Women in Super NSW are excited to be hosting Audette Exel AO for our upcoming lunch on Thursday 24 May in Sydney. We spoke with Audette about her journey, what motivates her and how she has integrated social justice into her career.
Born and raised in New Zealand, Audette’s awareness of her own privileged circumstances, her family life and in particular her father were formative in instilling a sense of social obligation. Speaking about what inspired her to pursue a career in social justice Audette explained how her own upbringing lead her along this path:
“My family was one that debated the issues of the day, and invited fascinating individuals to the dinner table. My father David was a television journalist who also travelled for work, for example as an embedded correspondent in Singapore during the Vietnam War. Ours was a values driven household that discussed human rights, social justice and out of this also came a sense of obligation to give to others. So, in a sense I guess I was inspired by simply being educated about the world and my privileged position in it.”
For Audette, hearing of the misfortune of others was a call to action, “One of my strongest convictions is that no matter where you were born, you should have access to basic services – education and health just to name two….When I see extreme poverty, or hear about a genocide such as the one in Rwanda, I ask myself “What am I doing about this?”…I feel that I absolutely must use it to do something for other people.”
It may not seem the obvious choice for someone looking to change the world, but understanding the world of business and money was a crucial building block to effecting change, “I knew that I needed to understand these worlds and their potential if I was going to have a chance to make change. And so the social activist became the business woman to learn to effect social change with multiple tools. This is where my journey began into bridging the divide between the private sector and the most advantaged people, and the world of the development sector and the most disadvantaged people.”
Turning her efforts to Nepal and Uganda were an obvious choice for Audette and her team at Adara, “From the start I knew I wanted to work in landlocked countries and in remote locations where poverty is extreme and services are limited. Nepal and Uganda were both of these things. They had some of the world’s lowest quality of living indicators, with remote communities in deep need.
I also had a personal connection to both countries. I had trekked through Nepal when I was in my twenties and I was struck by the wonderful people and the mountainous terrain, which is beautiful but also creates huge challenges for its people. Uganda is another story, but once again a landlocked country. My first introduction to Uganda was a chance encounter with the First Lady of Uganda at a Davos Economic Forum. We made friends and ultimately, I went to see her again when I was looking for a community to work with. I was introduced to a rural hospital called Kiwoko in the Nakaseke area and I saw the need, and never looked back.”
Having local connections and support on the ground are also key to success, “At Adara, our development philosophy is founded in respect. We focus on training and up-skilling the local people and we are clear that the projects we work on do not belong to us. They belong to the communities we work with. One of the things I am most proud of is that we hire brilliant local staff on the ground. The people living in the communities in which we work know the best solutions to their local problems.”
But as she explains, it’s never a straight journey to the finish line, whether she’s talking personally or professionally, Audette measures success in simple terms, “They are one. And it’s important to know that success also comes with mistakes. We share our successes as well as our mistakes at Adara – and this is fundamental to how we operate. We believe in knowledge sharing so that other organisations can learn from us and vice versa.”
To book a ticket to the lunch on Thursday 24 May, please click here.