Founder & Chair, Adara Group

Ep#3: Audette Exel AO

In episode three, we stop in Sydney, Australia. Dhani speaks with Audette Exel, Founder of the Adara Group and CEO of Adara Advisors and Adara Partners. Audette is also a Non-Executive Director of Westpac, Australia’s first and oldest bank.

Adara Group logo
Industry:
Philanthropy
Advisor:
Audette Exel AO
We are sitting at top some of the biggest M&A transactions in Australia at the moment. And I now have a panel of 15 of Australia's most famous bankers. As well as running their own banks they do deals for us and the money that we make on those deals, sometimes millions of millions of dollars goes to our work with people in poverty.
Audette Exel AO, Founder & Chair, Adara Group

Audette Exel's experience

Audette Exel

Modern Dealmaker & Social Entrepreneur

Audette is the Founder of the Adara Group, which is an acknowledged leader in bridging the worlds of financial services at the highest levels with the world of international development. Audette is also the Chief Executive Officer of Adara’s two corporate advice businesses, Adara Advisors and Adara Partners, which she established to help fund Adara’s work with women and children in extreme poverty.

  • Non-Executive Director of Westpac, Australia’s first and oldest bank
  • Previously a Non-Executive Director of ASX20 Suncorp Group Limited
  • Before establishing Adara, Audette was Managing Director of one of Bermuda’s three Banks, Bermuda Commercial Bank.
  • Audette was also Chair of the Bermuda Stock Exchange

Episode highlights

How the top dealmakers on Wall Street can help global poverty

 

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 

Dhani Jones (01:20):
Welcome back to the Pathfinders presented by Ansarada, I'm former NFL player, investor and entrepreneur, Dhani Jones. In case this is your first time tuning in, let me set the stage for you. On the show we talk to deal makers, plain and simple. The people who are transforming, innovating, shaking hands and carving paths forward. My guest today is no exception. Audette Exel, is a New Zealand, born businesswoman and entrepreneur. 2012 she was named Telstra NSW Businesswoman of the year. In 2013, she was awarded an honorary Order of Australia for her work with the women and children of Uganda and Nepal.

Dhani Jones (01:54):
In 2014, she was included in Forbes list of 48 heroes of philanthropy in the Asia Pacific region. And in 2016, she was named Australia's leading philanthropists by Philanthropy Australia. Today she joins us to talk about her organization, the Adara Group, and the work they're doing to provide better health and education for impoverished people in Uganda and Nepal. Audette, I mean, I just want to know, did I miss anything? Because it seemed like I was going back to back to back to back. I mean, is there anything?

Audette Exel (02:29):
Now I tell you what, you missed it all. You missed all the mistakes.

Dhani Jones (02:34):
Tell me.

Audette Exel (02:34):
You missed all the mistakes. You got to take that pedestal and kick it out from underneath me. It's been a journey, but it's been a joyous journey.

Dhani Jones (02:42):
Tell me about some of the mistakes that led up to where you are now. Because in my mind I was doing some research. I was looking at Wikipedia. It seemed like there was endless information of all this success that you've had. I mean, it's really amazing, it's to be commended, but it doesn't come without working through some of the challenges in the world of business that you might have.

Audette Exel (03:04):
Oh, you are so right about that. Isn't that an interesting thing, right? That in leadership, we don't talk about our errors, our mistakes, we tend to try to create the iconic view of humanity and our leaders, but actually it's our mistakes and form us. So being the one that falls down and then finds the courage to stand up again and has the people around you to help you stand up, that's the key to it. So in terms of the whole journey, whether it's the last part of the journey, which is the last 23 years, that with Adara or the journey leading up to that, as a social activist or a lawyer or a bank career, all the other bits and pieces, there's been a million times where I fell on my face, laid down and cried and figured out, "Okay, I can do this. I can get up again."

Audette Exel (03:48):
And you probably relate to this as a great athlete. But we don't talk about it enough. And sometimes I wonder, at Adara my organization, we proudly talk about our mistakes. We think that maybe one of the greatest gifts we can give to people is to give them a list of the things that we did wrong so that they don't have to spend five or 10 years doing all that themselves so that they can get started with the head start. So yeah, I think come the story of mistakes, we should tell it more. Right? We should share it more.

