Michael Kruger took the helm of ADRA after President Jonathan Duffy resigned in October. Kruger steps up to the role from his previous job as vice president of finance at the agency. In this interview he talks about changes in ADRA and international development, his goals for the agency, and ideas for making the ADRA administration more diverse.
You have recently taken on the job of president of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), the humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Is this a temporary assignment following the resignation of previous president Jonathan Duffy while the board searches for a permanent replacement, or have you been elected to serve in a permanent position?
Thank you for your question, Alita. Firstly, allow me to mention that during Jonathan’s tenure as president, he implemented a new strategic framework that further unified our global network of offices, elevated ADRA within the international aid community, and brought ADRA and the Adventist Church in closer alignment. As I take on the responsibilities of this role, it is my hope to continue to expand on the work that has already been done in order to bring more opportunities to more people throughout the world.
Secondly, understand that there are tremendous responsibilities heavily placed in the role of president, and the decision on who carries on that role ultimately lies with ADRA's board. I was appointed by the board to continue the role as president and accepted with the intent to ensure ADRA advances toward its goals. ADRA’s board reconvenes in 2020 to confirm their appointment.
Did you have any hesitation about accepting this job?
I can assure you that the decision to take on the responsibility of leading a global organization like ADRA is not an easy one. However, I also believe that God equips us with everything we need in order to serve Him. I trust in God’s promises, so I accepted this role and I look forward to helping ADRA advance its work of service to humanity around the world.
You are not new to ADRA International, having served as vice president of finance since 2014. Knowing ADRA's financial position inside out seems like a good qualification for the head of the organization. How will your previous experience help you in your new role?
Prior to ADRA, I worked as an auditor for 16 years before opening my private practice in 2000. My firm provided auditing and consulting services to ADRA for nearly a decade before I accepted a full-time position there. With my background in finance and auditing, honesty to carry out my duties is crucial to my role and with that comes the measure of maintaining a good moral standard. I not only led my firm with that integrity but pledged to carry those same standards in whatever role I served. The role isn’t what defines me, but instead how I carry out the responsibilities associated with the role. ADRA is near and dear to my heart, and I accepted to join this wonderful organization years ago because I believed in its mission to impact lives by being good stewards of the funds that our donors have entrusted us to invest in new opportunities for millions of people in need. I may have added a new role recently as president, but I am the same Michael, but with even more commitment to uphold my standards as the face of ADRA.
What are your primary goals and priorities for ADRA?
The last few weeks have been a period of transition and adjustment, not only for me but also for our dedicated staff that work so hard day in and day out to carry out the many projects that are underway across the world. During this time, I have been prayerfully seeking God’s guidance so that whatever decisions we make or whatever goals we set that they may steer ADRA’s work forward. Part of this process involves listening to my teams and recalibrating where needed. To ensure growth, ADRA is my priority and we’ll be looking at making the agency stronger and building a system that propels us. If ADRA is strong, then we’re in a position to serve humanity so all may live as God intended.
Will you be making any significant changes in ADRA administration and leadership?
ADRA has a strong leadership in place which has been critical during this transition. In order to ensure that we continue to manage our finance portfolio effectively, we have brought in Dr. Ann Gibson as interim vice president for finance. Ann has been on ADRA’s board for many years and has an extensive financial career as: Dean of the School of Business at Andrews University; chair of the department of accounting, economics, and finance, also at Andrews; a university professor; auditor; certified public accountant; and, in other finance-related roles. She has also been published in various business journals and presented at numerous finance- and business-related conferences.
It seems that your leadership team is made up of all men (excepting the recent arrival of Ann Gibson to fill your previous job), and primarily from donor countries, rather than developing countries. Any plans to promote a woman to the top, and give a greater voice to administrators from a broader base?
You are correct in your observation, Alita. This is an area that we always pay close attention to. Let me say that ADRA strongly supports top talent and is always looking to hire the most qualified individuals regardless of gender or country of origin. Over the years, ADRA has benefitted from a diverse group of administrators — both women and men — from Africa, South America, Middle East, as well as the U.S. and other regions. For instance, our last vice president for finance was a woman, as is our new interim vice president for finance, Dr. Ann Gibson. At the board level, we also have a diverse group of individuals from across the world, including talented women leaders who are contributing so much to our governance. As a global organization, we are committed to diversity and ensuring a balance between diversity, experience, and talent.
How many countries does ADRA operate in now? Is there a part of the world you are especially focusing on now, or plan to focus on?
ADRA operates in 118 countries. As the humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, ADRA has a global footprint, one that we continually review to ensure that the resources and projects are focused on assisting the most needed areas of the world. In many countries, ADRA’s work supports the longer-term development of local communities through projects that improve incomes, provide food, water, hygiene and sanitation, and better access to education. In 2018, some of our largest interventions took place in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia where more than 5.9 million, 4.3 million and 2.9 million people, respectively, received assistance. In some instances, humanitarian crises and natural disasters require that ADRA focus on specific areas for a time, such is the case in South America due to the Venezuela migrant crisis, in Yemen where an ongoing war has affected millions of people, or most recently in The Bahamas where Hurricane Dorian displaced thousands of families overnight.
