Audette Exel with youn Nepalese children

By Audette Exel, Founder and Chair, Adara Group

They were important senior business leaders and they were seriously disinterested. The guy in the back row with the pink tie was checking his watch. The older, balding gentleman was gazing out the window. They fidgeted. I danced and pranced and tried. When I finished, there was scattered, polite applause. It was all summed up at the end, when one corporate giant came up to me and said sweetly “It’s lovely dear that you run a business to help others. That’s very inspiring. But you know, of course, that the role of business is to serve its shareholders. That’s what business is about!”

Roll forward 17 short, amazing years, and today we see brilliant companies across the globe putting another clod of dirt on the grave of The Old Way of Thinking About Business. With their commitment to Pledge 1%, Australian companies like ansarada and eWay are showcasing loudly and proudly that there is another way. Business has multiple stakeholders they declare, and it is our responsibility to meet all their needs: including the needs of our global community, our environment, our shareholders, and our staff. Hooray!

With Scott Farquhar, the guy who runs one of Australia’s coolest IT companies Atlassian and Suzanne DiBianca from US tech giant Salesforce at the helm, Pledge 1% is a movement dedicated to making the world a better place, by embedding corporate philanthropy into the business model of a company from the very beginning.

It’s a simple idea: one that can pass muster with the most committed Milton Friedman lovers. Pledge 1% encourages and challenges individuals and companies to pledge 1% of equity, product, and employee time to non-profits. 1-1-1. Just a small amount to begin with, but as a company grows, 1% can make a huge impact. The results speak for themselves. Through their 1% pledge, Salesforce has given $73+ million in grants, 743,000+ hours of community service and provided product donations for over 23,000 non-profits over the past 15 years. For Atlassian, after 12 years their 1% commitment is now worth about $40 million, helping well over 250,000 children in the developing world get an education. It’s all pretty astonishing really.

17 years ago, I began my own journey, walking outside of the traditional business path, to try a different model of doing business that put purpose, rather than profit, front and centre. Together with a small group of friends, I established a corporate finance business for the sole purpose of funding the work of an international development organisation that we established at the same time. The Adara Group was born.

“Drug dealer, money launderer or tax cheat!” They cried. “Won’t work!” “”Not what business is for!” I lay awake at night. Maybe they were right? Maybe I WAS crazy?

17 years, a lot of mistakes, joy and tears later, we have had the privilege of being partners with entire communities who have transformed their lives with education, healthcare and infrastructure projects. All because of the contribution of a small Australian corporate finance business.
There was a lot of joy in the Adara office earlier this month when ansarada announced that they would give their 1% pledge to support our work with women and children in the developing world. After 17 years of working in social business, we know that 1% isn’t just a tax deduction on a balance sheet. It’s a baby opening its eyes in a hospital in Uganda, who otherwise would have died. It is tens of thousands of children receiving lifesaving vaccinations. It’s a 12 year old girl in a school uniform, rather than a wedding dress in remote Nepal. It’s a kid who was pulled out of a basement on her way to the trafficking trade, graduating top of her class.

For us, at Adara, the 1% pledge is a lot more than just another marketing exercise. It’s a brilliant and major step forward for the business world. And it’s a moment of celebration. We are now just a small part of a much bigger club. And that club is going to help change our world.

Audette Exel & Sam Riley

Audette with Sam Riley, CEO of ansarada

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