By Audette Exel, Founder and Chair, The Adara Group
I blink, and 20 years has gone. That crazy idea – of setting up a corporate advisory business to fund service delivery to the poor – has become real.
Cooked up over months of Mollymook beach walks and mid-thirties soul-searching, and fed by a burning anger on behalf of the poor, here we are. Hubris and idiocy has been reinterpreted as vision and strategy. “Business for Purpose” is now almost mainstream. Adara has become the dream of thousands of volunteers and staff from one end of the planet to the other. It is their triumph, and my quiet pride. Nearly $40 million has been generated by our businesses and amazing donors, supporting hundreds of thousands of people in extreme poverty in some of the world’s remotest places. Investment bankers have stood hand-in-hand with development experts, reaching out to strangers they will never meet. Twenty years filled with heroes, with hope, with side-splitting laughter. And with disaster, with stress, with risk, with learning. Tears. Many tears.
It is a kaleidoscope of stories, of moments, of successes and missteps. Bats and rats. Child traffickers and street kids. Earthquakes. Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, Malaria, HIV/AIDS and the occasional Ebola scare. Latrines turned into goat sheds. Menstrual hygiene management. Mobile medical camps. Tibetan doctors. Maoist uprisings and market meltdowns. Cash flow crises. Making money advising on complex and sometimes conflict-ridden mandates for Australia’s largest companies. Remote schools filled with kids, so many of them girls, where there were none before. Our tiniest clients – the more than 1,000 premature and at-risk babies in the Uganda Adara-Kiwoko NICU we see every year. Every single one alive because of the effort, skill and love of so many. This is the joy and privilege of 20 years of Adara…of speaking out a dream, and watching people come from everywhere to make it manifest.
We have watched the different motivations of people who give. Some who seek to be seen to give. Some who seek to feel good about giving. And a wonderful core, our incredible donor partners, who give to help, without attachment or ego. I have come to the awful realisation that money and a search for power can distort people’s highest moral values. And then that wonderful counterpoint – the sure knowledge that for the one person driven by greed or entitlement, there are a thousand more driven by courage and self-sacrifice. Ten thousand more. Adara is a story of personal hope. Of uprising. Of inspiration.
I transition from sitting on the ground with extraordinary villagers in Nepal listening to talk of women’s empowerment, to sitting at Board tables in Australia listening to talk of financial services. My head spins. Often.
It’s time to head back to Australia after another wonderful and intense visit to Uganda. On our last day, hours before we leave we wake to a scary text from Dan, our Country Director. His wife Susan has been rushed for an emergency caesarean after days of labour. We know that in Uganda, the birth of a child is the event most likely to take a woman’s life. Our Global Health Director, Heidi, drops everything and rushes to theatre to scrub in and help assist with the birth, side by side with a team of incredible Ugandan doctors and midwives. Some of the heroes of Kiwoko, Sister Christine Otai and Dr James Nyonyintono come running. We pace with Dan outside the unit. I want to cry, but I know that’s inappropriate. I can see that our Global Health Partnerships Manager, Brooke, is feeling the same way. Our job is to be strong. We sit with Dan’s mother, an Adara legend, who birthed 12 children and kept her entire family safe, hiding in the jungle during the civil war. She sits. We sit. Like so many others, in places far away, every day – the agonising wait.
And then, those wonderful words: “It’s a boy!”
Heidi emerges, eyes sparkling, with a tiny wee new life, and son meets father. Relief gives way to celebration. Susan is going to be fine. This strong, impressive woman has been saved by access to medical care that hundreds of millions of people do not have.
This is why we do what we do.
Twenty years of stories, and it all comes down to this one, new, beautiful, meaningful life.