After months of intense speculation, AED announced Wednesday (June 8) it will sell its programs, expertise and other assets to FHI, a global health group on the verge of becoming one of the largest development organizations in the business.
AED’s revenue stream had narrowed significantly in December, when the U.S. Agency for International Development, one of the company’s main donors, temporarily suspended new funding after an audit raised questions about AED’s work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In March, the Washington-based nonprofit called on interested buyers, generating interest around the globe. Three months later, AED signed an asset purchase agreement with FHI.
Devex spoke with the two men at the heart of the ongoing acquisition process, AED President and CEO Gregory R. Niblett and FHI Chair and CEO Albert J. Siemens, the day after they announced the agreement. In a Devex exclusive, the two spoke candidly about the monumental task ahead as well as the road traveled so far.
Congratulations, first of all, on reaching an asset purchase agreement. You’ve both been presenting it to your colleagues this week. What has been the reaction so far from your colleagues at AED, Mr. Niblett?
Niblett: I would say that the reaction has been enthusiastic, and the information was well received. We told staff at a town hall meeting yesterday. We told senior managers the day before. And then we announced it yesterday morning. And I’ve had a lot of emails and messages from people individually since we announced it and since we sent the communication to all the AED employees, and it’s been very well received, people are very enthusiastic about the news, they feel that this is a great cultural match and fit between two nonprofits, and I think people are generally excited.
Mr. Siemens, what have you heard from your colleagues so far?
Siemens: Well, I think it’s consistently positive. We’ve been actually quite amazed at how positively everybody is looking at this. There are probably multiple reasons for it, but I think first: Our people at FHI see it as two organizations coming together with similar missions, and that’s to improve the lives of underserved populations. And then, second, is the realization that this is not a fulfillment but a step in the direction of FHI’s strategic goals.
Let me just share with you what I mean by that. Since the early 1970s – in fact, we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this year – we’ve been involved in research and programmatic implementation of health-oriented work in the developing world. And we’ve seen it very much as a health discipline, from research to practice. However, as the years have gone by and perhaps generally in the last 10 years – certainly in the last seven to eight years – we’ve been dealing with the challenges with HIV, malaria and tuberculosis; one realizes that it’s so much more than addressing a virus or treating a virus or preventing a virus. When we’re dealing with HIV, at least in the populations we deal with, which are typically disadvantaged in some way or another, you’re dealing with a much broader array of issues and challenges. We’ve come to realize – and this is not novel, I suppose, but we’ve been thinking about it in great detail – that when people are impacted in a disadvantaged environment, they’re impacted by multiple factors, and these factors are interrelated. So, health is certainly tied to education. Education is tied to poverty or economic opportunity. Economic opportunity is driven by having jobs, having supportive governments, having supporting civil society involvement.
So, for the last four years, FHI has even written into its strategic plan that health is a component of development. We’ve been moving in the direction of a much broader development platform. And, AED happens to represent the extension of this platform. So, not only do they have a health portfolio, but they have a much broader portfolio of these areas I mentioned before. So, moving from health and science to economic strengthening to civil society to education, these were really attractive to us since we want to move forward with a comprehensive approach to development, to the extent that we could do that.
So, it’s similar cultures, it’s similar approaches to working in partnership all around the world, which is not FHI or AED at any time going in telling the world how to do things, but actually building capacity of organizations with local groups and multiple funding sources, working in true partnership. And together, we can actually do that more effectively, and really can scale – on the basis of a centralized highly efficient infrastructure, we can scale, we can do more, in essence, with less, in a challenged economy. I think our people are excited because they understand the continuation of our mission.
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