Dhani Jones (04:16):
And we don't want to talk about, but we should ultimately talk about it, because that's how we have essentially built that grit from within. That's how we have built who we are. So you arrived in this place now with all these different accolades, what were you doing before then? What were you doing before your work in philanthropy?

Audette Exel (04:38):
Okay. For me there's never been a life before philanthropy and not that I'm a person of wealth, but I'm a social justice activist. So there's never been a day in my life as a thinking adult where I wasn't angry, enraged on behalf of the poor. So my life began working in social activism, moved into trying to learn about business and power so that I could use the tools of business and power to affect social change. So what I've done is with that incredibly lucky journey, I've built businesses that generate money to serve the poor. So the Adara Group, which is my crazy little structure that here we are, 23 years later, touching hundreds of thousands of people in poverty, we put nearly 55 million to that work because I'm running these businesses, corporate advice businesses that are a little funding engines to fund the work.

Audette Exel (05:31):
So when I don't really think about it before and after I think about a life that has been my life of incredible good fortune being born a Kiwi girl, a New Zealand girl, it's been a life of just trying to do my piece to affect a wee bit of change for the rest of the world that wasn't so lucky.

Dhani Jones (05:48):
Yeah.

Audette Exel (05:49):
So I don't see it as a before and after. I see it as a continuum.

Dhani Jones (05:53):
I was going to ask you about that. Having that lifestyle, a Kiwi born, living in Australia. I mean, there's oftentimes, as I've heard, it's stereotypically been some tension between the two nations and you've seem to build them and bring them together.

Audette Exel (06:11):
Ah, but I do have a T-shirt that says I only support two teams, New Zealand and anybody plays Australia. So I haven't brought them together entirely, but yeah, aren't we lucky people? I mean, if you ground it back to the substance, we're so lucky to be born in countries where if you live a life where you don't worry about shelter or food, or I never worried as a little girl about being safe, but I knew that all over the world, there were little girls that weren't safe, that didn't have school, that didn't have food, so standing on the land of good fortune. What's your responsibility around that, but to do something about it? But yeah, it's pretty beautiful down here and Australia and New Zealand both, you'd love them both I'm sure.

Dhani Jones (06:55):
And there's also another place that you've been and play that you worked was the Bermuda Stock Exchange. What was that experience like and how did you take your growing up and the things that you're focused on now and how were you able to move in that direction of banking?

Audette Exel (07:12):
Yeah. My life, it's kind of a weird journey, right? But I started being sure that I'd fight for human rights as a human rights lawyer. So I studied law. Then I had a moment where I realized, "Hell, I don't understand power. I don't understand money." I come out of the activist left. And so I decided, right, I'm going to go and I'm going to learn power and that's banking and that's law, that's the movement of money. And that journey took me through Hong Kong. And then incredibly took me into the Bermuda, which is the largest reinsurance market in the world. Those are the companies that I ensure, insurance companies just off the coast of New York actually. And I was there for 14 years. I ran one of Bermuda's publicly traded banks and I chaired the stock exchange. And what was it like?

Audette Exel (07:53):
It was awesome. And every single day I was learning, but the whole, and then it was beautiful. Bermuda's a magical country, and I was thinking, "Okay, what am I learning here that can turn the dial?" And it was actually in Bermuda. I started Adara now 23 years ago because it's a small market, but gee, it's a very highly capitalized market. And they knew me. I was the girl who ran the bank. And so I was able then to take those tools and actually put them to good. So Bermuda has a very great place in my heart. There's a lot of people that I love there. And I'll always be heading back there when COVID lets me.

Dhani Jones (08:32):
And you were rather young when you were running that. You were one of the youngest women to run a publicly traded bank that had to be a challenging experience especially when you think about the world of power, right?

Audette Exel (08:45):
Yeah.

Dhani Jones (08:46):
A lot of times power also comes with having experience, having wisdom, which also comes with age and being a woman. And at the same time, learning about power, there had to be some trials and tribulations that you had to work through and things that you were able to take and apply to Adara even where you are now, what were some of those things that you learned and what were some of those lessons that still fuel you today?

