July 31, 2012

21 CN: Rawson, Interim ADRA Chief, Optimistic About Agency's Future

Rawson, Interim ADRA International Chief,
Optimistic About Agency’s Future

Despite Painful Year, Confidence in Mission Remains High (Posted July 27, 2012)

BY MARK A. KELLNER, news editor

For many people, retirement is a period of quiet enjoyment, relaxation with family and friends, and the contemplation of pleasant sunsets from the veranda.

Robert Rawson, whose years of active service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church concluded with his retirement as General Conference Treasurer in 2002, recently exchanged that idyllic image for a stint as interim president of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International, and a return to the Church’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Rawson was called in following the June 24 removal of then-president Rudi Maier, and the initiation of a search for a new, permanent ADRA International leader. (See Adventist Review, July 26, page 9).

Speaking with Adventist Review, Rawson, 75, expressed confidence in ADRA’s mission, and noted a recent letter sent to the ADRA network of employees and cooperative agencies around the world: “We are absolutely confident about the ways in which God is leading ADRA International and our network.  I can state with certainty my conviction that the ministry of ADRA is an important aspect of the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that God’s providence is guiding our footsteps in greater effectiveness.”

He also had high praise for the current headquarters workforce, and said he is spending time speaking with each of ADRA International’s employees to get a sense of their background, interests, and concerns.

“We have a tremendously talented staff,” Rawson said, acknowledging that there had been substantial staff reductions at the ADRA International headquarters in the past 18 months. Meeting with one staffer every half hour, he said, is designed to open a channel of communication.

He said, “Our employees are our greatest asset, and that needs to be realized. Confidence is what I’m trying to reestablish, and let everyone understand that I believe sincerely in that personal commitment.”

What comes through in these one-on-one interviews is the sense of commitment to ADRA that all these employees still have, he added.

“There is so much good potential here,” Rawson said of the headquarters staff. “I mean, we have outstanding talent and young, committed people who want to learn and want to be mentored, and appreciate the openness and frankness to express that, that
they’re able to communicate and talk.”

Though not charged with creating a new vision for ADRA International (Rawson said he’d leave that for the incoming, permanent president), he said his task was to prepare the staff for that transition.

“I saw my role, and was affirmed in that through the board chairman and through everyone I visited with in administration, that what I feel my role here is, if I can prepare this staff, get them through the challenges that they are experiencing. And[, second] become a positive force ready to [go] when a new [leader] comes on board, then I will have felt I will have succeeded in my task,” he said.

Rawson, who spent seven years as General Conference Treasurer, had decades of denominational service in the United States and overseas. His responsibilities included a period as chairman of the ADRA International board.

“I was chairman of the board for two years,” he said. “And I asked for relief because it was just too heavy for me to carry my responsibilities and to do that, because ADRA is such a complex and such an important organization and needed greater attention than I could give” in that role, he added.

Rawson told Adventist Review a key challenge is not only to keep the grants “pipeline” filled with aid projects, but also be able to fulfill the requirements of those grants. ADRA International, like many overseas charitable agencies, often works with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other funders to equip its field offices to help those in need.

“If we write grants and don’t have the capacity to administer them, that’s the other issue,” Rawson said. “So we have to have capacity to write [grant applications, and] we have to have capacity to manage it out of our offices, and we have to have the capacity on the other end to actually do the hands-on. This is very complex. But the biggest issue with this organization is not theory. The biggest issue is management, keeping all the parts working together in unity. We’re making great progress in that regard.”

He added, “Everyone has a passion in his or her heart that you would not believe for ADRA! I mean, it is just an infectious organization that once you work here, you’re never the same.”