international aid in this country at the same time as we’re seeing never-ending talk about threats coming from international unrest. The fear index is at an all-time high and the giving index – giving to people in poverty – is at an all-time low. That just does not make sense.
It comes back to poverty
If you are genuinely concerned about violence, if you are genuinely concerned about refugees, if you are genuinely concerned about terrorism, the number-one way to deal with that is to combat poverty at its root source. This is all about poverty.
There are amazing outcomes when you educate a woman, when you get someone healthcare, when you give a man the ability to have a job or a woman the ability to have a job, or you give a child a future. The life path of that human being is altered radically and that is for the benefit of all of us.
There’s something like 30 million displaced people on the planet at the moment. Why are they displaced? They’re displaced because of poverty; because of violence; because of climate; because of lack of the rule of law. Why are we not dealing with that?
What I’m seeing is rich countries walling themselves in against the poor countries and then criminalising the poor, making their situation their fault. Rich countries suggest that people fleeing persecution and poverty and violence are illegal. How can a human being be illegal?
All you have to do is read the United Nations Charter on human rights. If we want to deal with these issues, we have to focus on poverty at the core. We should not be pulling money back from international development just because there are no votes in it. We should be doing the opposite.
But my answer to people who ask me how we deal with death and intense challenges, is, ‘How do you live with it?’ Because it’s happening in the world, and even if you’re not working with it every day, it’s still happening. Audette Exel
For every dollar we spend on fighting terrorism, we should be spending a hundred to combat poverty because the two are so obviously linked. It’s not okay that on one side of the planet people are starving to death, and on the other side the biggest medical issue is obesity.
Obviously I have incredibly strong feelings and concerns about the characterisation of that debate and the lack of making a very, very simple link back to poverty.
Why does it matter that we help combat poverty? Because if we don’t get it right, if we don’t deal with poverty at its source, our lives and our futures – and the planet – are drastically impacted.
Finding the motivation
I’m weirdly motivated by challenge. I like to beat a challenge. It helps that I’ve got this amazing team. I’m connected to the work even though I’m running the business; Susan Biggs (CEO of Adara Development) and I work so well together, and her team are all real development specialists who all know way more than me on the development side.
But I go to on-site projects every year. I’m a chair of all the entities. It’s been seventeen years, and I’ve learned that if I ever need a boost all I need to do is come to a project site. There are thousands of people who have touched us and inspired me.
Opening up to the world
Sometimes people in the business community will ask me, how do I deal with death? How do I deal with things that I’m working with, the emotionally difficult things in the world? But doing what we do touches your heart in a way that opens you up. It’s meaningful.
In the early work we did with child trafficking and our HIV-positive clients, who live so remotely there’s no hope of constant medical service, it was very emotionally hard. But my answer to people who ask me how we deal with death and intense challenges, is, ‘How do you live with it?’ Because it’s happening in the world, and even if you’re not working with it every day, it’s still happening.
Looking with new eyes
This work has given me an immense sense of gratitude and connection. Every time I turn a shower on, I’m astonished by the beautiful, clean, hot water pouring out of the roof. I don’t have to cover my mouth and nose. I don’t have to be worried about getting sick. Every time I go into the medical system I cannot believe the quality of care that we have in this country. Just looking at roads makes me feel grateful.
I’m grateful to be able to do this work, to meet these people, to connect with these incredible people all around the world. I never take my life for granted. But we need to get real about injustice and its impact, and deal with poverty as the root cause.
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
Photo credit: Jonathan-Torgovnik