Audette Exel (09:12):
Yes, in terms of some really good point, because I think that if you come out of any group that's marginalized. If you're a woman, if you're a person of color, if you're LGBTI, however your typecast you're underestimated. And it took me a while to figure out one of the greatest advantages I had in my life was that people underestimated me. So they never saw me coming. So, yes, when I was 30, when I stepped into the role at the head of the bank. And I remember they apparently in the other banks in town, they laid bets on how long I'd last. And when I heard that, it just gave me more fuel. I just knew I was going to do the best possible job that I could do, and they weren't going to see it coming.

Audette Exel (09:59):
And all through my life I've had those experiences where people have told me, "No, you can't," they've rolled their eyes. Whatever it is, power can be a blocker. I mean, we know that. Power blocks, so you got to figure out if you're coming outside of the power structure, how are you going to be heard? And I actually going to get through that power structure? And so for me, a lot of it is about, go ahead, underestimate me, go ahead, tell me I can't do what I'm going to do, and that's going to get me out of bed earlier. That's going to get me to work harder. And here we are today, right? So I often say that to young women that I'm talking to, stop worrying about the fact you're being underestimated and start seeing it as the single greatest attribute you have. Because they're never, ever going to see you coming.

Dhani Jones (10:42):
I'm going to tweet that over and over and over again. I'm going to mess that out over and over and over again, because I think it's really true. When people underestimate you, you have an opportunity. I think about when I first start or playing football, I was this small 205 pound guy coming out of Maryland, not a football powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, going to the big, great University of Michigan and people underestimated me because they didn't think I was going to be fast enough. They didn't think I was going to be big enough and strong enough. And I just loved how I was able to play that to my own strength, snow pun intended. Because I was able to get there earlier and I was able to work harder and I was able to make more plays and therefore stay on the field because I knew more.

Dhani Jones (11:26):
And I just would always emphasize to the younger kids that were coming in that were all also underestimated, that there was a certain strength that came along with that. And I love that how you took that from being in the world of banking and basically owned your power, right?

Audette Exel (11:42):
Yes.

Dhani Jones (11:42):
You own that power. You internalized it. And you were able to express it in other ways that made you successful. And I wonder in the same way football or business, there had to be that one moment where things just all of a sudden changed, when things switched, when all of a sudden you looked and you were like, "Wow, okay. The power now is in my hands and I know the direction of which I'm going, everybody else that bet against me now, they're all of a sudden rallying behind me." What was that moment?

Audette Exel (12:11):
Yeah, that's so interesting. Isn't it? I think that there's a series of those events, but I take you to one that I remember really strongly. So when I was a young woman in my '20s, I was a baby lawyer. So I went up to Hong Kong. I'm working for this big English law firm. I'm the first person in that office they've hired that doesn't have a Cambridge or an Oxford degree. And I'm the Kiwi. So the role of cultural block is there. And I remember the first few months I was there, I was probably 24 say, I tried so hard to fit in. And that the women, the hair is all needs and they wear these like really tucked up outfits and the beautiful scarves. And I'm a messy scrubby Kiwi, never have my shoes matching, my hair's always all over the place.

Audette Exel (12:56):
Anyway, I tried for the first few months to be who they were and who I thought they wanted me to be. And then I had a moment where I realized I could never, ever be anybody but myself. And so I decided to let it all go, trying to be something other than me, and what was fascinating? It was like, wow, it was such a freedom, but that not to have an image, but just to have substance, just to be me. And the thing that was fascinating was once I decided that everybody remembered me because I was different. I sat in rooms full of all those men dress certain ways. And all those women dress certain ways and the way they spoke and their backgrounds and the schools they went to. But I was the one who laughed and had a feet with no shoes on and spoke with an accent, and they remembered me.

Audette Exel (13:45):
So it actually, funnily enough, being me became an advantage. And it was a hell of a lot easier than trying to be anybody else. And so into tits of owning my voice and my power, I think there was a real moment there for me that I realized it's time just to be Audette and the world can deal with it. I'm just going to be the best human being that I can be. And there've been a series of events like that, where I've realized I may not be smarter than anybody else, but I am as smart as the other people sitting in this room, I have a right to be here. I have a right to walk this planet. I have a right to use my voice. I don't have to use it with anger, but I have a right to stand as an equal beside everybody else. Doesn't matter if you're the queen or you're the person who sweeps the street to me, I will treat you with the same level of respect. And I will expect to be treated with the same level of respect.

