by AT News Team

The board of Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International voted Wednesday (October 10) to appoint the ADRA Australia country director, Jonathan Duffy, as the new president of the agency. His background is in public health and his record reveals a leader who encourages collaboration and innovation.
Sources have told Adventist Today that the search committee reported to the board with a ranked list of candidates that it had vetted and interviewed, in contrast to the abrupt change in leadership voted in 2010 which ended in conflict in June of this year. Pastor Geoffrey Mbwana, chairman of the board, described the process as “very transparent, very objective … one that gathered information from all levels of the organization.”
At least four other candidates were interviewed by the search committee, Adventist Today has been told. One of these was a current vice president and another was a senior staff member. The committee also talked to an Adventist who serves in a key position at World Vision. The search committee was chaired by an Adventist academic who is not a denominational employee. Adventist Today has been told that General Conference president Ted Wilson was not involved in the process.
Duffy was director of health ministry for the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church before he was appointed CEO of ADRA Australia in July 2008. He has written for the peer-reviewed Medical Journal of Australia and contributed to an analysis of the challenges faced by migrants in Yemen for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Relief published by IRIN.
Health promotion and community development have long been areas in which Duffy has worked. He has focused for several years on building resilience in young people, both in developed countries like Australia and in developing nations such as Fiji. In fact, ADRA Australia is one of the few national agencies in the ADRA network that has strong domestic projects, addressing the social issues of an industrial, urban society, as well as strong international development projects of the kind for which ADRA is better known.
The Fiji Times reported in June 2011 that Duffy was a key speaker at a symposium on youth resilience which brought together police, educators, health and corrections professionals. It was cosponsored by Fiji’s National Substance Abuse Advisory Council and ADRA. “Fiji is facing a youth crisis,” the newspaper quoted Duffy. “Modernization is eroding once strong family and community values. Creating resilient youths is about connecting them with families and other support groups, growing self-esteem and encouraging positive decision-making.” The gathering addressed the growing problems of alcoholism and drug use in the island nation and was “a first of its kind for the church in Fiji.”
The newspaper reported that Duffy was helping local leaders shape a “program designed to allow young people [to develop] internal strength to say no to risky behaviors. “It’s more beneficial than rules and regulations,” he told a reporter. Duffy has authored a book on how communities can build youth resilience as an effective approach to preventing substance abuse, teen pregnancy, HIV-AIDS and school dropouts.
Duffy is known by Australian media because of a bicycle tour he organized with five others in 2005 to promote youth services, health and fitness. They biked 4,000 kilometers in five weeks from Perth on the west coast to Sydney on the east coast. He spoke at scores of community meetings along the way. In 2007 he organized a similar tour with seven others, cycling the length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff. These projects had a very serious purpose. “We have had very cynical social and youth workers turn up for the town meetings,” Duffy told journalists at the time. “But I have not heard one negative thing from them about” his wholistic approach to community youth work and prevention.
Another aspect of Duffy’s record is highlighted in the role he has played on the management committee for the Australian Research Institute (ARI). This is a serious, scientific research and development organization cosponsored by the denomination’s health care and higher education institutions, as well as ADRA and the food industry that the church owns in Australia. It is involved in public health, medical, nutrition and related research activities.
The official news release from ADRA International announcing Duffy’s appointed as president describes his achievements as country director in Australia purely in terms of fund raising. His leadership has “increased donations by 138 percent, the number of donors by 201 percent and the number of new donors by 271 percent.” Adventist Today has been told by sources that over the past few months donations to ADRA have declined significantly.
Duffy was educated at some of the top universities in Australia. He has an undergraduate degree from Flinders University with majors in biology and physical education, a Graduate Certificate in Health Management from Sydney University, and a Masters in Public Health from Deakin University. He also has a teaching diploma.
Adventist Today has previously reported on the developments at ADRA over recent months. The current issue of the print edition includes an in-depth article by Monte Sahlin about the larger issues faced by the agency and the future of Adventist humanitarian work.
Zoominfo provided research for this article.