University of Melbourne Magazine

A gift for giving

  • ‘We’ve survived Ebola outbreaks, Maoist terrorists, the world economic crisis. But we’ve never given up. We never have. We never will.’

    Recently the group advertised for a staffer in Uganda and realised just in time that it called for applications to work for ISIS without distinguishing itself from that militant group. “It could so easily be misunderstood,” she says. “We could so easily have ended up on some list and found our bank accounts frozen.” The sobering reality is that she is considering a name change for her baby of 16 years. “Who would have thunk it?” she sighs.

    A life of engagement with the poor and vulnerable in troubled parts of the globe has served to darken her world-view somewhat and she cautions against the deepening of religious divisions and economic polarities.

    “Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus are standing on different hilltops throwing stones at one another, as they always have. And the divisions between rich and poor are widening: I find it frightening the way the rich are walling themselves off from the poor. Unless we act, the world will become a much more dangerous and much more unhappy place.”

    Despite her gloomy prognostications of a fractured world she pronounces herself an optimist. “We’ve survived many crises at ISIS. We’ve survived Ebola outbreaks, Maoist terrorists, the world economic crisis. But we’ve never given up. We never have. We never will.”


    • Audette Exel, 51, is a founder of the ISIS Group and Chief Executive Officer of its Australian company, ISIS (Asia Pacific). She is also co-founder and Chair of the ISIS Foundation.
    • She was awarded an Order of Australia last year for her work with women and children living in extreme poverty in Nepal and Uganda.
    • Before establishing ISIS, she was Managing Director of Bermuda Commercial Bank (1993–96), Chairman of the Bermuda Stock Exchange (1995–96) and was on the board of the Bermuda Monetary Authority, Bermuda’s central financial services regulator (1999–2005).
    • She had previously practiced as a lawyer specialising in international finance. She was named the Telstra NSW Business Woman of the Year in 2012. The Australian Financial Review nominated her as one of the 100 Women of Influence in Australia (2012).

    – Luke Slattery