Audette Exel (14:34):
So there have been a few moments in my life where I thought, "Yep, I've got a right to be here, got to do my best. And I can't be anybody, but who I am." And funnily enough, it's been a huge advantage just to be that way right?

Dhani Jones (14:46):
Why do people not want to be themselves?

Audette Exel (14:49):
Yeah. Isn't that sad, right? That people don't love themselves. When you think about the debate that happened all over the world about marriage equality. I cried when I watched the first gay marriage down here because I went to my first one because I thought these people have not been able to stand their power, love who they want and be celebrated for that. It's wrong. It's wrong in every way and people, I think take in what society is telling them rather than feel good about themselves. So, giving people the belief in themselves, telling people that you love them and respect them for whoever they are. What a powerful gift you can give people when you do that? But yeah, once you've got it, once you stand in humility with your own power, everything unfolds from there, right?

Dhani Jones (15:35):
Mh-hmm. (affirmative) There's a quote that I always say, it's people want to know what you care about before they care to know you.

Audette Exel (15:44):
Ah, yes.

Dhani Jones (15:46):
And I think, you have to care about, I think it's important in the world of philanthropy to care about those that you're serving. But if you can't care about yourself, then how can you serve people well enough? I think that's sometimes what's missed and oftentimes in the world of philanthropy, because there's such a level of humility, we oftentimes negate ourselves. But I think it's important to remember that you have to bring your best, who you are to support the many people that you're serving. And I think that even in the world of philanthropy where you've made such an incredible impact, it's important because I think that's where it ultimately started. Even though your life has always been a part of it, but was there a particular moment or experience specifically that moved you into the world of philanthropy?

Audette Exel (16:37):
As a little girl, my dad was a journalist. So for a period of time, we were based in Singapore while he was with the troops in Vietnam. And so if you were in Singapore in the '60s, I was the little white kid. Everyone around me was from somewhere else. And none of them looked like me. And I thought that's the way the world was and how wonderful diversity is. And then when I went back to New Zealand, I remember standing in the playground and looking around and going, "Oh my God, everybody looked like me." These pasty face people, the lack of culture and diversity. That part of my life set me to believe I am an international citizen. These are my neighbors in faraway places. These are not people who I should pity, people who are in low middle income countries.

Audette Exel (17:25):
These are people who I should stand with and they are awesome. They're my neighbors. And actually, I want to bring you back to something you're talking about, about the link between in your own wellbeing and giving, that neuroscience shows us that the larger, our view of who us is, the healthier our brains are, the healthier we are as a society, as a community and individually. And so when we see everyone as us, they're our neighbors. It lifts us out, it's a great gift you give to yourself and it's a great gift you give to the world. So I think as a little girl growing up in Asia, that was a huge piece. In terms of the work along the way I will call out one, there are many of stories, people who sit on my shoulder that, and I could give you a few of them.

Audette Exel (18:12):
And I try to give uplifting examples, but I'll give you a hard one and a woman who lives with me still. So we do a lot of work with people who live remotely with HIV or AIDS in Uganda, and a long way out from hospital support services. So I was out one day, this some guy Alfred in our little red Jeep were about three days drive from the hospital. And we went to see a woman. Her name was Naniyombi. And she had five little boys and she had HIV/AIDS. Her sister had had it. She'd got it from husband HIV/AIDS is a huge issue, still through Africa, millions and millions of people as you know have lost their lives. So here is Naniyombi and she sort of gets up on her Jude sack to see us.

Audette Exel (18:53):
And we've brought a whole lot of food and support for her and her kids. And we're sitting off with her and she kept saying to me, over and over again, she kept saying something in Luganda. And then I couldn't understand. And so I said to Alfred this sentence, and I said, "What is she saying, Alfred, what is she saying?" She was very close to death. And what she was saying to me was, 'Who is going to look after my children when I die?" And it hit me like a hammer that actually, when you're dying of a disease like that, it's not just that you're losing your own life. You're losing the ability to look after the people that you love. The so size of it, just blew me away, the size of the problem and the size of the need. And that very day I came back to the hospital and three days drive back, got back to the hospital, got on the satellite phone and rang back to home office and said, "We're going to do work on AIDS, we're going to do more work in HIV.