What do you think ADRA is really good at? What do you think it could do better?
Over the years, ADRA established itself as a dependable humanitarian agency that can be trusted to provide life-changing opportunities for millions of people each year through longer-term development projects that improve access to nutrition, water, education, better jobs, and short-term responses after disasters. Because of their nature, disaster projects tend to get more visibility, which means that supporters don’t always see the longer-term work that ADRA does around the world. We are working to share those successes more effectively so that supporters can have more opportunities to engage in the mission of ADRA and have a stronger impact in the lives of others in need.
How has your typical workday changed, now that you are president, rather than vice president of finance? What takes up most of your time?
I am fortunate to have a great team of administrators and staff that have really helped during this transition. The process has been smooth and orderly, which is something you always aim for. Over the last several weeks I have spent a lot of time connecting with our network of regional and country offices, meeting our teams, preparing for 2020 from a budgetary perspective, and looking at how we can have a stronger impact on the people we serve in ways that are increasingly more effective and efficient.
What do you like most about your job? What don't you like?
I’m always inspired by the work that ADRA does around the world, in particular meeting the people we serve. When I visit our field work, I am really humbled by their testimonies and listening to how ADRA has touched their lives. This week I’m headed to Syria to see up close what ADRA is doing to assist in the humanitarian crisis in that country. I look forward to seeing the work up close, speaking to the people, and learning more about them. I probably wouldn’t mind having fewer meetings! I’m sure that I’m not alone in saying this.
I believe you are originally from South Africa? Can you tell us more about your career there? Did you go directly to ADRA International in Maryland after leaving South Africa?
Yes, I am; born and raised in South Africa. With regards to my career path, I qualified as a chartered accountant in 1993 where I worked as an auditor for 16 years and partnered at two firms, before opening a private practice in early 2000. I personally specialized in local and international tax planning and worked to turn around businesses that were in financial distress. As I mentioned earlier, my firm provided auditing and consulting services to ADRA for nearly a decade before I accepted a job as vice president for finance at ADRA full-time in 2014. What most people may not know about me is that I’m really passionate about ministry.
Can you tell us about any of ADRA's projects in South Africa?
ADRA had established numerous HIV/AIDS education and training in South Africa since early 2000, where at the time there was a high rate of HIV/AIDS infections. ADRA worked closely with authorities to provide education about proper hygiene, sanitation, and heighten awareness about HIV/AIDS and preventative methods. Currently, our office is working closely with the South African government helping to address hunger initiatives. There is a high rate of poverty and many people aren’t able to afford getting much-needed food to feed themselves and their families. So far, ADRA, in partnership with authorities, has helped to provide 80,000 plus nutritious meals per month to people on chronic medication in 16 locations in South Africa.
What are some of the latest trends in international aid and development? What are some of the ways ADRA has changed and evolved in the last 10 years, or since you joined the agency?
I can name a few. As economic, humanitarian, and climate conditions worsen in different parts of the world, we can expect to see increased refugee crises affecting millions of people. These crises will not only affect those who are forced to flee, but also impact the communities who host them. In many cases refugees are facing mounting pressure from host countries to return home. Refugees are having a hard time finding refuge abroad and feel compelled to return to dangerous areas or because they have little prospect of integration (access to housing, schools, work, and health care) elsewhere.
Another trend in development is that extreme poverty is becoming more concentrated in a handful of low-income countries. While the world has made a lot of progress in cutting down extreme poverty — those living on less than $1.90 a day — in Sub-Saharan Africa, the rates have been increasing to the point where there are now more extreme poor living in this region than in the rest of the world combined.
Infectious diseases are also re-emerging in different parts of the world. This is a direct result of worsening access to health care due to humanitarian crises caused by political turmoil, protracted conflicts, and natural disasters. Diseases such as measles, malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and Ebola, among others, are killing countless people who live in areas where the healthcare system has been weakened to the point where individuals are no longer able to receive treatment, or the treatment is inadequate.
Since I joined ADRA, we have worked to ensure that we continually become more transparent, adapt better to change, and respond more effectively to local and regional crises. As a faith-based organization and in our role as the humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we have also been more intentional about sharing our Christian values in a way that represents more clearly our affiliation with the Adventist Church.
How has ADRA's relationship with the General Conference changed or remained the same over the years? How would you characterize your relationship?
As the humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we have been very intentional and transparent in the way we share our Christian values with the people we serve, with our partners, as well as donors and supporters. This approach has helped to bring ADRA closer together with the Adventist Church and to Adventist members throughout the world. Because we share synergies and look for ways to leverage each other’s strengths, we are able to have a larger impact in the communities where we work.
Spectrum’s previous ADRA coverage includes our interview with Jonathan Duffy, interview with ADRA's longest-serving president Ralph Watts, and an extract from Looking for Lessons in the ADRA Leadership Change.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
Photo courtesy of Michael Kruger/ADRA.
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