When Rudi Meier was elected to the presidency of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in October 2010, he told the employees that he planned to bring the agency closer to the church and boost morale, which he perceived as being very low. To the Board he said that he wanted to move the Agency more into development work and away from relief efforts. Those were his plans for saving ADRA.
Five months later, in February 2011, in a move originally described as necessary for financial reasons, seventeen employees, including two vice presidents, were given pink slips as part of Meier’s plan to reorganize the Agency and make it more competitive for US AID funding. Later the financial reasons were clarified to be those in the future, since ADRA experienced one of its strongest fund raising years ever in 2010. Proposed future changes in funding from US AID were the reason to “right-size” the Agency according to its administration.
Just as Meier’s election had taken the Agency employees by surprise in 2010, the mass firings took employees and Board members by surprise in 2011. Board members promised to look into the circumstances at their next meeting in April. Petitions were drafted and vigils held before the Board session which turned into an eight-hour marathon of debate that brought no change. The Board finally voted to support the president.
As 2011 progressed and work began in the reorganized Agency, ten additional employees chose to leave. The internal auditing and planning departments were particularly hard-hit leaving the agency without any internal auditors. Half of the planning staff left. To date 27 employees have moved on. The workforce has been reduced by a third. There is no plan to replace the internal auditors.
However, without internal auditors and a reduced finance staff, there have been significant challenges to the Agency which is undergoing an audit of the funds it received from the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to help in Haiti after the earthquake. Auditors are also crucial to the public appeal process, since the Agency must ensure that all money donated for a specific project goes to that project.
Two of the changes in the reorganization seem to indicate that Meier plans to move the Agency back to the way it functioned in the late 1990’s. The first was naming Ken Flemmer as vice president. Flemmer, a long-time ADRA employee, has been key to Meier’s plans for the new ADRA. The second change was the dismissal of the personnel that had been hired to help each ADRA country unit with the process of licensure. This seemed to spell the end to the professionalization program that was underway.
Will this reorganization of ADRA save it? Will the Audit Committee of the Board be able to help get it through this latest audit and save the financial reputation of the Agency in the face of the surprising changes made in the past year? The Agency Board meets again Monday. By rights, the saving of ADRA lies in its hands.