Audette Exel (19:50):
She changed because she made me realize that the problem, the size of the problem was not about just about yourself. It was about the people that you love. And in her honor, she sits on my shoulder. There are a lot of people like that, that are on my shoulder, who I've had the incredible privilege of meeting, who have since passed and who set me on a particular path to make sure I can do the best I can do with my life to help others. So that's one example of thousands I could tell you.

Dhani Jones (20:16):
And that's a powerful example. Because it only does take one person one moment, one story, for me, I make bow ties for causes and it was to support my friend who had cancer. When people are facing life and death situations, truth, truth-

Audette Exel (20:40):
Yes.

Dhani Jones (20:41):
... is what allows them to feel comfort.

Audette Exel (20:44):
Yes.

Dhani Jones (20:45):
And for the mother to be able to speak to you about her children and for you to be able to internalize it in a way that manifests itself in such an amazing organization is powerful and it takes internal consciousness, but it also takes a certain level of EQ or to be attuned to what's happening and to the people that you're being surrounded by.

Dhani Jones (21:15):
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Dhani Jones (21:50):
That's because there is no risk just reward. Pretty cool right? Check it out at ansarada.com/quote. You know I like a winning team. So say it with me ansarada.com, for your next winning outcome. Tell us a little bit more about Adara and your development and all the different advisors, because as I studied the site, there's just so many different parts that you've built in a sustainable way, in an impactful way.

Audette Exel (22:25):
Yes.

Dhani Jones (22:26):
But expound a little bit more on that.

Audette Exel (22:29):
And I wanted to bring you back to this whole, that you're an entrepreneur as well as a great athlete. And so I want to talk to you a wee bit about the business side as well, which I think you'll think is really cool because it's about what we're talking about, which is connecting your heart and your head, right? So if you can connect your heart and your head, one you have to open your heart, but two of you can use your head as well. Wow. Amazing things happen. Right? So Adara of simple idea born now, 23 years ago, I can't believe silly a quarter of a century. Life like that. So the simple idea that I could build a business and embed it into an international, not for profit as a funding engine. So simple concept, I wanted to hire bankers and send them out in the market to do deals and make money every day, make as much money as they can.

Audette Exel (23:13):
But instead of using it to feed themselves and fund their shareholders, they would hand it over the hole to the development specialists that I hired. And I said, "Your job is you are going to relentlessly go out and think about evidence based, best practice service delivery to people in extreme poverty in the world's most far away places." And then I put them together. So they work side by side, the investment bankers doing deals at the moment we're in the middle of a 17 billion takeover. They're working right beside-

Dhani Jones (23:44):
Wow.

Audette Exel (23:44):
... neonatal specialists, educational specialists, social workers, child psychs, medical anthropologists, including out of Seattle and Montana where we've got offices. Everybody has got different skills, but they've got one purpose, which is service delivery to people on extreme poverty.

Dhani Jones (24:01):
Wow.

Audette Exel (24:01):
And so it sounded at the time people thought I was a money launder or a drug dealer or just not telling the truth. But the cool thing about the world is right now, 23 years later, this is not quite mainstream, but almost. The idea you can use your business for social change. So when we do the greatest deals in the world, we are sitting at top some of the best working on some of the biggest M&A transactions, mergers and acquisitions transactions in Australia at the moment. And I now have a panel of 15 of Australia's most famous bankers, including the guy who runs Goldmans Sachs, and the guy who runs Citibank. And the guys who run Barrenjoey, the big wheels, they work for me for free, as well as running their own banks. And they do deals for us and the money that we make on those sometimes millions and millions of dollars goes to our work with people in poverty. And that comes back to that, use your head and your heart together. Think outside of the box and know where you go.

Audette Exel (24:57):
So that's Adara's story. I do want to tell you two other cool things. We are amongst the world's leaders and care to preemie babies and low birth weight babies in places without electricity supply. So these are our tiniest clients, precious children born too early. And it happens a lot in places of poverty, because moms are working hard and they're often undernourished. So we are neonatal ICU specialists in these amazing far away places. And that we've centers of excellence, training centers, the whole world can come and see our work. So that's a big deep stream. And then the other thing that we're pretty well known for is we're amongst the world's remotest education deliverers in the world. So our most remote project is 25 days walk from the nearest road, right up on the Nepali to Benton border, more beautiful than I can to you up there.

