Today, the Adara Group is a pioneering organisation that harnesses the power of big business to affect positive change across the world. But it wasn’t always so. It started with a fortunate meeting in a Kathmandu guesthouse, which lead to purposeful hike across the Himalayas to the district of Humla in remote Nepal.
Here, Chief Executive Officer of Adara Development (formerly The ISIS Foundation), Susan Biggs, recounts the determined steps that first inspired founder Audette Exel to form the Adara Group (formerly the ISIS Group).
If you cast your mind back to the 90s, the now-founder of the Adara Group, Audette Exel, was working in the worlds of power and money. She’d been running a bank in Bermuda and decided it was time for her to start giving back. She wanted to create a business to help the poor rather than the rich. So she went to Nepal, where she’d been travelling many years before.
She knew she wanted to help, but she didn’t know where she would be most useful. So she went around asking, “Where is the best place to go?” and “Where is the poorest part of the country?” She kept hearing the word ‘Humla’. People would say, “Oh, it’s really very, very poor. And it’s so remote. You don’t want to work there – it’s too hard to get to and no one else is up there.”
Of course, saying that to Audette only made her decide that Humla was exactly where she wanted to work. She asked at her guesthouse how she could learn more about the place. Somebody replied, “There’s a woman – a Western woman – who knows all about it. She’s done her PhD there. You should be able talk to her.” When Audette asked how she could get hold of her, the person said, “Actually. She’s in Nepal… and she’s staying in this hotel right now.”
So Audette met Kimber Haddix McKay, then a graduate student in anthropology at the University of California, who was travelling back to Humla in a couple of days. They travelled there together on a tiny plane where the pilots fly by sight between the Himalayan mountains. They landed in Simikot (the ‘capital’ of Humla) which had no paved runway at the time – it was just a dirt road. Once they got there, they had to walk for days and days and days.
In Humla, Audette really got to understand what was going on because Kimber could speak the local language. The people were living in poverty. Many of them had never left the district, and never seen a Western person before.
Audette fell in love with the place. She met some of the influential people within the Humla community and decided that that’s where she wanted to work. And so, our first project began there. We helped a government school set up a hostel and we supported some of the kids to go there. That school is now called the Yalbang School and it’s a successful working model to this day.
This is what is so rewarding about Adara. We approach every project with humility and the understanding that we need to learn as much as we can before we even begin to collaborate and explore solutions. Sometimes we fail, and this experience can be the greatest teacher.
However the Yalbang school is a good example of Adara working with humility, together in collaboration with the community and its local government to create something that genuinely makes a measurable and long term difference to the lives of people living there.
It’s great to be a part of this journey, which has grown in so many ways since this pivotal first project was launched. Adara has come such a long way since that chance meeting in a guesthouse in Kathmandu in 1998. No one could have foreseen the incredible journey that lay ahead.
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.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2014
Photo credit: Adara Group; Jonathan Torgovnik.