Audette Exel founded the Adara Group seventeen years ago in 1998. Right now she is looking forward to the twenty-year mark, and continuing to build both arms of the Adara Group – the corporate advisory business, Adara Advisors, and the development and support arm, Adara Development – into something strong and lasting far into the future.
We sit down with Audette to learn about the truth behind generational bat-passing, and the power in acknowledging mistakes.
We have to continue to build both the business and the development arms of our work. We need to really embed and entrench and expand it. The number-one challenge is making sure that Adara is going to be there in a month, in ten years, in twenty years, and beyond. We’re working on both sides of the organisation to make sure that’s so.
We’ve got lots of ideas on what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. We’re actually in the middle of launching an expansion of our business that we’re going to announce in the next couple of months, about our corporate finance services. We’re getting a huge amount of support from the financial services industry in Australia.
That is going to take us to the next level and ensure that Adara is delivering great service, doing brilliant research and sharing knowledge twenty years in, even when I’m a little old lady wheeling around in a wheelchair.
I saw Gloria Steinem speak recently. Somebody asked her if she wanted to hand over the bat. She said, ‘No thanks!’ She said she’s keeping her bat near, but if someone else wanted to take up a bat as well, they’re very welcome to, and she’d be glad of it. It’s the same for me. Even when I’m that little old lady I’ll still be involved. I don’t intend to pass the torch. I’ll keep my torch and light someone else’s.
Sharing the wisdom
Knowledge sharing is another interesting aspect of what we do. It’s something that we can do locally, nationally and globally. One of the really important things that Susan (Biggs) said is that for us, being able to share knowledge about our mistakes is something that most people would consider weird. But we consider it incredibly valuable.
The most important thing that we do as an organisation, maybe, is talk about our mistakes. They don’t define us. They enrich us. This is partly why knowledge sharing is becoming a real focus. We’re not in the business of telling people how good we are, or the things that they should do. We are, however, in the business of trying to help other people shave years off their learning time.
For example, when I think back to all the things I wish I’d known before we decided to start a neonatal ICU in Uganda! Like a list of ‘twenty things you should avoid doing’ – that would be incredibly useful for the next person to have that. We want to share knowledge about both development and business.
Imagine if Bill Gates was able to share all of his experience and knowledge with someone just starting out in programming? It’s like standing on the shoulders of giants to reach new heights. Do what’s been done, but a hundred times bigger and further. Imagine how impactful that would be, if we can help others and show others what’s possible.
Watch out for the yak
A lot of people don’t believe it is possible to help the clients we help. We’ve been doing it for seventeen years, so I think we can fairly say that it’s possible. In terms of our responsibilities and obligations, such as what to do next, we need to share this knowledge about our business and speak with utter honesty.
It’s easy to get weighed down by your own humility or your own arrogance. The story gets biased. Sometimes I cringe when people try to write about me, like they’re turning me into an icon. I hope to speak with humility and truth. I hope to help other people do better than I’ve done.
I have a responsibility to keep everything going on in the business and make sure that the business will survive me. We have an inside joke in Adara about getting things done before the yak falls off the cliffs and hits you. I want to know that the last thing I will think, on my death bed – other than, ‘Oh my God, it’s been a good life’ – is, ‘Yes, it will go on beyond me.’ I have a responsibility to ensure that.
I feel a sense of responsibility to every little girl who’s growing up – she needs to know that she can do whatever she wants to do. Whether she wants to be a mum, or a great cleaner, a journalist, the head of a bank, or an entrepreneur. She needs to know that there is somebody who’s trodden that path before her, and she can do it.
If we could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a handful of others – those who would be our partners and work with us and care as much as we do – then the impact is exponential. Audette Exel
What’s next for Adara?
In the next three years you’re going to see lots and lots of work being done. We want to hit our twenty years and know that we’ve not only done well, but we can sit back and see that it’s going to be going on for a long time. We want to be able to see that we are going to help other people in their journey.
Sometimes people look at us from the outside and think, ‘Oh, they’ve got the business, they’re covered.’ They think we’re not a traditional NGO with the need for sponsors and donors. But much as I wish it was so easy, we work pretty hard to make between one and one-and-a-half million dollars a year to cover admin costs and our emergency projects.
We’re looking at some of the innovators in the industry and saying, ‘Come and line up with us, because we actually do know what we’re doing in terms of service delivery and building relationships.’
If we could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a handful of others – those who would be our partners and work with us and care as much as we do – then the impact is exponential.
It’s easy to do harm; it’s hard to do good. We want those people who aren’t afraid of working hard to create the good.
If we could find a handful of financial partners who could take us from putting three million dollars a year on the ground to putting five million on the ground, we could save the lives of another half a million people. The message I want to get out there is that if you want to help Adara, please help us. Get in touch. We still need help.
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: Audette with Adara’s Uganda Programme Manager Daniel Kabugo, stocksnap),(