Audette Exel (25:48):
And because we work in very remote education, that means we are very heavily involved in anti child trafficking work because in remote places, a lot of kids get trafficked. But the work is beautiful. So we do these huge deals. We're up to our neck and these huge deals running three at the moment with all these big wigs and I love a deal. I love the markets and the fun are making money, but when we make it, we give it. And I can't tell you what it feels like. I'm on a deal at the moment. And I know if this deal actually completes, we'll be able to upgrade maternity services that will touch a catchment area of a million people.

Audette Exel (26:22):
I can't wait for that completion because then I'll be able to let the maternity of one health team and the Uganda team know, "Hey, go ahead, we can upgrade maternity, we can build a new maternity unit." So it's been this really cool life of being in the end of the game that's so much fun, but in the end of the giving game, that's so much fun at the same time.

Dhani Jones (26:41):
But it's still a part of the giving game that needs to evolve because there's so many organizations that haven't perfected the model. And I'm not saying that your model is perfected because I know you're a perfectionist. And so as a perfectionist, things are still evolving. But what you have done in my opinion is perfected that mind and heart connection and letting people realize that you can live a good lifestyle. You can give live a good life, but if other people are not living well then how well is your life really? And I know that Ansarada is pledging 1% of its equity time and product to the Adara Group.

Audette Exel (27:23):
Amazing. Right?

Dhani Jones (27:24):
It's phenomenal and there's some companies that are doing similar things, but how can other companies get involved in your opinion, give back to the community?

Audette Exel (27:35):
Yeah. Great question. And just on the Ansarada and the 1% pledge, what a fantastic way to make change. Is you build your company. You pledge 1% could it to a not for profit, they grow with you. So we are really proud to be a shareholder in Ansarada awesome company. There are millions of different ways you can cut this cake. I mean, I guess a message of my life is step out of the cage of your own thinking. And invent, innovate. But here, let me give you some examples. If you're really big business. I sit on the board of one of Australia's largest banks. I'm sitting and when the really big businesses, they can make change by for instance, joining up to the UN Global Compact, which is the largest sustainability initiative in the world for major companies.

Audette Exel (28:18):
So right at the big levels, you can do it. And at the small levels, at those startup, the innovation levels you can give money to or equity to charities. You can have purpose at the center of everything you do. So down here, for instance, there's a bunch of guys that cool kids, they created a business called Who Gives A Crap. I don't know if that's a relatively profane word that I don't know if it translates into America, but they sell toilet paper. And 50% of the money that they make, Who Gives A Crap make, goes to sanitation projects in their low middle income countries. How cool is that? They branded themselves and they set purpose at the center. There are million ways that you can cut this cake. There's another guy I love who runs something called i=Change, where he created an app where every time you buy something from the retailers that work with them, a dollar immediately goes to one of a not for profit working with women and girls that you get to choose.

Audette Exel (29:16):
So there are a million ways you can cut the cake. I think it's about, and you don't have to be the leader or the owner. Even if you're just the starting out first day, it's about thinking, "What can I do in this business to make change?" Martin Luther King said, "There is one radical and vigorous question that we should ask ourselves to determine our lives. And it is what are we doing for others?" And so when you're in a business, when you're innovating, when you're thinking, it's about thinking, "What are we doing for others? Where do we stand in society? How can we use what we do?" Whether it's making bread or toilet paper, or corporate advice like I'm doing, how can we use what we do to turn the dial? Because we need a more joyous world. We need a farer world. We need a greener world. Ad it's on us, it's on everyone. So it's a state of mind, I think rather than a prescription. That's the way that I put it to heal the world, to use our skills.

Dhani Jones (30:14):
And I'm sure in a lot of ways, it hasn't been easy. Whether it be on the deal side or whether it be on contribution or being able to face certain people and talk to others, what have been some of the challenges that you've encountered along the way?

