I will never forget the first time I read about Adara.

I remember the moment as if it were yesterday. I opened the local paper to a story about a woman, Audette Exel, who had started a unique ‘business for purpose’ to use the power of business to help people living in poverty across the world. It was 1998 and I was living in Bermuda working in maternal and newborn health. At that point I had a decade of experience under my belt working with a population that I love, and it was during that time that the fires for global health were first lit.

Months later, my path crossed with Audette again when I learned that the next steps for Adara’s projects in Uganda was to address the devastatingly high burden of maternal and newborn mortality that plagued the war-torn region of Nakaseke.

There is a saying that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and I knew at that moment and without a shadow of a doubt that I needed to be part of this mission.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since that moment 19 years ago it has been the honour of a lifetime working with Adara and the communities we serve, who have become like family. I have been humbled to the core seeing with my own eyes how our work has matured from the early days when babies were dying of entirely preventable causes like jaundice at Kiwoko Hospital, to now, when we are on the precipice of scaling our expertise in maternal and neonatal care globally to reach at-risk women and newborns across the world. I have been proud to be part of an organisation that is dedicated to bringing service to the more remote corners of the globe, and to sharing our mistakes and learning as widely as possible to impact as many lives as possible.

It is with a very full and humble heart and much gratitude that I will step into the role of CEO of Adara Development in June. It is a challenge I accept with confidence, determination, and humility. I have big dreams to take Adara’s proud history and step forward into the future to continue to increase our reach and our impact.

But as we move forward, we also need to be mindful of where we have come from. As I take on this role, I step into the very big shoes left by Adara Development’s CEO, Susan Biggs, who has led the organisation from strength to strength over the past seven and half years. I thank her for her guidance, friendship and support. Susan was with us during a time of massive growth of the organization and leading this change was no small feat.

From the earliest days of my youth, hearing stories of my grandparents saving maternal and newborn lives as a midwife/GP team in rural Canada, I have known that I want to do my part to address the inequities that shape our world. It is devastating to me that care can be so advanced in one part of the world and yet in another, something as natural as childbirth will be the event that will take your life. I believe as passionately now as I did 19 years ago that we can make a significant contribution to addressing these inequities, through the power of partnership and through demanding nothing less than service excellence in our work.

I began my days with Adara as a volunteer because I believed in our mission and fast forward 19 years and that belief is stronger than ever. I am full of gratitude, optimism and determination for this next chapter in our journey. I look forward to serving Adara, our staff, our partners, and the communities we support as we continue to bridge worlds, and change lives.

Debbie Lester is a clinician with 28 years of experience with a specialty in newborn, global and public health. Debbie Lester joined Adara Development in 1999, initially as a volunteer, then as our Clinical Programmes Manager, and in June she will step into the role of Adara Development’s CEO. Under her leadership, our work in maternal, newborn and child health has flourished. Debbie has also held the position of Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Seattle Children’s Hospital a level 4 NICU at the regional referral hospital. Debbie was responsible for oversight of the department and program which included 120 staff members. Debbie serves as an advisor for many global health initiatives and program development. Debbie has been most proud to lead Adara Development’s Every Woman Every Child Commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals in conjunction with the United Nations.


Debbie in Uganda over the years.

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  1. Maureen Burke&-Gaffney says:

    How wonderful, Debbie. Your mom must be so proud.

  2. Barbara Lett says:

    Hi Debbie,

    I want to congratulate you and wish you the very best on your appointment as CEO of Adara Development!

    Hugs and Cheers!


    (Whidbey Health Medical Center)

  3. Sue Goldsack says:

    If all of us in the developed world looked at things the way you do then the whole world would be a much better and peaceful place.
    Women and girls would be able to be educated and help their countries in ways we couldn’t dream of.
    Imagine never having to worry if the baby you are caring will be alive a month from now. Deb – you make the world such a good place.

  4. Carie Saville says:

    Debbie, you continue to astonish and amaze me. Well done and keep up the good fight!

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