The Opportunity to Do Well by Doing Good

Social entrepreneur on finding success through helping others.

Posted Oct 31, 2017

While attending the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Forum in Monte Carlo, Monaco I met Audette Exel, founder of Adara Group, a socially conscious venture that has capitalized on the opportunity to do well by doing good for the purpose of making sustainable positive impact on the lives of disadvantaged women and children living in poverty. Her views on spotting opportunity are inspirational and her model is certainly unconventional.   

Born and raised in New Zealand, Exel always took an interest in social justice and during her youth spent her free time as an activist. Along the way, she learned that in order to really affect change she needed to better understand the world of business and finance.

"Audette Exel, used with permission"
Source: "Audette Exel, used with permission"

This thinking led her to a career as a corporate lawyer and banker, where along the way, she worked as Managing Director of a publicly-traded bank in Bermuda as well as chairing the Bermuda Stock Exchange. All the while Exel kept a keen eye on finding ways to bridge the divide between the world of the most advantaged and the world of the most disadvantaged, which ultimately led to the founding of Adara Group. In our interview, she elaborated on the premise of her idea and how she views the opportunity to marry the worlds of private business and non-profit to affect positive change in the world.   

Michael Woodward: What is Adara and where did the idea come from?

Audette Exel: Almost 20 years ago I decided to have a go at bringing my worlds and passions together by creating a new model to try to support long-term, high integrity development work. The idea was to set up a corporate advisory business that had as its sole purpose the funding of a non-profit organization. 

Quite simply, Adara has two different parts, but one united purpose: to support people in poverty. The first part is an international development organization, called Adara Development. The second part is two Australia-based corporate advisory businesses, Adara Advisors, and Adara Partners.

The Adara businesses are “for purpose” rather than for profit. Their sole objective is to fund Adara Development’s administration and emergency project costs. This allows 100 percent of all other donations received by Adara Development to go directly to project-related costs.

Adara is focused on improving health and education for women, children and communities living in poverty. We are experts in maternal, neonatal and child health; and remote community development. We reach tens of thousands of people living in poverty each year.

MW: The Adara concept was and continues to be a unique opportunity. As an entrepreneur, what does the word “opportunity” mean to you?

AE: Opportunity means a great big open door, waiting for us to leap through. It means stepping outside the cage in our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough to do great things with our lives. And it means painting a blank canvas, refusing to only walk on paths that others have created for us. If we are lucky enough to have a choice; opportunity is as big as the universe.

MW: How were you able to recognize and connect the dots of the opportunity of helping people in need and using a successful business financing model to do it?

AE: By thinking hard, really hard, about what my piece of the puzzle could be, what skills I had, and where I could see holes I could fill with new constructs and models. By being brave and refusing to listen to the voice of no in my head. And by being a little naïve, not fully understanding the huge challenge I was embarking on until I was deep into it!

MW: What ultimately empowered you to upend the traditional way of helping and essentially employ a “doing well by doing good” philosophy as opposed to traditional NGOs and nonprofits? 

AE: I have been empowered by being born healthy, by being educated, by being loved, and by trying hard to be brave. And by being taught to think and think again, and always to question orthodoxy. On top of that, I had the huge good fortune of having a fascinating career in business, which gave me the chance to look first hand at power, at capital, at inequity and imbalance. All of that thinking came together with Adara, together with an amazing number of people who stepped forward to help me and to be part of the journey.

MW: As a leader, how do you teach the ability to spot the opportunity to upend traditional thinking, evaluate viability, and execute when the odds are seemingly against you? Or, can this be taught?

AE: I am not sure I can teach people anything. I hope maybe I can inspire people, who can see what Adara is and my part in it, and realize that they too can paint an amazing dream and make it come true. I try as much as I can to encourage those who are able to think big, to step outside of the cage, and to do their best for the world. Everyone is on their own journey. All I can do is hope mine has some resonance and encourages others.

Click here to learn more about Adara Group.