Audette Exel (30:32):
Let me give you a recent one and yeah, you're right. Okay? It hasn't been easy because as there's something about nothing worth fighting for is easy. I don't know. But if I think about last year, March last year, 2020, COVID and I'm in Nepal, then I'm in New York. Then I realize, holy cow, the world is falling apart. It seems I've got to get home and get my team safe around the world, get everyone to work from home. And I get back to Australia and about $860,000 worth of people also have donated stand with us as well as our business that I'm expecting to come in as donations, people ring me up and say, "Sorry, heading for the Hills." No, I promised you that money gone. Every deal that we were working on stopped the markets. And I realize, "Oh my God, my teams are going to be facing into COVID without vaccine, without anything. And I've just suddenly all the money that I've counted on coming in as drying up, we're going to go down the tubes."

Audette Exel (31:25):
So I spent about 24 hours in a full on pity party. I let myself go there, shut off from everybody, have a bit of a cry, feel sorry for myself. Oh my God, it's all over. And then I woke up the next morning after 24 hours of that. And I thought back at that I'm going to fight. And I'm not going to let this beautiful organization go down the tubes when people need us the most. So I have stood on the precipice so many times of thinking, we're not going to make it. We've dealt with Ebola three times. We're now in the middle of COVID on our project sites, no vaccines because the world is hoarding vaccines for the rich countries, right?

Dhani Jones (32:03):
Mh-mm. (affirmative).

Audette Exel (32:04):
We've dealt with Civil War in Nepal, terrorist. I had to negotiate with terrorist organizations when they threw our teams offsite, the malice, believe it or not, they're still malice in the world. You name it. We've been there. We've been through the global financial crisis and deals drying up. But you know what? Every day, I think if you put purpose at the center, and again, back to that hard and hit thing? Every single day, we just all decided we're going to get up and we're going to do our best today. And we're not going to let this beat us. So yes, I've cried. I've been cheated. All the stuff that every, but here's the cool thing is focus on the good stuff. And just get up and do your best and so far so good. That we've touched the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people had a blast doing it. And I feel just a sense of deep gratitude for the life that I've had and the way that it's unfolded. So focus on the opportunity, right?

Dhani Jones (33:00):
Yeah. And you've endured countless things over and over and yeah. You know what? It's okay to take that minute. It's okay to take those 24 hours. I'm pretty sure you deserve it. But I think one of the most important things that I think sometimes people take, they take it day, then they take a week. Then they take a year. Then they take two years. Then they take an entire lifetime. And your point is you can't take a lifetime because there are certain things that you have to do in this world in order to allow other people to live. And that is your purpose. And I hope people are called to their purpose. And while they might take a couple minutes or day off, they get back on track. And that's what you did. What advice would you give to someone that wants to get into the world of philanthropy? Aside from the fact that it's tough work and it's hard. And it's arduous. What advice would you give to them?

Audette Exel (33:57):
Don't take no for an answer. If you have a dream to give to others, to create businesses that are going to turn the dial in the world, actually, whatever your dream is, don't take no for an answer. Too many people in society tell us, "No, you can't do it." And so that that's a first piece of advice I'd give. The other piece I think touches on the point you're talking about, which is tenacity. When they bury me, they're going to write on my headstone. "God, that woman was tenacious, she never gave up." When you fall down where we started this conversation, pick yourself up and do it again and do it again because you have a right to be here and you have something to contribute.

Audette Exel (34:43):
And so don't let anybody stop you and don't let anybody tell you no. I think that'd be my opening in terms of giving people advice. I try not to give people advice. I try just to show if I can do this, I'm just a Kiwi girl that was born without money. If I can do this, and all of mistakes that I've made, anybody can do this. Anyone. And so I'd rather lead that way if you're privileged to be caught to lead, I'd rather lead that way than tell people advice from a high.

Dhani Jones (35:16):
Would you do anything differently today with Adara knowing the things that you know now?

Audette Exel (35:21):
Yeah. All those terrible mistakes. You lie awake. And I think what was I thinking? Of course that funny thing about life, do you have room for regret?I've got so much to be grateful for. So I try not to double guess myself going backwards. In terms of good advice though. Yes. Some good business advice. First of all, I would've been clearer about what I was trying to do. So I had a lot of people say to me for years, "What on earth are you doing? Are you running a charity? Are you running a business?" I just didn't understand how to communicate a simple message. You gave me your bow time message in two seconds. And it's about that elevator speech that people talk about. Mine was a babel and you can see, I'm a bit of a baler.

Audette Exel (36:01):
So it took me a while to get clear, to communicate clearly about what I was doing, because what I was doing was out of construct. People couldn't understand me. So one piece of advice, if I look back, I'd say, I probably, would've done a bit more work learning about marketing, communications, how you explain what your positioning is, all that stuff. And again, the another thing I didn't have really have a strategy. I had a dream, took me a few years to figure out, bloody hell, we better get a strategy here. And a lot of people now look at what we've done and say, "Oh, gee, that was visionary." I say, "No, actually it was stupid really, but we did it because we dreamt it."

Audette Exel (36:40):
So there's a whole lot of good business advice about, but actually the truth is when you're an entrepreneur, when you're creating, when you're doing deals, actually it's the creativity, it's the dreaming. As long as you partner it with tenacity, that usually brings you home. So I don't want to suggest that actually you should create inside boxes, whether that's strategy boxes or calmed boxes, some of that stuff can be very helpful once you get off the ground. But in general, there's a million things I've done wrong, but every single one of them took me to the next stage and took our businesses and our work with people in poverty to the next stage. So for that, I'm great. I learned every step of the way I learned. So I wouldn't change that much.

Dhani Jones (37:24):
You learned. And everybody else that benefited from it is grateful for the work that you've done. I'm sure there's a big deal around the corner. I don't know if you can give that one up, but considering that some of the M&A deals that you work can honor an excess of a couple billion dollars. There's probably some around the corner. So I'm going to wait for the headlines for you to tell me about those.

Audette Exel (37:46):
Let me tell you what I'm going to do. This is when I'm going to come and watch you going to show me that there is a game of football other than rugby. I'm going to bring this model into Wall Street. So I want it to be the most prestigious thing on Wall Street for the top investment bankers to work across their competitive boundaries on one deal year, just one deal a year with all proceeds going to vulnerable clients. I'm bringing it to Wall Street.

Dhani Jones (38:11):
Yes. And you know what? I'm going to help you with it.

Audette Exel (38:15):
All right.

Dhani Jones (38:16):
All I've been thinking about this entire time is how do we get this model-

Audette Exel (38:20):
All right. There you go.

Dhani Jones (38:20):
... into America. I mean, this model's brilliant. So yeah. I mean, it's already out there. We already recorded it. So it's like, yeah, Dhani's going to help Audette. I have to now, when I think about the world of philanthropy, the world of business can support it in so many different ways. But a lot of times people are always more of the mindset, "I have to contribute why can't business be a part of it?" So there's so much more in that discussion. So I can't wait to see you in America. I'll tell you about football and you're going to tell me more about Adara in person. So this last question, we like to ask our guests, what's your favorite celebration or favorite place to celebrate a winning deal?

Audette Exel (39:08):
On the ground with my teams. When these next deals close, I be on a plane, I'll be in Kathmandu, and we'll be talking about centers of excellence. We're in 16 schools. There's going to be more, we're going to be building maternal newborn health facilities up there. Once I know I've got that money locked in and I'll be in Uganda and we'll be expanding maternity. We're on the National Newborn Steering Committee where we're going to work across the country, show people. So the best thing to do for me when I land the deal is get on an airplane and go and sit on the ground with the people that I love and put in my head. "This is what we now can do."

Audette Exel (39:45):
So it's not the big party for me. It's not the big dinners, that's all very nice, but it's the cool feeling that what you just did, just turn the dow for somebody in need. Awesome people in need, not just somebody but magnificent people. So that'll be next year for me when this COVID safe for us to do it. I'll tell you what first place I'm going is Entebe and the second place I'm going is Kathmandu. And be celebrating deals there.

Dhani Jones (40:12):
Audette, thank you. I want to thank Audette for joining us today on the Pathfinders, and for taking us through her journey of using deal making to improve the lives of people who need it most. To see how you can get involved. Please visit adaragroup.org. I'm Dhani Jones. And this is been, the Pathfinders brought to you by Ansarada.

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